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Pulitzer winners on the Brandeis faculty

Pulitzer winners on the Brandeis faculty

By Katarina Weessies

Section: Featured, Features

March 20, 2015

Brandeis’ brash spirit and unique heritage attract an arguably unexpected amount of acclaimed professors. Specifically, we have three Pulitzer Prize winners and two MacArthur fellows. The Pulitzer Prize Winners, David Hackett Fischer (HIST), Eileen McNamara (AMST) and Yehudi Wyner (MUS), have created works spanning a wide range of disciplines. Their works include narrative American histories, columns about infant mortality and solo instrumental compositions. The opportunity to be taught by an acclaimed professor is an incredible chance that Brandeis students should appreciate. Since the Pulitzer Prize is such a recognizable award, the fact that many of our renowned professors are Pulitzer winners contributes to the intellectual value of the school.

Fischer is one of our most recognizable, if not most famous, professors. Over 50 years ago, after receiving his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, he began working as a history professor at Brandeis. He has written an incredible variety of books analyzing American history. His books involve tactics of historical argument, analysis of terms like “freedom” and an explanation of American nationalism. His texts are well known in politics; campaign strategists working for Al Gore and Bill Clinton report reading his book “Albion’s Seed.” One of Fischer’s better known works, this book details how dated British norms have come to affect American culture. His most recent book, “Chaplain’s Dream,” is a historical account discussing the founder of Quebec City. The book that won Fischer the Pulitzer Prize, “Washington’s Crossing,” describes George Washington’s efforts in leading the Revolutionary War.

It is understandable how Fischer’s insightful pieces about American ideologies and histories are of such great value to politicians and academics alike. Fischer’s books deepen his students’ or readers’ understandings of America and expose the hidden complexities of the nation in which Brandeis is located. Today, Fischer teaches several American history classes on campus, including American History, American Literature and Slavery and the American Civil War.

Another notable Brandeis professor is McNamara. McNamara is a professor of journalism who won her Pulitzer Prize while working at The Boston Globe. McNamara’s works are provocative and often controversial. She writes about daunting and difficult topics such as domestic violence, police brutality and clergy sexual abuse, the latter winning her the Pulitzer Prize. Her works effectively expose and analyze societal ills. They profoundly affect the understanding and perspective of their reader, and thus affect societal discourse about the issues she exposes. She is a fairly public persona who has made several appearances on recognizable programs such as “The Daily Show” and “Larry King Live.” McNamara’s students admire her passionate and positive teaching style. She is described by the student body as a personable teacher who cares deeply about journalism and about her students.

A unique professor emeritus of composition at Brandeis is Wyner, who won a Pulitzer Prize in Music. Wyner’s profile on the Brandeis website states that “Professor Wyner’s main objective is simple: to write the best, the most personal and the most communicative music I can and to play the music of others with clarity and eloquence.” Wyner has degrees from Yale, Harvard and the Juilliard School. He has written over 60 works that span a wide range of genres. His compositions include orchestral pieces, solo vocal compositions and piano concertos.

His Pulitzer Prize was won for “Piano Concerto: ‘Chiavi in Mano.’” Wyner’s musical talents make sense given his family history. His father, Lazar Wyner, composed Yiddish art songs, and probably passed down his unique talent for composition to his son. Wyner’s works are deeply moving to the listener, and are incredibly diverse. His effect on the world of musical composition makes an enormous contribution to the worldwide impact of the Brandeis community.

Obviously, these three professors are only the tip of the iceberg as far as acclaimed Brandeis professors are concerned. The Pulitzer Prize, being a highly recognizable award, is an excellent lens through which we can discover what genius teachers are accessible to us as Brandeis students. Brandeis’ history is a bit more rebellious than those of most universities. Our rebellious heritage is part of what makes our school interesting and attractive to distinguished professors. It’s important that we as Brandeis students appreciate the scholars in our midst and try our best to learn from them.

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