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Actor Producer, Opera Producer, Graphic Novelist—Alums Redefine Their Fields

By Julie Butters

Banner image: Peter Paige (’91) (from left), Beth Morrison (’94), and Joel Christian Gill (’04) received 2016 CFA Distinguished Alumni Awards. Photo by Natasha Moustache for Boston University

Growing up, Joel Christian Gill (’04) developed a knack for storytelling—by fibbing to his friends that he owned all the newest and coolest toys. He pretended that, like Harry Potter, he “was just one giant-on-a-motorcycle away from a major adventure at Hogwarts— when I was just a poor kid from the projects.” As an adult, Gill’s imagination led him to tell more truthful, meaningful stories in his acclaimed graphic novel Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History (Fulcrum Publishing, 2014).

Gill, chair of foundations at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, received a CFA Distinguished Alumnus Award at a ceremony emceed by Emmy-winning actor Michael Chiklis (’85). The event, which honored alums for groundbreaking contributions to the arts and society, was part of BU’s annual Alumni Weekend. “History is written by people who actually look for the truth,” Chiklis said in introducing Gill. “In Strange Fruit you’ve brought content, depth, and artistry to the genre of graphic novels. You’ve taken the notion of heroes and legends, and shown us they are sometimes hidden, but equally as bold.”

“Opera. The word alone conjures up ideas to each of us,” said Chiklis in presenting a Distinguished Alumna Award to Beth Morrison (’94). “It’s pretty loaded. A little heavy. Maybe even a bit remote or untouchable. Except when you’re Beth Morrison. Then you just redefine it.” Morrison is creative producer of the indie opera company Beth Morrison Projects, which champions music-theatre, opera-theatre, and multimedia concert works by today’s most exciting emerging artists.

“The human condition [is] no stranger to art,” Chiklis said while honoring Peter Paige (’91) with a Distinguished Alumnus Award. “Generations of artists have been inspired by it, and the artist who digs into the human condition, pulls it out unapologetically, and holds it up saying this is the truth, this is what it means to be human. Well, that artist is Peter Paige,” co-creator and executive producer of the ABC Family drama The Fosters, which follows an interracial lesbian couple as they raise their family.

The Alumni Awards are BU’s highest honors for alumni; these alums have distinguished themselves professionally through exemplary artistry and extraordinary leadership.

A version of this article originally appeared in BU Today.