Realizing a scholarly dream
“The funding allowed me to expand the book into a definitive biography — one that truly captured his life and his art.”
In order to write Becoming Richard Pryor, his new book about the path-breaking comedian and cultural icon, English professor Scott Saul put in plenty of legwork. Saul undertook exhaustive research in Los Angeles, New York, and Pryor’s hometown of Peoria, Ill. — sojourns enabled by a landmark grant to the College of Letters & Science by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Saul received funding through a program that offers project grants to deserving faculty on the brink of realizing a scholarly dream. The resulting book, he says, stands out from the typical, hastily written celebrity biography. “Pryor might get superficial treatment with other writers,” he says, “but I was able to really dig in and pursue leads. The funding allowed me to expand the book into a definitive biography — one that truly captured his life and his art.”
During the campaign, the Mellon Foundation gave nearly $25 million to the arts and humanities toward priorities such as faculty research and fellowships for graduate students. To Saul, it’s money well spent. “People recognize (Pryor’s) importance as one of the great icons of 20th-century America, but there’s been no serious book-length study of who he was and how he changed America,” he says. “The foundation’s gift has allowed me to do that.”