Novelist and Princeton University Humanities Professor Toni Morrison was honored as a National Humanities Medalist on Wednesday by President Clinton, in recognition of her contributions to American cultural life and thought. The National Endowment for the Humanities, which sponsors the awards, described Morrison as America's most renowned black woman writer.
Morrison was among 12 recipients of the medal this year. All are distinguished individuals who have set the highest standards for American cultural achievement, according to the NEH.
"We honor these medalists for their extraordinary contributions to the vitality of our nation's cultural life," said President Clinton. "Through their work, they have stimulated our imaginations, celebrated our diversity, tested our beliefs and connected us to each other and our common humanity. They also have helped us recognize the important role of the arts and humanities in our great democracy."
Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Council of the Humanities at Princeton, an appointment she has held since 1989. Her seven major novels, The Bluest Eye , Sula , Song of Solomon , Tar Baby , Beloved , Jazz , and Paradise , have received extensive critical acclaim. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, Morrison was the first African-American winner and the first woman to win since 1938. She also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved , and the National Book Critics Award in 1977 for Song of Solomon .
"This medal pays tribute to Toni Morrison's extraordinary impact not only on the world of literature, but on the world of thought, on the lives of her many readers, and on human society in this country and around the world," said Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro. "Princeton has benefited greatly from her many contributions as a teacher, a scholar, a writer and an artist, and we congratulate her on this latest recognition of her lifetime of exceptional achievements."
Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio, a steel-mill town just west of Cleveland. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Howard University in 1953 and a master's degree in American literature from Cornell University in 1955.
Before coming to Princeton to teach literature and writing, Morrison was a senior editor at Random House for 20 years. She has held teaching posts at Yale, Bard College and Rutgers. The New York State Board of Regents appointed her to the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at the State University of New York at Albany in 1984, a position she held until 1989. In 1990, she delivered the Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge University, and the Massey Lectures at Harvard University. In 1994, she was the International Condorcet Chair at the Ecole Normale Superieure and College de France.
She is a founding member of the Academie Universelle Des Culture and a trustee of the New York Public Library. She is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the International Parliament of Writers, and the Africa and Helsinki Watch Committees on Human Rights.
At Princeton, Morrison is a member of the University's distinguished Creative Writing Program. She founded the Princeton Atelier, which brings to campus renowned artists from all fields to collaborate with students on original performances, productions and exhibitions.
"She is a teacher of inexhaustible imagination, whose Princeton Atelier has introduced hundreds of students to the wonders of working at the intersection of many different arts at the same time," said Alexander Nehamas, the Edmund N. Carpenter II Professor in the Humanities Chair, Council of the Humanities. "Her work as author, teacher and essayist is the best example of why the humanities are vital to our culture, and I can think of no one who deserves the National Humanities Medal more than she does."
Morrison's other prestigious awards include the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letter in 1996, the Condorcet Medal and the Pearl Buck Award in 1994, the Modern Language Association of America Common Wealth Award in Literature in 1989 and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Beloved in 1988.
"I am delighted that Toni Morrison has been selected to receive the 2000 National Humanities Medal," said National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William R. Ferris. "Her work in the humanities is an extraordinary contribution to the nation's cultural life."
The National Humanities Medal, inaugurated in 1997, honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important humanities resources. Up to 12 medals may be awarded each year.
Nominations are first reviewed by the National Council on the Humanities. The NEH chairman then selects a list of the most highly qualified candidates, whose names are forwarded to the White House for final consideration by the president.
Joining Morrison as medal recipients this year are sociologist Robert N. Bellah; civil rights activist Will D. Campbell; PBS documentary writer, producer and director Judy Crichton; curator and scholar of African-American art David C. Driskell; author Ernest J. Gaines; preservationist Herman T. Guerrero; musician and composer Quincy Jones; author Barbara Kingsolver; historian Edmund S. Morgan; promoter of humanities education for disadvantaged students Earl Shorris and author Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.
Clinton also named the winners of this year's Medal of Arts, which was established by Congress in 1984 to honor individuals and organizations who, in the President's judgment, deserve special recognition for their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States. The recipients are poet and author Maya Angelou; country musician Eddy Arnold, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov; musician and composer Benny Carter; painter Chuck Close; stage and film writer Horton Foote; philanthropist Lewis Manilow; National Public Radio, Cultural Programming Division; pop artist Claes Oldenburg; violinist Itzhak Perlman; theater director and producer Harold Prince; and director, actress, singer and composer Barbra Streisand.
The National Humanities Medals succeed the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities, which was given from 1989 through 1996. For more information about the medals, contact Jim Turner at the National Endowment for the Humanities at 202-606-8671 or visit www.neh.gov .
Contact: Justin Harmon (609) 258-3601