Vilcek Prizes Honor Excellence in Biomedical Science and the Arts: 2011 Recipients Announced

Awards season at the Vilcek Foundation is always an exciting time, especially after our hardworking selection juries, after months of research and deliberation, release the names of the recipients of our annual prizes - the Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Science, the Vilcek Prize for the Arts, this year given in Literature, and the Creative Promise prizes in the same categories.

To our list of exemplary winners of the Vilcek Prize for Biomedical Science we add Titia de Lange, PhD, celebrated for her work with telomeres, the highly specialized DNA-protein structures that cap the ends of linear chromosomes, protecting chromosomes from degradation and maintaining their stability. A native of the Netherlands, Dr. de Lange is the Leon Hess Professor and head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology at the Rockefeller University. To the winners in the Arts category, Literature, we add the illustrious name Charles Simic, 2007 Poet Laureate of the United States, a native of Belgrade. His poetry has won the praise of critics and fans alike, and citations such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the MacArthur Fellowship and, most recently, the prestigious Robert Frost Medal, presented by the Poetry Society of America. 

This year’s Creative Promise prizes we award to Yibin Kang, PhD, in Biomedical Science, and Dinaw Mengestu, in Literature. Raised in a small town in rural China, Dr. Kang is now Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. A front runner in addressing the question of how tumor cells spread in the bodies of cancer patients, he devised molecular strategies for identifying genes and pathways that  underlie cancer metastasis, a major breakthrough in the field. Mr. Mengestu, a novelist and journalist born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, takes on questions of a different sort, about identity, memory, and discovery, and sets about examining them in his critically acclaimed novels, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air.

We ask our juries to also select four Creative Promise finalists in both the Biomedical Science and Arts categories. For 2011, in Biomedical Science, they are: Katherine Fitzgerald, PhD, Ekaterina Heldwein, PhD, Galit Lahav, PhD, and Elina Zuniga, PhD. In Literature, they are: Ilya Kaminsky, Téa Obreht, Vu Tran, and Simon Van Booy.

Since immigrating to this country, all of these men and women, by their tenacity, dedication to hard work, and commitment to vision have triumphed in their fields and stand as exemplars of the Vilcek Foundation’s mission, formulated ten years ago by founders Jan and Marica Vilcek, to honor, celebrate, and publicize the contributions of foreign-born individuals in the United States. “Each year,” said Dr. Vilcek, President of the Foundation, “as we honor the individual achievements of a small group of scientists and artists, by extension we also pay tribute to those who came before them and those who will follow - the many thousands who made this country a leader in science and the arts, and will continue to do so into the future.” 

The Vilcek Prize winners each receive a $100,000 cash award and a trophy created by noted designer Stefan Sagmeister. The Creative Promise winners each receive a $25,000 cash award and a commemorative plaque, also designed by Mr. Sagmeister; the Creative Promise finalists receive a $5,000 cash award.  Sitting on the Vilcek Foundation’s prize selection juries are experts and leaders in their fields. This year, the biomedical jury included eminent scientists from the New York University School of Medicine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Salk Institute, Rockefeller University, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The arts jury was made up of editors, publishers, agents, distinguished writers, and MFA program directors, representing such notable institutions as The New Yorker, Graywolf Press, the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshops, and The Best American anthology series. 

The Foundation’s annual awards presentation dinner will be held in April in New York City. It is our sixth year presenting the Vilcek Prizes, for major contributions to society, and our third awarding the Creative Promise prizes, in acknowledgment of foreign-born biomedical scientists and artists in earlier stages of their careers. 

We encourage you to read more about all these outstanding individuals, whose contributions to American society and culture today serve to remind us that ours is a country of immigrants, and the better for it. Please click here for more detailed biographies of the winners and finalists.

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