Dee Rees is an alumna of New York University’s graduate film program. A writer-director whose feature film Pariah premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the film received the “John Cassavetes Award” at the Independent Spirit Awards (2011), the Gotham Award for “Best Breakthrough Director” (2011), “Outstanding Film –Limited Release” at the GLAAD Media Award (2012), and seven NAACP Image Award nominations. In 2015, Rees’ film Bessie premiered on HBO with wide critical acclaim including four Emmy Awards. Rees' feature film Mudbound, starring Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan, was released by Netflix in November 2017. The film was Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song for Blige, as well as Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography. Rees is the first Black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award in a writing category. Most recently, Rees directed The Last Thing He Wanted, starring Rosie Perez and Anne Hathaway.
Dee was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in New York.
Ayana Mathis received her MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop where she became the first African-American woman to hold the position of Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing. Mathis’s first novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Knopf, 2012), was a New York Times Bestseller, a 2013 New York Times Notable Book, NPR Best Book of 2013, and second selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 and was long listed for the Dublin Literary Award and nominated for Hurston/Wright Foundation's Legacy Award. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Financial Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, The New York Times T Magazine and Guernica, among others. She is the recipient of fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and Bogliasco Foundation. She is a 2020-2021 American Academy in Berlin Prize Fellow. Her second novel, A Violent Woman, is forthcoming with Knopf.