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Past IAH Medal Winners

Established in 2006, the Medal honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the arts and humanities and whose work has furthered public awareness of the importance of scholarship, literature, and the arts. During their time on campus, honorees engage in a series of activities – a public lecture, a seminar with graduate students and faculty, a taped public-broadcasting interview. The inaugural recipient of this award was internationally acclaimed novelist and public intellectual Salman Rushdie. The Medal, designed by award-winning medalist, local artist, and Penn State alumna Jeanne Stevens-Sollman, is awarded annually. The program is made possible by generous funding from a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant, awarded to the Institute in 2002.

2014 Award Winner: Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Atwood is the author of more than forty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction, but is best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1969), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Her newest novel, MaddAddam (2013), is the final volume in a three-book series that began with the Man-Booker prize-nominated Oryx and Crake (2003) and continued with The Year of the Flood (2009). The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short fiction) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, a collection of non-fiction essays appeared in 2011. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth was adapted for the screen in 2012. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic, and Estonian.

Ms. Atwood visited Penn State on November 12-13, 2014. She received the IAH Medal at the State Theatre onWednesday, November 12 at 7:30 pm, and offered a Penn State Forum talk the following day, at the Nittany Lion Inn at noon

2013 Award Winner: Patti Smith


The recipient of the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Achievement was Patti Smith. Ms. Smith is an artist who is difficult to categorize. Known primarily for her talents as a singer and songwriter, she is also an accomplished writer, poet, photographer, and political activist.

Her recorded studio albums include Horses (1975), Radio Ethiopia (1976), Easter (1978), which contains the singleBecause the Night, (co-written with Bruce Springsteen), and, most recently, Banga (2012). Her life and work form the subject of the 2008 documentary film, Patti Smith: Dream of Life. Ms. Smith has previously received awards such as her inclusion in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, and a National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

On October 15, 2013 the IAH hosted “An Evening With Patti Smith” at the Eisenhower Auditorium. After a brief ceremony to present her with the IAH Medal, Ms. Smith offered a performance of her music.


WPSU interview with Ms. Smith
A Conversation with Rock Legend Patti Smith
Bonus Interview With Patti Smith

Centre Daily Times
‘Godmother of punk’ goes organic: IAH to honor Patti Smith with achievement medal

Onward State
Punk Rock isn’t Dead: Music Legend Patti Smith to Grace Eisenhower Stage

2012 Award Winner: J. M. Coetzee

Nobel Prize-winning writer J. M. Coetzee was the recipient of the 2012 IAH Medal for Distinguished Achievement. In a ceremony at the State Theatre on Thursday, October 18, 7:00 p.m., Coetzee was awarded the medal and gave a public reading. Born in South Africa, and now a resident of Australia, Coetzee is the author of many translations, nonfictional works, and novels including DisgraceFoeThe Life and Times of Michael K, and Waiting for the Barbarians.

Coetzee Event Poster

2011 Award Winner: Paul Taylor

Text written by Michael Bérubé and Amy Vashaw. Voice over by Patty Satalia.

2011 Award Winner: Paul Taylor

The 2011 recipient of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medal for Distinguished Achievement was dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor.

Paul Taylor photo by Maxine Hicks

Paul Taylor is among the pantheon of artists (people such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Merce Cunningham) who created America’s canon of modern dance. At every stage of his long and illustrious career, Mr. Taylor has won worldwide acclaim for the vibrancy, relevance, and power of his recent dances as well as his classics.

In the 1950s, when Taylor’s work was so cutting-edge that it could send confused audience members flocking to the exits, Martha Graham dubbed him the “naughty boy” of dance. And yet while his work has largely been iconoclastic, since the very start of his career Mr. Taylor has also made some of the most purely romantic, most astonishingly athletic, and downright funniest dances ever put on stage. Taylor has set dances to ragtime, reggae and rock, tango, Tin Pan Alley and barbershop quartets; works by baroque masters Bach, Boyce and Handel and iconoclasts Feldman, Ligeti and Varése; monotonous time announcements, plaintive loon calls, and hysterical laughter.

