Josh Kun, a cultural historian and professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, believes that, at their core, historically separated communities actually have a lot in common.
“When you look at any cultural object or artifact from history, what you are looking at is things that are real intersections and crossovers of experiences,” Kun said. “And I try really hard to work to respect all of the lives, stories and engagements that encounter the exchange with any particular moment of cultural history.”
Last week, Kun was selected as one of 23 recipients of the MacArthur Genius Grant, a gift of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Kun will be awarded $625,000 in equal quarterly installments over five years. The MacArthur fellowship is awarded to individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and promise to continue to do so. The foundation’s Selection Committee invites external nominators to suggest candidates by writing a letter to the program staff, describing their reasons for the nomination.
“While our communities, our nation and our world face both historic and emerging challenges, these 23 extraordinary individuals give us ample reason for hope,” MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch said in a statement. “They are breaking new ground in areas of public concern, in the arts, and in the sciences, often in unexpected ways. Their creativity, dedication, and impact inspire us all.”
Kun will not receive the award money until next year, but said that he is going to use the time until then to help strategize and think clearly about the kinds of projects that he is going to launch in the next few years. Kun also has plans to be able to use a part of his winnings to fund scholarships or grants for young people working in the same field as he does.
“I am very honored that the foundation saw in my work some traces and reflections of that idea of exceptional creativity,” Kun said. “I try very hard to do work and expand it with new methods and new kinds of practices across disciplines and fields to help scholarship be as public as it can be.”
Throughout his life, Kun has worked as a journalist, researcher, essayist, curator and professor focusing on pop culture in Los Angeles along the U.S.-Mexico border and among the Jewish-American community. Kun earned his Ph.D. in ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and served as an associate professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. At USC, he directs the Popular Music Project at Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center and founded the USC Annenberg Distinguished Lecture Series on Latin American Arts & Culture.
Kun also works as an editor for the International Journal of Communication, co-editor of the book series Refiguring American Music for Duke University Press and co-curator of Crossfade Lab, an Arizona-based conversation and performance series. He has authored numerous books and had his writing appear in publications including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, American Prospect, Los Angeles Magazine and LA Weekly.
At present, Kun is in the middle of a project with the Getty Foundation for their initiative called the “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” which aims to explore the Latin American music in discourse with Los Angeles. Kun is currently editing an anthology of writing about the history of American music in Los Angeles, as well as curating a series of public musical events to take place next fall.