President Joseph R. Biden will present the 2021 National Humanities Medals, in conjunction with the National Medals of Arts on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. in an East Room ceremony at the White House.
The 12 distinguished medal recipients include writers, historians, educators, and activists. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden will attend the medals award ceremony, which will be livestreamed at: www.whitehouse.gov/live
“The National Humanities Medal recipients have enriched our world through writing that moves and inspires us; scholarship that enlarges our understanding of the past; and through their dedication to educating, informing, and giving voice to communities and histories often overlooked,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe. “I am proud to join President Biden in recognizing these distinguished leaders for their outstanding contributions to our nation’s cultural life.”
The National Humanities Medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history or literature, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.
Here are the 12 recipients of the 2021 National Humanities Medal, with their White House citations:
Richard Blanco: An award-winning poet and author, professor and public speaker, and son of Cuban immigrants, Richard Blanco’s powerful storytelling challenges the boundaries of culture, gender, and class while celebrating the promise of our Nation’s highest ideals.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole: A scholar, anthropologist, and academic pace-setter, Johnnetta Betsch Cole’s pioneering work about the ongoing contributions of Afro-Latin, Caribbean, and African communities have advanced American understanding of Black culture and the necessity and power of racial inclusion in our Nation.
Walter Isaacson: Through the stories of our Nation’s remarkable citizens, Walter Isaacson’s work, words, and wisdom bridge divides between science and the humanities and between opposing philosophies, elevating discourse and our understanding of who we are as a Nation.
Earl Lewis: As a social historian and academic leader, Earl Lewis has made vital contributions to the field of Black history, educating generations of students, while also being a leading voice for greater diversity in academia and our Nation.
Henrietta Mann: The pioneering efforts of Henrietta, Ho’oesto’oona’e, Mann, led to programs and institutions across the country devoted to the study of Native American history and culture, honoring ancestors that came before and benefiting generations that follow.
Ann Patchett: With her best-selling novels and essays, and her bookstore, readers from around the world see themselves in the pages of Ann Patchett’s books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation.
Bryan Stevenson: An advocate fighting tirelessly for the poor, incarcerated, and condemned, Bryan Stevenson follows the Book of Micah’s instruction to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly as he chronicles the legacy of lynching and racism in America, shining a light on what has been and all that we can be as a Nation.
Amy Tan: By bravely exploring experiences of immigrant families, heritage, memories, and poignant struggles, Amy Tan’s writing makes sense of the present through the past and adds ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature.
Tara Westover: Tara Westover’s memoirs of family, religion, and the transformative power of education, has moved millions of readers and served as a powerful example of how the humanities can set people—and a Nation—free.
Colson Whitehead: With genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity, Colson Whitehead’s celebrated novels make real the African American journey through our Nation’s continued reckoning with the original sin of slavery and our ongoing march toward a more perfect Union.
Native America Calling: Through its interactive shows on the radio and online, Native America Calling educates the American public about Indigenous issues while preserving Indigenous history and culture to honor their contributions that strengthen the sacred Nation-to-Nation relationship.
Sir Elton John: An enduring icon and advocate with absolute courage, who found a purpose to challenge convention, shatter stigma, and advance the simple truth that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. His medal awarded separately in September 2022, during a White House event, “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme.”
The first National Humanities Medal was awarded in 1996. Since then 206 medals have been bestowed—190 to individuals and 16 to organizations—inclusive of this year’s recipients. A complete set of previous honorees is available at this link.
The humanities medal was preceded by the Charles Frankel Prize, first awarded in 1989.
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD, said, “The National Medal of Arts recipients have helped to define and enrich our nation’s cultural legacy through their lifelong passionate commitment. We are a better nation because of their contributions. Their work helps us see the world in different ways. It inspires us to reach our full potential and recognize our common humanity. I join the President in congratulating and thanking them.”
Here is the list of 2021 National Medal of Arts recipients:
Judith Francisca Baca: Judith Francisca Baca’s collaborative work has turned forgotten histories into public memory—pioneering an art form that empowers communities to reclaim public space with dignity and pride.
Fred Eychaner: From dance and architecture to arts education and a lifetime of LGBTQI+ advocacy, Fred Eychaner has helped give millions of people strength to be themselves and moved our country forward.
Jose Feliciano*: Over 60 years, 60 albums, and 600 songs, Jose Feliciano has opened hearts and built bridges—overcoming obstacles, never losing faith, and enriching the goodness and greatness of the Nation.
Mindy Kaling: Imbued with humor and heart, Mindy Kaling’s work across television, film, and books inspires and delights—capturing and uplifting the experiences of women and girls across our Nation.
Gladys Knight: Gladys Knight’s exceptional talent influenced musical genres—from rhythm and blues to gospel to pop—and inspired generations of artists, captivated by her soundtrack of a golden age in American music.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus: As one of the most decorated comedic actors of our time, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has blazed a trail for women in comedy and across American life through her commitment to excellence and the power of her example.
Antonio Martorell-Cardona: Transcending generation and genre, Antonio Martorell-Cardona’s art exposes hard truths with whimsy and color, to help us remember and grow, as people and as a Nation.
Joan Shigekawa: Throughout her career, Joan Shigekawa has championed artists, created global exchanges, and promoted the power of the arts to heal, build strong economies, and help people and Nations reach their full potential.
Bruce Springsteen: One of our greatest performers and storytellers, Bruce Springsteen’s music celebrates our triumphs, heals our wounds, and gives us hope, capturing the unyielding spirit of what it means to be American.
Vera Wang: From the runway to red carpets to retail stores, Vera Wang’s modern designs and bridal collections express individualism and elegance, making beauty and style accessible to all.
The Billie Holiday Theatre: Channeling its namesake’s exploration of freedom and identity, The Billie Holiday Theatre cultivates some of our Nation’s most renowned Black actors, writers, designers, and musicians and has expanded the reach of American artistic expression and achievement.
The International Association of Blacks in Dance: Through teaching, training, and performance, The International Association of Blacks in Dance promotes dance by people of African ancestry and origin, explores and exchanges art, spans cultures and generations, and enriches the dance culture of America.