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A Medal For A King — And For Many Of America's Greatest Living Artists

Stephen King poses for the cameras during his promotional tour for the novel <em>Doctor Sleep </em>in 2013. Now, just imagine him in a suit and tie, with a medal around his neck.
Francois Mori
Stephen King poses for the cameras during his promotional tour for the novel Doctor Sleep in 2013. Now, just imagine him in a suit and tie, with a medal around his neck.

In the three decades that the National Medals of Arts have been awarded, the list of recipients has grown long and luminous. Ray Bradbury, Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Frank Capra, Georgia O'Keeffe, even AT&T (and many, many more) — the artists and arts patrons who have earned the prize from the U.S. government are as hallowed in name as they are diverse in discipline.

This year, that list got a bit horrific.

Stephen King, the prolific novelist behind best-selling frights such as The Shining and Carrie, received the 2014 National Medal of Arts from President Obama on Thursday, along with 10 other artists. In the citation for the prize, read by Obama at the White House awards ceremony, the National Endowment for the Arts spoke of King in glowing terms:

"One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, Mr. King combines his remarkable storytelling with his sharp analysis of human nature. For decades, his works of horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy have terrified and delighted audiences around the world."

King, on the other hand, was a bit more modest in his reaction on Twitter.

But King is not the only novelist on the list. Tobias Wolff, who's known as much for his short stories and memoirs as for his longer fiction, received a medal as well. So too did actress Sally Field, opera tenor George Shirley and multidimensional musician Meredith Monk — who has described her work as "folk music from another planet." Theater director Ping Chong, who also received a medal Thursday, has collaborated with Monk on some of that alien folk.

Instituted in 1984, the National Medal of Arts affords the U.S. president the opportunity to award as many as a dozen medals each year — to "individuals or groups who in the President's judgment are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States," according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

At the same ceremony Thursday, the winners of the National Humanities Medal also took home their prizes. Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, novelist Larry McMurtry and poet Rebecca Newberger Goldstein lead a (slightly more author-heavy) list of 10 winners — all of whose work has been deemed to have "deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities and broadened our citizens' engagement with history, literature, languages, philosophy, and other humanities subjects."

The full list of winners — for both prizes — can be found below.

National Medal of Arts

John Baldessari
Ping Chong
Miriam Colón
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Sally Field
Ann Hamilton
Stephen King
Meredith Monk
George Shirley
University Musical Society
Tobias Wolff

National Humanities Medal

The Clemente Course in the Humanities
Annie Dillard
Everett L. Fly
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Jhumpa Lahiri
Fedwa Malti-Douglas
Larry McMurtry
Vicki Lynn Ruiz
Alice Waters

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
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