Henry Louis Gates Jr. has added yet another prestigious award to what is surely a long list. The New York Public Library, at a recent ceremony in New York, named Gates a Library Lion, one of its highest honors. The W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities and chair of the Department of African and African American Studies was one of four recipients honored at the eighth annual event.
In a statement, the library’s chairman Samuel C. Butler and its president Paul LeClerc said of the recipients, their “accomplishments have enriched our lives and served as an inspiration to millions.”
“Few have done more to further our knowledge of, and appreciation for, African and African-American literature and culture than Professor Gates,” William C. Kirby, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Edith and Benjamin Geisinger Professor of History, said. “It is very fitting that he be recognized as a Library Lion. The New York Public Library could not have made a better choice.”
“I fell in love with the New York Public Library through its Harlem branch, the famed Schomburg Library, when I was an undergraduate at Yale,” Gates said. “I used to go down to New York from New Haven, work in the library, and then meet my brother – who was doing his internship at Harlem Hospital – and he would take me and my friends to Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant for fried chicken and collard greens. I think my love of the life of the mind was constructed on a firm foundation of soul food, right in the middle of Harlem! My experiences in that marvelous library whetted my appetite for the life of the scholar, and I haven’t turned back since. My debt to the New York Public Library is an enormous one, making this great honor even more precious to me,” he said.
In addition to Gates, conductor James Conlon, soprano Renee Fleming, and New Yorker editor David Remnick received Library Lions medals.