Last week, the White House announced the artists who will receive the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medals in a ceremony tomorrow. They are a diverse series of visual artists, performers, composers, and authors worth learning about. Sally Field is one of the actors being recognized this year for the National Medal of Arts. She's specifically cited for her work as an actress and as an advocate for women, LGBT rights, and public health. She has become the face of Osteoporosis in a long-running series of advertisements for preventative treatment for the condition. She also works with both the Human Rights Campaign and Vital Voices to help lobby for legislation supporting LGBT and women's rights.
Field is not an actress who has shied away from work examining major issues in the world. Her breakout role as a serious actor was Sybil, the made for TV movie exploring the case files of a young woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Her first Oscar was earned for her work in Norma Rae, playing a young mother fighting for union rights at a textile mill. Even her work in Lincoln put a strong face on grief and depression in a time where the inability to constantly regulate emotions to an arbitrary societal standard all but guaranteed a life in an asylum.
Author Jhumpa Lahiri is receiving the National Humanities Medal for her career focus on presenting Indian voices in her work. Lahiri first rose to fame with her debut short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. This made her one of the handful of authors to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for her debut work. Interpreter of Maladies is all about the experience of Indian immigrants adjusting to life in America. It's a wonderful book that you should find the time to read if you haven't already.
The exciting part of this recognition is how early it is in Lahiri's career. Though she struggled for years to find a publisher for Interpreter of Maladies, she has since spent the past 16 years releasing thoughtful essays, short story collections, and novels largely focusing on the lives of Indian immigrants. It's a voice we don't often hear about and Lahiri's success makes it all the more accessible to a wide audience. Just imagine what she might produce in the next few years when her work has been so consistently strong.
Stephen King has essentially run away with all the press coverage for the National Medal of Arts honorees, what with him being a prolific genre author criticized in the past when receiving similar achievement awards. I think he's a great choice for this kind of recognition.
For one, he's a master of the short story form. I can't think of another contemporary author who has released so many wonderful short story collections in their career. We're talking nine gigantic anthologies (the shortest is a scant 336 pages with only 20 stories in it), plus a tenth on the way in November.
Further, his non-fiction work is excellent. Both On Writing and Danse Macabre are regularly used as textbooks in college classrooms because of their firm grasp and strong perspective on writing and the history of horror fiction. There's a certain restraint exhibited in his non-fiction work that is rarely seen anywhere else in his bibliography. You really haven't read King until you've picked up one of these books.
Then there are his novels, which have routinely become cultural phenomena. Even boiling it down to the few I would consider great (and I'm admittedly not fond of his long form work), you still have Carrie, The Long Walk, The Running Man, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, The Regulators, 11/22/63, and Doctor Sleep. Okay, throw in Salem's Lot and Pet Semetary, too; they just take a little too much glee in visceral guts and gore than I like. Stephen King certainly exceeds the requirements of having a significant impact on the arts in America.
Here is the full list of honorees for both the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal.
2014 National Medal of Arts
· John Baldessari, Visual Artist, (Venice, CA)
· Ping Chong, Theater Director, Choreographer, and Video and Installation Artist, (New York, NY)
· Miriam Colón, Actress, Theater Founder, and Director (New York, NY)
· The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (New York, NY)
· Sally Field, Actress and Filmmaker, (Los Angeles, CA)
· Ann Hamilton, Visual Artist, (Columbus, OH)
· Stephen King, Author, (Bangor, ME)
· Meredith Monk, Composer, Singer, and Performer, (New York, NY)
· George Shirley, Tenor, (Ann Arbor, MI)
· University Musical Society, Performing Arts Presenter(Ann Arbor, MI)
· Tobias Wolff, Author and Educator, (Stanford, CA)
2014 National Humanities Medal
· Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Historian, (Auburndale, MA)
· Annie Dillard, Author, (Key West, FL)
· Clemente Course In The Humanities (Annandale-On-Hudson, NY)
· Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Novelist and Philosopher, (Boston, MA)
· Alice Waters, Chef, Author, and Advocate, (Berkeley, CA)
· Larry McMurtry, Novelist, Essayist, and Screenwriter, (Archer City, TX)
· Everett L. Fly, Architect, (San Antonio, TX)
· Jhumpa Lahiri, Author, (New York, NY)
· Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Professor and Scholar, (Rhinebeck, NY)
· Vicki Lynn Ruiz, Historian, (Irvine, CA)