John McGowan

John McGowan, the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Professor of English and Comparative Literature, and Director Emeritus of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, is the 2016 recipient of the George H. Johnson Prize for Distinguished Achievement by an IAH Fellow.

Presented by the Institute for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences, where McGowan served as Director from 2007-2014, the Johnson Prize is a lifetime achievement award.

“I know John McGowan—a renowned scholar of literary and political theory—best through his role as the second Director of the IAH, and my predecessor,” said IAH Director Mark Katz, who is on research leave. “In his eight years at the IAH he worked tirelessly to promote the scholarship and welfare of Carolina’s faculty, whether through funding research and collaboration, creating programs to attend to the needs of professors at different stages of their careers, or simply engaging in enthusiastic intellectual conversation with whomever came through Hyde Hall. With this award we recognize how deeply the IAH, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the University are in his debt.”

The IAH began granting the award in 2008. George Johnson is one of the Institute’s greatest ambassadors, and the IAH created this award to honor George while at the same time recognizing exemplary contributions by faculty in the arts, humanities and qualitative social sciences. The biennial award provides the recipient $7,500 and a banquet in his/her honor. Janet and George Johnson consider this a very important award and are delighted to be involved with the ceremony, scheduled for Nov. 4.

“I was thrilled [to learn I won the award],” said McGowan.  “George is one of the great people in the world. To be associated with him is wonderful.”

In his 24 years at Carolina, McGowan authored and edited dozens of works on philosophy, political theory, and literary studies. He is a founding and active member of UNC’s Program in Cultural Studies, was the first Director of the Graduate School’s Royster Society of Fellows, and in 2015 he received the Graduate Mentoring Award. His involvement with the IAH has included the genesis of the organization.”

“I got involved in the IAH almost the day I arrived on campus, said McGowan. “I got pulled into West House within two weeks. [IAH Founder and professor] Ruel Tyson had gathered this intellectual community and created the organization.

From there he went on to participate in and then run the Faculty Fellows and the Academic Leadership programs before becoming the associate director and then IAH director in 2007.

IAH Associate Director Jennifer Ho, professor of English and Comparative Literature, had this to say about McGowan: “He is generous in sharing his scholarly expertise with his students and intellectual interlocutors; generous in his mentorship of his PhD students and junior faculty colleagues; generous in sharing his knowledge of UNC and academia in helping faculty across the college and university succeed in their careers; and he is a generous friend, always willing and wanting to see the best in people and to help them live good lives. In this way John embodies the best of the humanities, because he is, himself, an exemplary human being.”

McGowan says his latest class last semester — on the Iliad, Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, among others — is an example of the joy of teaching UNC students. Students of different disciplines contributed greatly to the class. “We have these astounding students and there’s moments every day when you see the light bulb go on, and a student gets excited about something.”

“John McGowan is a great combination — he’s a deep thinker and has sharp, entertaining, genial wit,” said Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing and interim chair of the English and Comparative Literature Department.  “No one else looks at, or thinks about, political and civic life quite the way he does.  We’re very lucky John came our way.”

Janet and George Johnson

George Johnson is a UNC ’58 graduate (business major). His wife, Janet, is a UNC ’57 graduate (dental hygiene). Their son, Parker, is a UNC ’91 graduate (Interdisciplinary Studies). George owns a commercial real estate company in Atlanta, GA. He has served on many committees at UNC over the years, including the IAH Advisory Board.

“Long ago, an amazing teacher impacted my life, and for me, UNC is where I learned to love to learn,” said Johnson about the inspiration for his support.  “The Institute embodies this spirit of learning.  Many of my favorite and most engaging conversations have taken place in the halls of West House and Hyde Hall where faculty from across disciplines share and exchange ideas.  Ruel Tyson envisioned the Institute years ago, and many have worked hard to make it the storied success it is today.”

The Johnsons gifts to the IAH have supported faculty fellowship, academic leadership, endowment, Hyde Hall building construction and annual fund.

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