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University awards three honorary degrees

Three distinguished scholarstwo authors and a composer will be awarded honorary degrees by U-M at winter commencement exercises.

Authors Philip Levine and Nellie Y. McKay will receive doctorates of humane letters, and composer Roy Hamlin Johnson will receive a doctorate of music at commencement, 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Crisler Arena. The Board of Regents approved the degrees at a meeting Nov. 14.

Levine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, author and essayist, will speak at the commencement exercises in addition to receiving his degree. He is recognized for his devotion to exploring issues of race and class through his writings. Levine has earned two National Book Awards for his poetry collections "What Work Is" (1991) and "Ashes" (1979), as well as the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Ashes" and "7 Years From Somewhere" (1979). Born in Detroit in 1928 to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Levine graduated from Wayne State University with bachelor's and master's degrees in English literature, and then completed a master of fine arts degree at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He taught literature at California State University, Fresno, from 1958­92, and currently he teaches at New York University.

McKay, a force in shaping the discipline of African American studies, is a teacher, author and editor known for her own research and as a master of weaving together the African American social fabric through literature. One of her best-known works is the 2,665-page "Norton Anthology of African

American Literature" (1996), which she edited with Henry Louis Gates Jr. She is a prominent scholar in the works of Toni Morrison, of whom she has edited critical essays and written casebooks of her novel "Beloved." A New York City native, McKay received her bachelor's degree in English at Queens College, and her master's and doctorate degrees in English and American Literature at Harvard University. She taught at Simmons College in Boston for five years before joining the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she currently is the Evjue-Bascom Professor of American and African-American Literature.

Johnson, America's foremost living composer of carillon music, has been a pioneer in deriving music exclusively for the unique nature of the carillon bells. His best-known and widely performed work, "A Carillon Book for the Liturgical Year," is a two-and-a-half-hour collection of Hymn-Preludes inspired by the Chorale Preludes of J.S. Bach. His debut piece, "Summer Fanfares" (1956), was played at the dedication of the University's Ann and Robert H. Lurie Tower Carillon in 1996. A native of Fayetteville, W.Va., Johnson earned an artist's diploma in piano and a doctorate in musical arts at the Eastman School of Music, and has studied in Paris as a Fulbright Scholar. After serving as the official pianist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and teaching piano for 11 years at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Johnson now is a professor emeritus of piano at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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