Ernest Gaines, Joan Didion among those receiving national arts honors

President Obama will award the National Medal of the Arts and the National Humanities Medals to a total of two dozen writers, performers, artists and scholars on Wednesday.

Ernest Gaines, author of the books “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award-winning “A Lesson Before Dying,” which was an Oprah Book Club pick, is the only novelist to receive an Arts medal. Playwright Tony Kushner and stage director/writer/performer Elaine May are among the honorees, which include filmmaker George Lucas, opera singer Renee Fleming, and musician Herb Alpert.

More writers will be honored with National Humanities Medals. Joan Didion, whose memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking” won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2005, is on the list. Marilynne Robinson, whose novel “Gilead” took the Pulitzer for fiction that same year, is another honoree. So is poet Kay Ryan, who has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius” grant. Another MacArthur fellow, playwright Anna Deveare Smith, will also be honored.


Robert B. Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, which he co-founded in 1963, will also receive a National Humanities Award. He has won a number of major awards for his lifetime commitment to letters.

The ceremony, which will include President Obama and Michelle Obama, will be live streamed over the Internet at at 10:30 a.m. Pacific on Wednesday.


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