CUNY Professors Win Nation’s Highest Award in the Arts

December 8, 2006 | The University

Two professors from The City University of New York have been awarded National Medals of Art, the nation’s highest honor for artists and patrons who have made “extraordinary contributions to the creation, growth, and support of the arts in the United States.”

The professors — photographer Roy DeCarava of Hunter College and literary translator Gregory Rabassa of Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center — were the only recipients from New York City. DeCarava has devoted more than 60 years to an extraordinary career as a master photographer and is considered a pioneer in the art. Rabassa is one of the world’s leading translators of Latin American literature.

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said, “This national recognition is both an extraordinary credit to the work and accomplishments of these outstanding educators and reflective of the quality and stature of the faculty of The City University of New York.”

Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab said, “We are so proud of Roy DeCarava — both for this wonderful achievement and also for his lifetime of extraordinary work. For more than 60 years, he has been both a master and a pioneer in the art of photography–much of it chronicling the black experience here in his hometown of New York City. It is indeed a great honor for us to have him as a Distinguished Professor of Art at Hunter.”

The Graduate Center President William Kelly said, “To quote someone who really knows, Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that Gregory Rabassa is the ‘best Latin American writer in the English language.’ It takes a particular kind of talent to perceive the essence of someone else’s writing voice and then convey that precise content and style in a whole different linguistic context. No one does that better than Gregory Rabassa, and we are delighted that his extraordinary accomplishments have now been translated into the nation’s highest arts award. We are honored to have him
on our faculty.”

Queens College President James Muyskens said, “Since 1968, Queens College students have had the opportunity to study with Gregory Rabassa, an extraordinary teacher and scholar who has achieved international renown over the years as the foremost translator of Latin American literature. The National Medal of Arts he recently received brings honor not just to Distinguished Professor Rabassa, but also to the entire Queens College community, and we proudly congratulate him for this well-deserved and very prestigious recognition.”

A member of the Hunter faculty since 1975, DeCarava was hailed for a lifetime of inspiring contributions to the arts, his citation reading: “In the midst of the Civil Rights movement, his revealing work seized the attention of our nation while displaying the dignity and determination of his subjects.”

Living and working primarily in New York City, the lensman/scholar has been widely praised as the first photographer “to devote serious attention…to the black experience in America.” His work is in collections at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Rabassa has achieved wide recognition for his translations of over 50 books by some of the greatest Latin American writers, including Jorge Amado, Julio Cortazar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jose Lezama Lima and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

He is perhaps best known for his translations of Cortazar’s Hopscotch and Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. In April 2005 Rabassa published a memoir of his life and celebrated career called If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, which was favorably reviewed by the New York Times, Washington Post and in other major media. He has taught at Queens College since 1968.

A product of multi-lingual parents – his father was from Cuba and his mother was of Scottish and English
ancestry – Rabassa holds a master’s in Spanish literature and a doctorate in Portuguese from Columbia University. He prides himself in eschewing modern technological conveniences like the computer, using instead a conventional yellow writing pad.

A total of ten artists and groups were presented with medals last month at the White House in a ceremony with President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.

According to Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which manages the National Medal of Arts nomination process, this year’s recipients have “all made enduring contributions to the artistic life of our nation.”

Gioia said, “Whether by translating the masterpieces of Latin American literature or bringing genius to the design of everyday objects or simply preserving the great musical heritage of New Orleans, their work has enriched our national culture.”

Each year, the Arts Endowment seeks nominations from individuals and organizations across the country. Then the National Council on the Arts — the Arts Endowment’s presidentially-appointed advisory body — reviews the nominations and provides recommendations to the President, who selects the recipients.

The National Medal of Arts was established by Congress in 1984. During the past 21 years, more than 200 extraordinary patrons and artists in the fields of visual, performing and literary arts have been honored. For its purposes the Endowment considers the “arts” to encompass: arts education, crafts, dance, drawing, film, graphic/product design, interior design, landscape architecture, literature, classical and popular music, painting, patrons/advocates, photography, presenting, printmaking, sculpture, theater, urban design.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university: eleven senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College, the Graduate Center, the Graduate School of Journalism, the Law School, the School of Professional Studies and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The University serves more than 226,000 degree-credit students and 230,000 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 280 high schools throughout the five boroughs of the City of New York. The University has launched an on-line baccalaureate degree through the School of Professional Studies, and a new Teacher Academy offering free tuition for highly motivated mathematics and science majors who seek teaching careers in the city’s public schools.