The Washington University International Humanities Prize is awarded biennially to a person who has contributed significantly to the humanities either through a supremely well-crafted work or an entire body of work that has dramatically changed how we see or understand a particular place, event, person, idea or field of expression, or through courageously persevering in a humanities pursuit in an atmosphere of persecution. The winners have been Orhan Pamuk (2006), Michael Pollan (2008), Francine Prose (2010), Ken Burns (2012), and Marjorie Perloff (2014). The winner receives a $25,000 prize (a gift from the donors, David and Phyllis Wilson Grossman) and is required to give an acceptance speech on the Washington University campus that is free and open to the public.
A selection committee constituted by six members of the Washington University humanities faculty and two greater community members convenes to review nominated candidates and their body of work. The director of the Center for the Humanities invites the selected recipient approximately one year prior to the award ceremony. Faculty and student engagement with the recipient's work is encouraged (including reading groups and special course work). During the visit, the recipient interacts with a wide range of members of the campus community, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and senior administration.