Each year, The New York Public Library honors several acclaimed individuals in the fields of arts, culture, letters and scholarship. This past Monday, November 4, poet Elizabeth Alexander, composer Philip Glass, novelist Jamaica Kincaid, historian Jill Lepore, and filmmaker Frederick Wiseman were welcomed as the newest class of Library Lions.
For the past 4 years, Guggenheim Productions has been working alongside The New York Public Library in recognizing these distinguished individuals for their work that has enriched the lives of many. This year’s honorees join a remarkable group of individuals that includes the likes of Malcolm Gladwell ’10, Martin Scorsese ’07, and Margret Atwood ’14. As a cultural institution, being recognized by the New York Public Library is nothing short of a great public thank you for each of the honoree’s contributions to their respective fields.
Elizabeth Alexander is a poet and memoirist, educator, and cultural advocate. She has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist for both poetry, in 2006 with American Sublime, and for her memoir, The Light of the World, in 2015. She has authored fourteen books and composed a poem which she performed at the inauguration of President Obama in 2009. She is the president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which supports arts and humanities in higher education, as well as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Additionally, she is a distinguished professor, having taught at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she chaired the African American Studies Department.
Philip Glass, a graduate of the Juilliard School and the University of Chicago, is widely regarded as one of the most influential composers of the late twentieth century. Since the creation of Einstein on the Beach, his landmark opera, Glass has expanded his repertoire to include music for dance, theatre, and film. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards and a Golden Globe. He has also been the recipient of the U.S. National Medal of the Arts from President Barack Obama and was honored by the Kennedy Center in 2018. He is currently working on projects for Broadway and film.
Jamaica Kincaid is an award-winning novelist and professor. She won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts for her first novel, At the Bottom of the River, and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her works have come to include a multitude of titles, including her latest novel See Now Then. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004 for her work as a Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Since her writing debut, Kincaid has been much celebrated, winning a Guggenheim Award and the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, amongst many others.
Jill Lepore is a much-celebrated scholar, professor, and writer. She is a Professor of American History at Harvard University. She has authored more than a dozen books including, These Truths: A History of the United States (2018) and This America: The Case for the Nation (2019). She also is a staff writer at The New Yorker, commenting on not only American history but also law and politics. Lepore has been a finalist for the National Book Award and twice the Pulitzer Prize, among many other awards and honorary degrees.
Frederick Wiseman is a renowned film and theatre director, with 43 films to his credit. These films primarily are focused on American institutions. Some of his filmography includes directing Beckett’s Happy Days and Vassili Grossman’s The Last Letter at the Comédie Française in Paris and New York. He has received numerous awards and honors by institutions like Harvard University, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Emmys.
View the video below to see how we celebrate this year’s honorees and explore their relationships with the esteemed New York Public Library and libraries across the world.