White House to honor 19 with National Humanities Medal and National Medal for the Arts

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 8:39 PM

The White House is honoring 19 Americans, including authors Harper Lee, Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth, actress Meryl Streep and jazz musicians Sonny Rollins and Quincy Jones, with the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal for the Arts.

The arts medals are going to Robert Brustein, the critic, producer and founder of the Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theatre; Van Cliburn, the famed pianist; Mark di Suvero, the prominent Abstract Expressionist artist; poet Donald Hall, a former U.S. poet laureate; and James Taylor, the musician and songwriter. An arts organization is often given the citation, and the 2010 honoree is Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the country's longest-running international dance festival.

Included in the arts group are Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird;" Rollins, the influential post-bebop jazz musician; Jones, the composer, producer and arranger, and Oscar-winner Streep.

Jones described the honor as amazing. "I have been out there for so long that the things that happen are blessings," said Jones. He pointed out that he and Cliburn had received the Kennedy Center Honors the same year, in 2001. "And Sonny, well, we go way back. That's like having Miles [Davis] there. You know a country is really defined by its culture."

The medals are the highest government honors given to scholars, writers, artists and entertainers. President Obama is expected to present the awards at a White House ceremony on Wednesday. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities suggest names to the White House, which makes the final selection.

"The National Humanities Medals are given to individuals who have contributed to greater understanding of human nature and of the human condition," said NEH Chairman Jim Leach. NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman added, "From criticism to literature, music, poetry, sculpture and theater, these honorees' devotion to shaping and sharing American art is unrivaled."

In addition to Oates and Roth, the people receiving the National Humanities Medals are: Daniel Aaron, the scholar and a founder of the Library of America, who as a Harvard graduate assistant graded the papers of John F. Kennedy and Norman Mailer; Bernard Bailyn, the historian who won the Pulitzer Prize for history twice and in 1998 gave the Jefferson Lecture, the nation's prestigious humanities lecture; and Jacques Barzun, historian and cultural critic. Also cited are Wendell E. Berry, novelist, poet and environmentalist; Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, scholar of Hispanic literature; Stanley Nider Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies; Arnold Rampersad, professor and biographer of Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and Jackie Robinson and Gordon S. Wood, who won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Radicalism of the American Revolution."

Roth, the author of 24 novels, and Oates, the author of more than 50 novels, are receiving the humanities medal.

The arts medals were designed by the late sculptor Robert Graham; the humanities medals by David Macaulay.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company