President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton will present Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson with a 1999 National Humanities Medal at a special ceremony on the south lawn of the White House Sept. 29 at 11 AM. A White House dinner in honor of Wilson and the seven other National Humanities Medalists will be held that evening.
The other 1999 National Humanities Medal recipients are librarian Patricia M. Battin, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and journalist Taylor Branch, scholar and historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, author and Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor, journalist and broadcaster Jim Lehrer, political philosopher John Rawls, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
Wilson has won two Pulitzer Prizes, the first in 1987 for Fences, and the second in 1990 for The Piano Lesson.. The NEH characterized Wilson as an influential promoter of the advancement and preservation of black theatre and performing arts, and a playwright whose works "present an epic story of the black experience in America over the course of a century."
“The 1999 National Humanities Medalists are distinguished individuals who have set the highest standards for American cultural achievement,” said William R. Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which sponsors the award. “They are gifted people with extraordinary powers of creativity and vision, and their work in preserving, interpreting and expanding the nation’s cultural heritage represents an incalculable public service."
According to a prepared statement, recipients of the National Humanities Medal are selected by the President of the United States. Annually the National Endowment for the Humanities assists in the selection process by soliciting nominations for the medal from the humanities community. These nominations are first reviewed by the National Council on the Humanities, NEH's presidentially appointed board of advisors. The NEH chairman then selects a list of the most highly qualified candidates, whose names are then forwarded to the White House for final consideration by the President. The National Endowment for the Humanities is the largest funder of humanities programs in the United States. NEH awards grants that create and preserve knowledge, enrich classroom learning, expand humanities content on the Internet, and bring ideas to life through public television and radio, museum exhibitions, and programs in libraries and other community places. The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities by carrying the voices of one generation to the next through history, literature, philosophy, religion, languages, archaeology and related subjects that comprise the record of human civilization. -- By Murdoch McBride