Associate Director of Communications
2 East South Street
Galesburg, IL 61401-4999
June 06, 2009
Mr. President, I have the honor to present Professor Garry Wills as a candidate for the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters.
Prof. Wills is distinguished for the remarkable range of his learning and for the cogency and fluency of his prose. His learning is based in an amazing mastery of languages, cultures, genres, and historical periods. Trained as a classicist, he has nonetheless distinguished himself in a variety of other academic fields, such as politics, philosophy, history, religion, and architecture. He has written authoritatively on writers from the ancient world to the modern, from Aeschylus and Vergil to Shakespeare and Mark Twain. In addition to writing a compelling biographical study of St. Augustine, he has translated that writer's Confessions into spirited and eminently readable modern prose.
Among his notable contributions to the understanding of our own culture is a series of book-length investigations of American Presidents from the founding generation - Jefferson, Washington, and Madison - to those of more recent times - Nixon, Kennedy, and Reagan. His 1992 book, Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won a Pulitzer Prize, gave its very familiar subject a refreshingly new treatment and has since become a classic of its kind. Challenging, critical, and brilliantly argued, these were not ordinary works. His book on Richard Nixon, for example, portrayed a famous public figure - a sitting president, no less - in what reviewers and readers found to be a startling and revealing new light. His provocative book on Jefferson's Declaration of Independence caused even the best informed readers to rethink the meaning and import of the best known document of the nation's founding.
Garry Wills' reputation as one of our leading public intellectuals rests on his ability to bring this level of learning and insight to bear on contemporary issues, and to do so in a consistently lively and engaging way. While pursuing an academic career as a university professor, he was also an active journalist, covering presidential elections and other major political events, as well as writing a syndicated newspaper column. He is the one of the most widely read, and certainly one of the most versatile book reviewers of our time. A distinguishing mark of his creativity and his achievement is the astonishing number of books he himself has written, a feat whose magnitude is only compounded by the astonishing variety of subjects he has addressed. Henry Adams, the Catholic Church, the films of John Ford and John Wayne, the arts of Venice, the Apostle Paul, the Civil Rights movement, the Bible: to name the subjects of his books is to trace the outlines of a liberal education.
Mr. President, it is an honor and a great personal privilege to present for the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, Garry Wills.