Metro Detroit journalist Danny Fenster, once jailed in Myanmar, gets Harvard journalism fellowship

May 11, 2022, 9:30 AM by  Allan Lengel

Danny Fenster: "It's really hard to beat the Kennedy School."

Metro Detroit journalist Danny Fenster, who was held in a Myanmar prison for six months before being released in November, has landed a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University for the 2022-23 academic year.

The program made the announcement Wednesday.

Nieman Fellowships are awarded to working journalists for sabbatical study. Fenster, 38, will study how journalists in exile use digital tools to continue reporting on repressive regimes, as well "the impact of Western foreign policy responses to these governments on reporters’ ability to continue working," the organization  says.

The nine-month program, regarded as one of the most prestigious mid-career journalism fellowships, includes a $75,000 stipend. Fenster also was selected for a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan.

He tells Deadline Detroit in an email he agonized over which offer to accept -- “among the hardest decisions I've ever had to make.”

“I've actually spent years fantasizing about someday participating in the University of Michigan's Knight-Wallace Fellowship. It's a really unique program — one that is really invested in not just expanding the breadth of knowledge and the educational opportunities of the journalists and nonfiction writers fortunate enough to ever earn a spot there, but also in enriching their lives more generally.

"The community around metro Detroit and Ann Arbor has been so unbelievably supportive of me this past year. There just happen to be a couple people working in the space of human rights in Myanmar that are at Harvard right now who I really want to study with. And because part of what I'll be looking at involves diplomacy and U.S. foreign policy, it's really hard to beat [Harvard's] Kennedy School. But it's an absolutely bittersweet decision."

Since being released from prison a half-year ago, Fenster has spent time with family and friends in Metro Detroit, with his wife, a Brazilian diplomat, in her native country, and in Bangkok, working with his Myanmar colleagues from Frontier Myanmar, the publication he was working for when arrested in May 2021. 

On Saturday, he'll get a honorary doctorate at a commencement ceremony at Columbia College in Chicago, where he attended journalism school. 

Fenster earned a master's degree in creative writing at Wayne State University and lived in Midtown and Corktown before moving to Louisiana to work as a journalist From there he moved to Southeast Asia and eventually Mynamar to work as a reporter and editor. 

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