Press Release
APR 22, 2021

Honoring Excellence, Electing New Members


[April 22, 2021 | Cambridge, MA] – The American Academy of Arts & Sciences announces today the election of 252 new members.

The Academy was established in 1780 by the country’s founders to provide guidance to a young nation that would face challenges and need expertise and excellence to emerge stronger. While the founders did not anticipate a year with a historic pandemic, overdue racial reckoning, and political strife, the purpose of electing new members is more compelling than ever.

The 2021 election provides an opportunity to recognize extraordinary people who help solve the world’s most urgent challenges, create meaning through art, and contribute to the common good from every field, discipline, and profession.

“We are honoring the excellence of these individuals, celebrating what they have achieved so far, and imagining what they will continue to accomplish,” said David Oxtoby, President of the American Academy. “The past year has been replete with evidence of how things can get worse; this is an opportunity to illuminate the importance of art, ideas, knowledge, and leadership that can make a better world.”

For the complete list of members elected in 2021, click HERE.

The artists, scholars, scientists, and leaders in the public, non-profit, and private sectors elected this year include:

  • Paleontologist Zeresenay Alemeseged, University of Chicago
  • Economist Dirk Bergemann, Yale University
  • Cognitive anthropologist Pascal Boyer, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Biotechnology leader Tony Coles, Cerevel Therapeutics
  • Civil rights lawyer and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, Columbia Law School; UCLA School of Law
  • Neurosurgeon and medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, CNN; Emory University
  • Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court of Texas
  • Labor leader Mary Kay Henry, SEIU
  • Journalist Maria Hinojosa, Futuro Media Group and NPR
  • Cinematographer and video artist Arthur Jafa
  • Computer scientist Fei-Fei Li, Stanford University
  • Civil rights activist and math literacy pioneer Robert Moses, The Algebra Project
  • Playwright, screenwriter, and actor Suzan-Lori Parks, NYU Tisch School of the Arts
  • Probability theorist Kavita Ramanan, Brown University
  • Composer, songwriter, and performer Robbie Robertson
  • Journalist Kara Swisher, VOX Media Inc.; The New York Times
  • Atmospheric scientist Anne Thompson, NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Media entrepreneur and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, Harpo, Inc.; Oprah Winfrey Network

Of note, 55% of the members elected in 2021 are women.

The International Honorary Members, from 17 countries this year, include physician and researcher Peter Carmeliet (KU Leuven, Belgium), writer Duong Thu Huong (Vietnam), and botanist Lúcia Garcez Lohmann (University of São Paulo, Brazil).

“While it is noteworthy that we continue to elect members more than 240 years after the Academy’s founding, this is about more than maintaining traditions,” said Nancy C. Andrews, Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Academy. “We recognize individuals who use their talents and their influence to confront today’s challenges, to lift our spirits through the arts, and to help shape our collective future.”

The Academy was founded by John Adams, John Hancock, and others who believed the new republic should honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. The Academy’s dual mission remains essentially the same today with members from increasingly diverse fields working together to share ideas and recommendations in the arts, democracy, education, global affairs, and science.

The new class joins Academy members elected before them, including Benjamin Franklin (elected 1781) and Alexander Hamilton (1791) in the eighteenth century; Ralph Waldo Emerson (1864), Maria Mitchell (1848), and Charles Darwin (1874) in the nineteenth; Albert Einstein (1924), Robert Frost (1931), Margaret Mead (1948), Milton Friedman (1959), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1966), and Anthony Fauci (1991) in the twentieth; and more recently Antonin Scalia (2003), Andrea Ghez (2004), Bryan Stevenson (2014), Nicholas Kristof (2017), John Legend (2017), Viet Thanh Nguyen (2018), and Anna Deavere Smith (2019).

The list of all new members elected in 2021 is HERE.

Ursula Burns Signing the Book of Members at Induction, 2017
Ursula Burns Signing the Book of Members at Induction, 2017