Mr. Taylor was born in Pennsylvania in 1930 and grew up in and around Washington, DC. He was a swimmer and student of painting at Syracuse University in the late 1940s until he discovered dance, which he began studying at Juilliard. By 1954 he had assembled a small company of dancers and was making his own works. A commanding performer despite his late start, he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1955 for the first of seven seasons as soloist while continuing to choreograph on his own troupe. After retiring as a performer in 1974, Mr. Taylor devoted himself fully to choreography and more masterpieces continued to pour forth, including Esplanade, Cloven Kingdom, Dust, Airs, Mercuric Tidings, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), Arden Court, Last Look, Musical Offering, Syzygy, Speaking in Tongues, Company B, Eventide, Piazzolla Caldera, Promethean Fire, Banquet of Vultures and Beloved Renegade. Mr. Taylor is also the subject of the documentary, Dancemaker, and author of the autobiography, Private Domain (1987), and the essay “Why I Make Dances.” He remains among the most sought-after choreographers working today, commissioned by ballet companies and presenting organizations the world over.

The medal ceremony was held Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. in Eisenhower Auditorium.

(Photo of Mr. Taylor by Maxine Hicks)


LAUS @ PSU Blog: Heaven is a Modern Dance
Centre Daily Times: Dance for Joy
The Collegian: Paul Taylor Dance Company

Paul Taylor Medal Ceremony

From left: George Trudeau (Director, Center for the Performing Arts), Michael Bérubé (Director, Institute for the Arts and Humanities), Paul Taylor, Graham Spanier (President, the Pennsylvania State University)

Toni Morrison, Spring 2010

Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, at Princeton University, where, for the last two decades, she has lead classes and fostered interdisciplinary collaboration in the arts and the humanities. A critically acclaimed writer and educator, Toni Morrison is best known for her candid novels emphasizing race, gender, and the African American experience. Her nine major novels include The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1977), Song of Solomon(1977), and Paradise (1998). Her 1987 novel Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was later made into the widely popular feature film. Her latest national bestseller, A Mercy (2008), has continued to bring her worldwide admiration. In 1993, Morrison became the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Emanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo-Yo Ma, Spring 2009

Medal Ceremony Laudatio, read by Graham Spanier, President of the Pennsylvania State University

On behalf of the Pennsylvania State University, I am honored to present Emanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo-Yo Ma with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medals for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities. In choosing these three extraordinary musicians as the recipients of this year's medals, we celebrate not only their individual and collective contributions to the arts; we also celebrate their commitment to uniting the peoples of the world through music. More than mere ambassadors, they are men of peace who leave all who are touched by their music a little better for having been in their presence.

Mr. Ax, would you please join me at the lectern. Born in Poland shortly after World War Two, Emanuel Ax went on to study piano at The Julliard School and quickly gained wide acclaim for his solo performances. After winning the inaugural Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition at age 25, and the Avery Fisher Prize in 1979, he has gone on to capture the most prestigious prizes in the world of music. Beyond his outstanding solo career, Emanuel Ax has collaborated with some of the world's great performers and orchestras. A graduate of Columbia University with a degree in French, at the piano he speaks a language filled with human emotion that is understood around the world.

It is an honor to present Emanuel Ax with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.

Mr. Perlman, would you please join me at the lectern. Itzhak Perman embraces collaboration wherever it takes him. From concert halls to seats of international power to television shows alongside such familiar figures as David Letterman, John Williams, and the Muppets from Sesame Street, Perlman is equally at home with the powerful and the plush. The winner of four Emmy awards, Itzhak Perlman's performances have brought joy to millions, and his personal appearances speak eloquently on behalf of all those who suffer and those who dream around the world. As the Kennedy Center board proclaimed when naming Perlman a Kennedy Center honoree in 2003, "The world falls in love with music when Itzhak Perlman picks up his violin."

It is our privilege to present Itzhak Perlman with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.

Mr. Ma, would you please join me at the lectern. Acclaimed cellist, educator, and U. N. Messenger of Peace, Yo-Yo Ma believes that music should be experienced and created by the young as well as the old. From his work onSesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood to inaugurating a series of family concerts at Carnegie Hall to the founding and artistic direction of The Silk Road Project, Yo-Yo Ma's commitment to peace through music and education has touched millions around the world.

For his unwavering commitment to knowledge and for the gift of his music, we present Yo-Yo Ma with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.

