Womack named 2013-14 Penn State laureate

April 04, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Kenneth Womack, associate dean for Academic Affairs and professor of English and integrative arts at Penn State Altoona, has been named Penn State laureate for the 2013-14 academic year. He succeeds 2012-13 Penn State Laureate Chris Staley, distinguished professor of art in the College of Arts and Architecture at the University Park campus.

The Penn State laureate, an honorary position established in 2008, is a full-time faculty member in the humanities or the arts who is assigned half-time for one academic year to bring an enhanced level of social, cultural, artistic and human perspective and awareness to a broad array of audiences. The individual appears at University events at Penn State campuses and throughout the state at various community programs in hopes of adding a more human dimension to the conduct of the usual affairs and business of these locations.

A prolific writer of a variety of both scholarly and general-audience topics, Womack is highly regarded as an expert of popular culture, most notably of the Beatles, and is a frequent public speaker about "Fab Four 101" and similar themes. He has authored or edited several volumes about the legendary British band, most recently "The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four," which will be released in February 2014 by Greenwood Press in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Also forthcoming from Womack are the nonfiction works "The Mammoth Book of Movies" and "Made to Order: The Story of Sheetz," a chronicle of the family-owned convenience store chain based in Altoona. 

Also an award-winning novelist, Womack has published three fictional titles. The acclaimed "John Doe No. 2 and the Dreamland Motel: A Novel," which won the Bronze Award in the ForeWord Reviews' Book of the Year Award Competition for Literary Fiction, is a narration of events by the never-confirmed accomplice of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. "The Restaurant at the End of the World," which was selected as a finalist in the 2013 Montaigne Medal Competition, is a heavily researched collection of fictional accounts based on the actual staff of the World Trade Center's North Tower restaurant Windows on the World, told on the morning of Sept. 11, 2011. "Playing the Angel," to be released in fall 2013, tells the story of a college-student-turned-street-artist who anonymously protects New Orleans' Hurricane Katrina storm refugees dressed as the Angel of Mercy.

Womack received his undergraduate and master's degrees from Texas A&M University and a doctoral degree in English from Northern Illinois University. He has been on the English faculty at Penn State Altoona since 1997 and was named professor of English and integrative arts in 2006. He served as head of the Division of Arts and Humanities from 2002 to 2008, when he was named associate dean for Academic Affairs at the campus. 

"It is a great honor to be selected as the sixth Penn State Laureate," Womack said. "I am humbled and proud to be among such esteemed company.

"My vision for my year as the Penn State laureate is to share my passion for literary and musical appreciation, as well as the significance of pursuing lifelong learning opportunities," he explained. "Through my scholarship on the Beatles, for example, I challenge my audience to hear the familiar works of the group from new and more sophisticated perspectives. As a novelist, I am interested in bringing key moments in contemporary American history to life so as to provide readers with new lenses through which to consider our shared experiences. In both instances, my work is ultimately about seeing the familiar from different, possibly unexplored vantage points."

Womack was selected by President Rodney A. Erickson following a recommendation by the review committee. The committee was chaired by Blannie Bowen, vice provost for Academic Affairs, and included Nancy Herron, associate dean for academic programs in the Office of the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses; Barbara Korner, dean of the College of Arts and Architecture; Ryan McCombie, a member of the Board of Trustees; Linda Patterson Miller, professor of English at Penn State Abington and the 2011-12 Penn State laureate; Bonj Szczygiel, associate professor of landscape architecture and women's studies in the College of Arts and Architecture; and Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts.

For more details about current and past Penn State laureates, visit http://laureate.psu.edu. Additional information about the Penn State Laureate program is available at http://www.psu.edu/vpaa/laureate.htm.

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Last Updated May 14, 2013