Oates and Pagels receive Behrman Award

Princeton professors Joyce Carol Oates and Elaine Pagels have received the University's Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities.

Oates, the Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities and professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts, has been a Princeton faculty member since 1978. She has written more than 50 novels, as well as books of short stories, plays, poetry, literary criticism and essays. Some of her most acclaimed novels are "We Were The Mulvaneys," a portrait of a family's fall from grace; "Blonde," which portrays the life of Marilyn Monroe; "The Falls," a haunting story about Niagara Falls; and "The Gravedigger's Daughter," which is based on the life of Oates' grandmother.

In addition to her fiction, Oates is known for her literary criticism and essays, which have examined such diverse themes as boxing, serial killers, poetry and art. Her many honors include the National Humanities Medal, the National Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award honoring excellence in the art of the short story, the O. Henry Prize for continued achievement in the short story and the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.

In nominating Oates for the Behrman Award, a colleague wrote that she "has produced an extraordinary body of work — one that rivals those of the 19th-century greats like Balzac and Dickens in its extent, and demands comparison with them in depth, range and power." Another colleague wrote, "For most critics in most parts of the world, no canon of American literature would be complete without the inclusion of a novel or short story by Joyce Carol Oates."

Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion, has been a Princeton faculty member since 1982. An authority on the religions of late antiquity, she is the author of "The Gnostic Gospels," which won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was selected by the Modern Library as one the best 100 English-language nonfiction books of the 20th century. "The Gnostic Gospels" also provided the building blocks for Dan Brown's best-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code," which borrowed — and then fictionalized — several elements of Pagels' work.

Pagels' books also include the best-selling "Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas," as well as "The Origin of Satan" and "Adam, Eve and the Serpent." Her newest book, published in March, is "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the Book of Revelation." Her other awards include a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."

In nominating Pagels for the Behrman Award, a colleague wrote, "She is an extraordinarily gifted popularizer who has managed to convey to a general audience the excitement of the study of ancient texts as well as an appreciation of their ongoing significance. … Part of Pagels' gift is her ability to show readers that the ancient texts she studies are concerned with the great questions of human existence though they may discuss them in mythological or theological language very different from our own."

Bestowed annually, the Behrman Award was established in 1975 by a gift from the late Howard Behrman, a physician and book collector.