Thank you all for your contributions to the arts and humanities and for sharing your talent with us tonight.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Spring 2008

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State's Institute for the Arts and Humanities (IAH) presented its third annual "Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Public Advancement of the Arts and Humanities" to one of Latin America's leading novelists and essayists, Mario Vargas Llosa, a Spanish-Peruvian writer, journalist, and political activist.

He gave a public lecture on Thursday, April 10, at 8:00 p.m. in Schwab Auditorium. Earlier that day he was the featured guest of a WPSU “Common Ground Lobby Talk.” The live interview was conducted by Patty Satalia at 3:30 p.m. in the Outreach Building at Innovation Park. Both events were free and open to the public.

This medal is awarded annually to individuals who have made significant public contributions to the advancement of the arts and the humanities in our times. Previous recipients were author Salman Rushdie (2006) and architect Daniel Libeskind (2007).

Vargas Llosa is prominent for his novels, many of which have received distinguished international awards: La ciudad y los perros (The Time of the Hero, 1963), La casa verde (The Green House, 1966), the monumental Conversación en la catedral (Conversation in the Cathedral, 1969); La guerra del fin del mundo (The War of the End of the World, 1981) and La Fiesta del Chivo (The Feast of the Goat, 2000). His novels span many literary genres, including comedy, murder mystery, the historical novel, and the political thriller. Several, such as Pantaleón y las visitadoras and La tía Julia y el escribidor, have been adapted as feature films (the latter as Tune in Tomorrow). One of the leading authors of his generation, Vargas Llosa is considered to have a greater international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom.

Medal Ceremony Laudatio, read by Dr. Eva Pell, Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School

On behalf of the Pennsylvania State University I am honored to present Mr. Mario Vargas Llosa the Institute for the Arts and Humanities “Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.”

Author of more than 15 novels, in addition to many theatrical plays, radio dramas, essays, and short stories, Mr. Vargas Llosa is one of the most wide-ranging, prolific, and acclaimed writers of our time. His literary work, originally written in Spanish, has been translated into 33 languages. The Spanish-Peruvian author’s literary awards are far too numerous to list in their entirety here. Among them are: the Nabokov Prize from the PEN American Center, the Medal “El Sol del Perú” and the degree of the Great Cross of Diamonds (the highest distinction bestowed by the Peruvian nation), the National Book Critics Circle Award, Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Golden Medal of the Pan American Society, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the Jerusalem Prize, and the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, (to name only a few). In addition to his own doctorate degree from the University of Madrid (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), he has honorary doctorates from more than 30 of the most prestigious universities around the world.

In addition to his writing and teaching, Mr. Vargas Llosa has had a prominent political career. He founded the political party Movimiento Libertad (the Freedom Movement) and was a contending candidate for the President of Peru in 1990. Mr. Vargas Llosa has also worked as a journalist, most prominently for El Paìs in Spain, and as a cultural ambassador between Peru and Israel, for which he was recognized by the Government of Israel and Prime Minister Shimon Perez in April 2001. He has also worked as a translator for UNESCO and as director of the Peruvian television program “The Tower of Babel” ("La torre de Babel").

Mr. Vargas Llosa embodies the humanist ideals of balance between the active life and contemplative life, achieving a lasting legacy on both counts. His literary, journalistic, and political work engages the most profound contradictions of our complex world. For all of these reasons – and many more – please join me in thanking Mario Vargas Llosa for his great contributions to the arts and the humanities.

Daniel Libeskind, Spring 2007

Daniel Libeskind is an international figure in architectural practice and urban design. He was born in Poland and, after some years in Israel, came to the United States in 1965. Mr. Libeskind first gained international prominence for his design of the Jewish Museum in Berlin (1989). Subsequently, he has designed museums, concert halls, and other major cultural institutions around the world. He has held professorial chairs at several universities – University of Toronto, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Universität Karlsruhe – and he has five honorary doctorates. Among his numerous awards are the 2003 Torch of Honor Award for furthering immigrant and human rights, the Hiroshima Art Prize for work promoting peace, and the Berlin Cultural Prize. In 2004 he was appointed the first Cultural Ambassador for Architecture by the U.S. State Department.

