Musical artist and Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah, acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall and Robert Smith, founder, chairman and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners are among the honorees being recognized by Harvard University this year with the W.E.B. DuBois Medal for their contributions to black history and culture.
Harvard is set to honor Latifah, Marshall, Smith, poet and educator Elizabeth Alexander, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie Bunch III, poet Rita Dove, and Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television on Oct. 22, according to Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.
Past recipients of the DuBois Medal include Dave Chappelle, Colin Kaepernick, Bryan Stevenson, Kehinde Wiley, Quincy Jones, Donna Brazile and LLCoolJ.
Elizabeth Alexander, whose memoir was a finalist in 2016 for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and who wrote and recited an original poem at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural, will be the next president of theAndrew W. Mellon Foundation, the country’s largest humanities philanthropy.
“All of the things that I’ve cared about my whole life and worked toward my whole life Mellon does,” said Ms. Alexander in a telephone interview, citing areas like higher education and scholarship, arts and cultural heritage, and diversity.
She added that “arts and humanities are not the most protected entities right now.”
Ms. Alexander succeeds Earl Lewis, who has served since 2013. She will start in March, becoming the foundation’s first female president.
“She has deep experience in cultivating partnerships that extend and amplify creative vision,” Danielle Allen, the foundation’s chairwoman, said in a statement, adding that Ms. Alexander “brings an artist’s forward-looking energy to institutional purpose.”
Ms. Alexander, who has written six books of poetry and two essay collections, was most recently a humanities professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Before that, she served as the director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation, where she helped design Agnes Gund’s $100 million Art for Justice Fund.
“This appointment is a milestone in the history of American philanthropy,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation. “It’s the combination of being both rooted in the arts and grounded in the humanities and understanding philanthropy that is going to make her a success.”
Ms. Alexander has also worked closely with the Poetry Center at Smith College; the nonprofit Cave Canem, which trains aspiring poets; and Yale University, where she spent 15 years on the faculty and helped rebuild the African-American Studies department.
Acclaimed poet, author and professor Elizabeth Alexander has been elected to the Pulitzer Prize board.
Alexander wrote and delivered her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for her book of poetry American Sublime and a 2016 Pulitzer finalist for her memoir, The Light of the World, according to the announcement on the Pulitzer website.
Alexander has taught at several schools, including the University of Chicago, New York University and Smith College, and was part of the faculty at Yale University for 15 years; she also served as chair of Yale’s department of African-American studies. Alexander was recently named the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University and is the director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation.
As a member of the 19-person board, Alexander will help decide the winners of the Pulitzer Prizes in in journalism, books, drama and music each April. She will serve a three-year term on the Pulitzer Prize board, on which members serve a maximum of nine years.
Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced. Awards are given out in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Five finalists are chosen in each category. The winners will be announced on March 17 at a ceremony at the New School in New York City.
Several of the finalists are African Americans who have ties to the academic world:
Elizabeth Alexander is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. Professor Alexander has been a member of the faculty at Yale since 2000. She previously taught at the University of Chicago. Professor Alexander is the author of six collections of poetry. She is being honored in the autobiography category for her book The Light of the World(Grand Central Publishing, 2015). Professor Alexander is a graduate of Yale University. She earned a master’s degree at Boston University and a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a finalist in the criticism category for his book Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015). The book is a memoir of his life as a Black man in America. The book earlier won the National Book Award. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. Coates has served as a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Management. Coates attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 2015, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Ross Gay teaches in the creative writing program at Indiana University and for the low-residency master of fine arts degree program in poetry at Drew University in New Jersey. He is a finalist in the poetry category for his collection Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). Dr. Gay is a native of Youngstown, Ohio. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Dr. Gay earned a master of fine arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and a Ph.D. in American literature from Temple University in Philadelphia.
Terrance Hayes was nominated in the poetry category for his collection How to Be Drawn (Penguin Books, 2015). Professor Hayes joined the English department faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 2013. He previously taught at Xavier University of Louisiana and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. A graduate of Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, Professor Hayes earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh. In 2014, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Margo Jefferson is a professor of writing in the School of the Arts at Columbia University and a professor at the Eugene Lang College of The New School for Liberal Arts in New York. She is nominated in the autobiography category for Negroland (Pantheon, 2015). She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism while writing for The New York Times. Professor Jefferson is a graduate of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and holds a master’s degree from Columbia University.