Three Rutgers Professors Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

from Left to right: Nancy Yunhwa Rao, John Keene and Eileen White
From left to right: Nancy Yunhwa Rao from Mason Gross School of the Arts, John Keene from Rutgers University-Newark and Eileen White from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey were among 250 new members elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation's most prestigious honor societies.

Nancy Yunhwa Rao, John Keene and Eileen White are among 250 new members elected to the class of 2024

Three Rutgers professors were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a distinguished honor that recognizes their work to promote African American voices in poetry, preserve the history of Chinese operatic performers in America, and lead groundbreaking cancer research.   

The academy announced its class of 2024 this week – a group of 250 inductees in 31 areas of expertise, divided into five categories: math and physical sciences; biological sciences; social and behavioral sciences; humanities and arts; leadership, policy and communications. This year’s class includes Apple CEO Tim Cook and actor and filmmaker George Clooney, cofounder of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

The academy, one of the nation’s most prestigious honor societies, was created during the American Revolution in 1780 and its early members included Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. Since then, there have been 14,600 members inducted including former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (2003), musician John Legend (2017) and author Salman Rushdie (2022).

“Rutgers’ three new distinguished members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences exemplify the academy’s long tradition of leaders in their varied fields working together to address complex, challenging issues and advance the public good,” said President Jonathan Holloway, who was inducted as an academy member in 2019 in the area of leadership, policy and communication.

The three 2024 Rutgers inductees are:

John Keene

Chair, Department of Africana Studies
Distinguished Professor of English, Africana Studies, and Creative Writing
Rutgers University-Newark

Category: Humanities and Arts in the Field of Literature

John Keene has earned a long list of accolades for his writing including a 2018 MacArthur "Genius" grant and the National Book Award for Poetry. He has published his fiction, poetry, essays and translations in a wide array of journals and his honors include a 2003 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and a 2005 Whiting Foundation Award in Fiction and Poetry.

He is the author of the novel
Annotations (New Directions, 1995); the poetry collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), a collaboration with artist Christopher Stackhouse; the short fiction collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015), which received the inaugural 2017 Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses (in the United Kingdom) as well as a 2016 American Book Award, a 2016 Lannan Literary Award for fiction, and a 2018 Windham-Campbell Prize in Fiction; and his National Book award-winning Punks: New & Selected Poems (The Song Cave, 2021), which also received 2022 Thom Gunn Award and a 2022 Lambda Literary Award. Keene's other published work includes GRIND (ITI Press, 2016), an art-text collaboration with photographer Nicholas Muellner, and the poetry chapbook Playland (Seven Kitchens Press, 2016).

“I am truly surprised but also thankful for this recognition of and for my work,” said Keene. “I strongly believe literature, and all art, are invaluable and have the power to shape and transform our understanding of and actions in the world for the better by helping us to read, think and see in new and distinctive ways, and this is one of the aims of my artistic practice.”

– Nora Luongo

Nancy Yunhwa Rao

Nancy Rao
Lynne DeLade

Distinguished Professor, Head of Music Theory
Mason Gross School of the Arts
Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Category: Humanities and Arts in the Field of Performing Arts

Nancy Yunhwa Rao teaches music theory, but she also sees herself as a historian.

As a music theorist, she has been spotlighting the influence that composers of Asian descent have had on contemporary American music.

“It’s my mission to analyze music and expand the toolbox of music theory,” Rao said. “It’s a new way of looking at something that has been established for a long time.”

As a historian, Rao is recording the influence of Chinese opera on American life. Her 2017 book, Chinatown Opera Theater in North America, chronicled the untold journey of Cantonese opera performers to North America, beginning at the western shores in San Francisco and Seattle. With innovative stage productions that combined Western aesthetics with grand Chinese customs, these troupes became an important part of the community, she said. Yet, they have disappeared into historical obscurity, she said, adding that much of entertainment history in America has focused on the transatlantic migration.

“I expand the notion of American music history by bringing into the dialogue the transpacific influences in terms of history building, of Asian American as part of Americanness,” said Rao, who was named the editor-in-chief of the journal American Music in 2023 and coedits the book series Big Issues in Music.

“It’s not a recognition of me alone, it’s the recognition of the community, this history. It’s the recognition of Asian Americans, of people before me and their history,” she said. “What makes this particularly special is that it’s beyond just one institution’s recognition. The academy is a community of people who work to advance society in many ways, and to become a part of that larger community is truly an honor.”

– Roya Rafei

Eileen White

Eileen White wearing a white lab coat standing in a lab
John O'Boyle

Deputy Director and Chief Scientific Officer
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
Rutgers Health

Category: Biological Sciences in the Field of Cellular and Developmental Biology

Eileen White, an expert in cancer metabolism, has made seminal discoveries that laid the groundwork for the development of novel treatments.

The White Laboratory at Rutgers Cancer Institute focuses on the role of cellular metabolism in cancer progression and treatment. White is also associate director of the Princeton Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at Princeton University.  White discovered and identified critical metabolic pathways through which cancer cells survive, reproduce and evade immune responses, paving new ways to inhibit tumor growth and improve anti-cancer immune responses.

Addressing scientific priorities at a national level she has served on the Board of Scientific Advisors and Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Cancer Institute, and the Board of Directors of the American Association for Cancer Research.

She is an elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), and elected fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy, the American Society of Microbiology, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. White also has received a MERIT Award from the National Cancer Institute, an investigatorship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Red Smith Award from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

“It is humbling to be recognized in this way and to be a contributor to the international scientific community in cancer research by shedding light on mechanisms by which tumor cells survive, obtain and use nutrients and evade the immune response,” said White, who is also a Board of Governors Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and the codirector of the Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence at Rutgers Cancer Institute. 

Patti Zielinski