Medal Ceremony Laudatio, read by Dr. Yvonne Gaudelius, Interim Dean, College of Arts and Architecture

On behalf of the Pennsylvania State University I am honored to present Mr. Daniel Libeskind the Institute for the Arts and Humanities “Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.”

Architect of some of the most innovative and important buildings of our times – among them the Jewish Museum of Berlin, the Danish Jewish Museum, the British Imperial War Museum, the Denver Art Museum, and the 9/11 memorial “Memoria e Luce” in Italy – Daniel Libeskind’s buildings have helped define the spaces that shape our worlds and our histories, and in doing so they have helped to enlarge our own imaginations. His buildings are not only memorable; they also often stand as monuments to memory itself. “Memory and Light” is the name of his memorial for 9/11, but it could also stand as the name for his work as a whole which opens spaces for memory as well as light. Mr. Libeskind’s own words remind us just how much architecture transcends a simple concern with structures: “A building can be experienced as an unfinished journey. It can awaken our desires, propose imaginary conclusions. It is not about form, image or text, but about the experience which is not to be simulated. A building can awaken us to the fact that it has never been anything more than a huge question mark.” It is no surprise then that Mr. Libeskind’s buildings, his critical writings, and his teaching have done much to change the discourse of architecture today.

Mr. Libeskind has won numerous awards and has been honored by many universities. He has held endowed chairs at Yale, Toronto, Chicago, Harvard, Karlsruhe, and the University of Pennsylvania. He has honorary doctorates from the University of Essex in England, the Humboldt University of Berlin, DePaul University, the University of Toronto, and the University of Edinburgh. He is the recipient of several awards, among them the 2001 Hiroshima Art Prize for work that promotes international understanding and peace, the 2000 Goethe Medallion for Contributions to Culture, and the American Academy Arts and Letters Award for Architecture.

Daniel Libeskind’s work has opened spaces – for living and working, but also for memory and history – that have enriched our world. He has brought great vitality and imagination to thinking through how it is that we can best inhabit those spaces. For all of these reasons, and many more, I am pleased to present Mr. Daniel Libeskind with the 2007 “Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.”

Salman Rushdie, Spring 2006

Salman Rushdie is an internationally known author of fiction and non-fiction. He is also the recipient of a myriad of literary awards as well as eight honorary doctorates. His second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Award in 1981, and subsequently the “Booker of Bookers” Prize in 1993, selected as the best novel to be awarded the Booker Prize in its first twenty-five years. Among his other positions, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, an Honorary Professor of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the President of PEN American Center. He is among the most prominent and respected writers of our time, an original mind and relative force, a public intellectual, an articulate spokesperson for the obligations of writers, and a steadfast champion of intellectual freedom.

Medal Ceremony Laudatio, read by Dr. Eva Pell, Senior Vice President for Research

On behalf of the Pennsylvania State University, I am honored to present Mr. Salman Rushdie with the Institute for the Arts and Humanities “Medal for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities”. In choosing Mr. Rushdie as the first recipient of this annual award, its standards now seem set impossibly high for the future.

Author of sixteen books – of both fiction and non-fiction – winner of almost every significant literary award – the Arts Council Writers Award, the Booker prize, the Best of the Booker, the Writers Guild Award, the Prix Colette, the Whitbread, the Budapest Prize (to name only a few) – Salman Rushdie’s work has helped to define the possibilities of literature in our times. He is a writer of uncommon eloquence who has shown us new ways in which language can be beautiful while, at the same time, open up hidden possibilities of our selves and our world. A writer who lives at frontiers – between the self and the world, waking and dreaming, history and myth – his work has taken the measure of the transformations of our times. Simply put: Salman Rushdie’s work reminds us that, in his own words, “the novel, as its name suggests, is about the making of the new” and we can say in return that his own writing has never ceased being anything less than exemplary in this regard.

While these achievements alone more than merit the award we present to Mr. Rushdie this evening, it should also be said that he has been a steadfast and powerful voice on behalf of intellectual freedom. His position as President of PEN America is but one of the many ways in which he has worked to champion the cause of literature, the freedom of speech, and the need – as well as the right – for the imagination to live without shackles. For all of these reasons – and many more – please join me in thanking Salman Rushdie for his great contributions to the arts and the humanities.