Arthur Miller, the esteemed playwright whose examinations of American life include the classic "Death of a Salesman," has been selected as this year's Jefferson Lecturer by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Miller, 85, has received most of theater and literature's top honors, starting with a Pulitzer Prize for "Salesman" in 1949, three Tony Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award and a 1984 Kennedy Center Honor. Being named Jefferson Lecturer, considered the federal government's highest honor for distinguished achievement in the humanities, carries a $10,000 stipend.
"Arthur Miller has reached millions of people throughout the world by his consummate skill as a playwright of extraordinary dramatic power and insight into the human condition," said NEH Chairman William Ferris. "His plays are cautionary tales that present an unsparing, chastening and universal vision of the individual's struggle for dignity against forces of materialism and repression. His work is truly a mirror held up to modern life."
Miller has been part of the literary landscape since the late 1930s. After finishing the University of Michigan in 1938, he joined the Federal Theater Project in New York. A 1944 work, "The Man Who Had All the Luck," won a prize from New York's Theater Guild. In 1947, "All My Sons" received the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. That success was followed two years later by "Salesman," the first play to win the Pulitzer, the Drama Critics award and the Tony in the same year. Each Broadway revival has brought new audiences to the tragedy of salesman Willy Loman and accolades to the actors. George C. Scott revived the role in 1975, Dustin Hoffman in 1984 and Brian Dennehy in 1999.
The playwright's other works include the Tony-winning "Crucible," "A View From the Bridge" and "After the Fall." His more recent work includes 1991's "The Ride Down Mount Morgan," which was revived two years ago in New York with Patrick Stewart. Miller's "Broken Glass" won the Olivier Award for best play of the London season in 1994. In addition, Miller has published three books of photography with his wife, photographer Inge Morath, wrote the screenplay of the "Misfits" which starred his second wife, Marilyn Monroe, and the television drama "Playing for Time."
Last fall Miller published "Echoes on the Corridor," a group of essays that covered many of the major events of the last 50 years, from the Nazi war crimes to McCarthyism to Vietnam to Watergate. He has been there as a social and political commentator, as well as a sometimes-reluctant participant. A few years after "Salesman's" extraordinary initial success, Miller was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He refused to discuss who was present at any radical meetings he had attended and was cited for contempt of Congress. The U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the charge.
The lecture's theme was not announced yesterday, but the talk is scheduled for March 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. You can request an invitation by calling the NEH at 202-606-8400.