Xiaowei Zhuang

2020 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science

Kıvanç Birsoy

2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Viviana Gradinaru

2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Martin Jonikas

2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Edwidge Danticat

2020 Vilcek Prize in Literature

Yaa Gyasi

2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature

Valeria Luiselli

2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature

Jenny Xie

2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature

Robert A. Katzmann

2020 Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Administration of Justice
Welcome to our online celebration of the 2020 Vilcek Foundation Prizes. Through the videos and content shared on this site, we highlight the careers and experiences of all of this year’s prizewinners. The nine recipients of this year's prizes exemplify the many ways immigrants contribute to our society: they bring diverse voices to literature, they expand the horizons of scientific discovery, and they make justice accessible to all.

Rick Kinsel

President, The Vilcek Foundation

2020 Vilcek Foundation Prizes Awards Gala

Download the program book to learn more about this year's prizewinners.

Marica and Jan Vilcek

Co-founders, The Vilcek Foundation

We congratulate the recipients of this year’s Vilcek Prizes in Biomedical Science, who emigrated to the USA from China, Turkey, Romania, and France. Their creativity and passion for solving deep biological problems have yielded pioneering technologies for probing single molecules within cells and manipulating brain circuitry and led to breakthrough discoveries in cancer, neuroscience, and global energy and nutrient conservation.

Dan R. Littman

2016 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science



"It is my great honor to receive the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. Our scientific community has made tremendous advances in medicine. At this difficult time, let’s do our very best to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, by working on diagnostics and treatments to combat this disease, and by practicing social distancing even if that means temporarily stopping or reducing the laboratory work that we love."
—Xiaowei Zhuang



"I would like to thank Jan and Marica Vilcek for recognizing young scientists and inspiring many of us at this early stage of our careers. It is an honor to be a part of this accomplished group. I feel fortunate to be supported by amazing mentors, lab members, colleagues and family."
—Kıvanç Birsoy



"As of March 2020 the reality that big challenges to our humanity have no borders urgently signals to us that to get through such challenges we need all minds and hands on deck, together. I am grateful that the visionary Vilcek family and foundation have been acknowledging this for many years now and I feel humbled to be placed in the greatest company of Vilcek international minds that I admire."
—Viviana Gradinaru



"I am grateful to Jan and Marica Vilcek for their generosity; to the students, postdocs, collaborators and colleagues with whom I have had the pleasure to work; to my mentors and to my parents Mark and Barbara and sister Magda for nurturing me; to my friends and to my wife Trinna and son Lev for their support. We are a nation of immigrants and our diversity makes us stronger."
—Martin Jonikas

This year’s Vilcek Prizewinners in Literature have roots in four different countries, spread out over three continents. Through novels, poems, and essays, their work assembles landscapes as distinct as a plaza in Mexico City, a street in Hanoi, a village in Ghana, and the sea that tethers Haiti to America. These four remarkable artists have created lasting works of art that refuse to be bound by the borders of any language or nation.

Dinaw Mengestu

2011 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Literature



"I am extremely grateful to the Vilcek family and the Vilcek Foundation for the incredible honor they have bestowed on me and my work. I see this award as both support for my past work, and encouragement for my future contributions as an immigrant, the child of immigrants, and a writer. There’s a Haitian proverb that my parents adored; it says “Pawòl gen pye, pawòl gen zèl.” Words have feet. Words have wings. May we all be each other’s wings, both as humans and creators, during these most difficult times."
—Edwidge Danticat



"I’m honored to be a recipient of one of this year’s Vilcek prizes. Books have always been a kind of home for me, and if I can recreate that feeling of solace, of recognition, and wonder, and joy, for others then I am grateful. To Edwidge, Valeria, and Jenny, writers I deeply admire, to everyone at Vilcek, to my family and friends and readers, a hearty thank you."
—Yaa Gyasi



"I am deeply thankful, more so in a time like this, for the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise. And I do indeed promise to put my creative imagination to good use. We are all going to have to do that, if we want to collectively reimagine not only our current everydayness, but also the way we want to live our lives after this passes."
—Valeria Luiselli



"Thank you to the Vilcek Foundation, and to Jan and Marica Vilcek, for their generosity in celebrating the contributions of immigrants. To be an immigrant is to be oriented to the role of the outsider, with its own angles of seeing, vantage points, and clarities. I'm deeply grateful to the Vilcek Foundation, and to the recipients and judges, for recognizing and illuminating these perspectives and narratives that lie outside of the center."
—Jenny Xie

David Miliband

President and CEO, International Rescue Committee



"The Vilcek Foundation uniquely and importantly reminds us that we are a nation of immigrants, that immigrants and their advocates have contributed in extraordinary ways to society, playing indispensable roles in making this country better and stronger, to making this country a beacon of hope and opportunity for those who come here often fleeing from persecution. There is no greater testament to the impact of immigrants to our nation than the lives of Jan and Marica Vilcek, who themselves have made lasting contributions to the sciences and the arts, to the benefit of all and of generations to come. I will cherish always this special recognition."
—Robert A. Katzmann

2021 Vilcek Prizes

We are pleased to announce that the 2021 Vilcek Foundation Prizes will be awarded in the categories of Biomedical Science and in Filmmaking.

Applications for the Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science and in Filmmaking are open through June 10, 2020. Read about the prizes and apply now!