* He brought black culture into the canon
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 52
Chair, Department of Afro-American Studies, Harvard University
Gates has transformed African American studies from a politicized backwater into a serious academic discipline. With a mix of passion, scholarship, and showmanship, Gates—known as Skip—brought unknown works to light, recruited and trained scholars, and, with Kwame Anthony Appiah, compiled Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. "Wherever there is Afro-American studies," says a colleague, "there is Skip Gates."
Role model: "My mother was the first colored secretary of the Piedmont PTA," recalls Gates, who grew up in West Virginia. "I didn't think 'Oh, my mother's a writer.' But in retrospect I realized that was an example. She'd write so well. We'd get all dressed up and go watch Mama read the minutes of the meetings. It was like watching Toni Morrison read Beloved."
* He bent the rules (and walls) of architecture
Frank Gehry, 74
Architect, Gehry Partners LLP
Frank Gehry In a field that was mainly about straight lines and symmetry, Frank Gehry's irregular, rounded, organic shapes have set a new artistic standard. His masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is wrapped in undulating titanium panels that suggest the billowing sails of a ship. Architect Philip Johnson called it "the most important building of our time." In April, Gehry's $62 million Bard College Performing Arts Center in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, will be unveiled. Other future projects include a biodiversity museum at the entrance to the Panama Canal and the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.
Gehry's epiphany: "The turning point in my creative life was when I realized that what I was doing and thinking was the only thing I could do and think. Anything else would have been contrived."
Marvel at some of Frank Gehry's architecture, including the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California.
* He defeated a plague once. Now he faces it again
D.A. Henderson, 74
Principal Science Advisor, Federal Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness
When the World Health Organization decided to eradicate smallpox in 1966, the U.S. Surgeon General tapped employee Henderson to lead the effort. "I declined," recalls the physician. "I wanted to discuss career options. He told me, 'This is your career option.' " Henderson rose to the challenge, devising a strategy to surround and contain outbreaks. Smallpox, which killed 2 million people in 1967, was wiped out by 1977. "D.A. is one of history's great leaders," a doctor who participated in the initiative has said. After an academic career, Henderson rejoined the government to coordinate our national response to public health emergencies—including his old enemy, smallpox. "We need to plan, not panic," Henderson says.
* She made comfort chic—and designer fashion affordable
Norma Kamali, 57
Founder, Norma Kamali, Inc.
The first high-fashion designer to market her clothing to working women, Norma Kamali is responsible for some of the last quarter-century's most memorable trends: parachute pants, high-cut swimsuits, sleeping-bag coats, urban sportswear made of sweatshirt fleece… and those enormous shoulder pads. "My clothes aren't worn by bland people," Kamali once joked. The winner of numerous awards, she was added to New York's Fashion Walk of Fame last year. Lately, Kamali has been mentoring aspiring designers through the New York City public schools and working to keep up with demand for her much imitated clothing line. "If you want to understand the year in fashion," writes ultra-hip Paper magazine, "go to Norma Kamali."
Not the same old, same old: Kamali says baby boomers are inventing a new way to mature. "The word for 'old' is really 'experienced,' " she explains. "Technology gives us the ability to live longer, healthier lives. It opens tremendous possibilities for our generation to grow further with innovation, using experience and a strong self-confidence that no generation before us has had. We can focus on a philosophical objective—the dream—and making the fantasy real."
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