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National Humanities Medalists, 1999

President and Mrs. Clinton Award National Humanities Medals

WASHINGTON - President William J. Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton awarded the 1999 National Humanities Medal to eight distinguished Americans in a ceremony at D.A.R. Constitution Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 29. The Humanities Medalists were also honored at a White House dinner.

"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. I am delighted to announce this year's recipients."

The 1999 National Humanities Medal recipients are:

Patricia M. Battin (Washington, D.C.)
librarian who has organized and led a national campaign to save millions of disintegrating books published between 1850 and 1950; galvanized congressional support for a national program to microfilm these brittle books, thereby preserving their content as a significant part of the record of American civilization.

Taylor Branch (Baltimore, Md.)
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and journalist whose books have earned him the reputation as a national authority on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
one of the nation's preeminent scholars of the New South; founder and director of the Southern Oral History Project at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which is shaping scholarship, education and public programs about the contemporary South.

Garrison Keillor (St. Paul, Minn.)
creator, writer and host of Minnesota Public Radio's weekly variety program, A Prairie Home Companion; host of The Writer's Almanac, a five-minute radio program about literature broadcast daily on stations throughout the nation; author of several bestselling books.

Jim Lehrer (Washington, D.C.)
journalist; editor and anchor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, public television's award-winning nightly news program; author of novels, plays and memoirs.

John Rawls (Lexington, Mass.)
one of the 20th century's most influential political philosophers, widely read among political scientists, economists and legal theorists for his views on justice, basic rights and equal opportunity; author of A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993).

Steven Spielberg (Los Angeles, Calif.)
acclaimed filmmaker who has brought history and literature to life for millions of Americans; producer and/or director of Academy Award-winning films Saving Private Ryan (1998), Amistad (1997) and Schindler's List (1993).

August Wilson (Seattle, Wash.)
two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (The Piano Lesson, 1990, and Fences, 1987) whose plays present an epic story of the black experience in America over the course of a century; influential promoter of the advancement and preservation of black theater and performing arts.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities. The humanities carry the voices of one generation to the next through history, literature, philosophy, religion, languages, archaeology and related subjects that make up the record of human civilization.

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.

1999 NATIONAL HUMANITIES MEDALISTS

Patricia M. Battin
Washington, D.C.

Patricia Battin is a librarian who has done exemplary public service by organizing and leading a national campaign to save millions of brittle books in America's libraries and archives. As the first president of the Commission on Preservation and Access, established in 1986 by the Council on Library Resources, she vigorously publicized the magnitude of the brittle-books problem facing American libraries: the millions of books produced from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century that are deteriorating relentlessly because of the high acidic content of the paper on which they are printed. She played a vital role in building awareness among American research libraries, scholars, political leaders and private foundations about the need for a national program of preservation microfilming. Her congressional testimony in 1988 led Congress to request that the National Endowment for the Humanities develop a long-term plan for microfilming the nation's brittle books, a plan launched in 1989 that has since resulted in the microfilming of 770,000 embrittled volumes. She was instrumental in the formation of a European Commission on Preservation and Access, which addresses the problems of decaying books in European libraries. Battin is also an authoritative voice on how learning patterns are changing as a result of computer access to information. As coeditor of a recent book about the impact of information technology on education (The Mirage of Continuity: Reconfiguring Academic Information Resources for the 21st Century, 1998), she argues that customized teaching and learning via the computer represent a new learning paradigm that will change the nature of universities in the digital age.

Taylor Branch
Baltimore, Md.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and journalist Taylor Branch is a national authority on the civil rights movement. He has completed two volumes of an epic historical trilogy about race relations in postwar America: Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (1988) and Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-1965 (1998). Parting the Waters, which has been called "a tour de force of research and synthesis," won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in history and the 1988 National Book Critics Award for general nonfiction. More than a multivolume biography of Martin Luther King Jr., Branch's books weave together the lives and the words of a host of figures, famous and obscure, to provide a comprehensive, compelling account of the civil rights era. Branch's articles have been published in the Washington Monthly, Harper's, Esquire and The New Republic. His book, Labyrinth (1982), was an account of the assassination in Washington of Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall is one of the nation's preeminent scholars of the New South. A professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has compiled a distinguished record of scholarship and teaching, leadership in the history profession and public outreach. As director of the Southern Oral History Project at UNC-Chapel Hill, she has coordinated the gathering of a large collection of primary source materials on all aspects of the New South. This archive is a major influence in contemporary southern studies, attracting many graduate students to the field. Under her leadership, the project has offered over 100 public presentations, workshops and performances at community centers, parks, libraries, schools, correctional facilities and local voluntary organizations across the South. Her work is an innovative blend of southern history, women's history, labor history and oral history that has earned her a national reputation for scholarly creativity and excellence; numerous honors from foundations, research centers and prize committees; and professional leadership positions. Her coauthored book Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (1987) received prestigious awards from the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians, and her Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women's Campaign Against Lynching (1979) won honors from the Southern Historical Association, the Southern Regional Council and Columbia University. Her scholarly articles have won awards and been anthologized. She is the Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Garrison Keillor
St. Paul, Minn.

Garrison Keillor is a writer, humorist and radio broadcaster. He is the creator, writer and host of Minnesota Public Radio's weekly variety program, A Prairie Home Companion, which is heard by 2.7 million listeners on more than 470 public radio stations nationwide. Keillor also hosts The Writer's Almanac, a five-minute radio program broadcast daily on many radio stations around the country. He is a frequent contributor to Time, and he is the author of several best-selling books, including Happy to be Here (1982), Lake Wobegon Days (1985), Leaving Home (1987), The Book of Guys (1993), and Wobegon Boy (1997). Among his many awards are a Grammy, two ACE Awards for his work on cable TV and a George Foster Peabody Award. In 1994, Keillor was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.

Jim Lehrer
Washington, D.C.

Journalist Jim Lehrer is editor and on-air host of public television's award-winning nightly news program, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Since 1975, this program and its predecessors, MacNeil/Lehrer Report and MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, have been critically acclaimed for their in-depth coverage and analysis of major news events and issues. The programs have garnered many awards and honors for excellence in broadcast journalism, including several Emmys, the George Polk Award, the Columbia-Dupont Award and the George Foster Peabody Award. Lehrer and Robert MacNeil also joined forces to produce other public affairs programs for television such as My Heart, Your Heart, a one-hour special on heart disease, and The Heart of the Dragon, a 12-part series that explored contemporary and ancient China. Prior to becoming a broadcast journalist, Lehrer worked for many years as a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in Dallas, Texas. In addition to journalism, he has written novels, plays and memoirs. His two volumes of memoirs, We Were Dreamers and A Bus of My Own, which chronicle his boyhood and family experiences in postwar Kansas and his early professional career as a newspaperman and television broadcaster, have been well-received by reviewers. A number of his novels are lighthearted mysteries featuring "The One-Eyed Mack," a protagonist who encounters quirky characters and humorous situations across the American South.

John Rawls
Lexington, Mass.

John Rawls is one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century. A professor emeritus of philosophy at Harvard University, he argues that justice is the first standard by which government should be judged. His two books, A Theory of Justice (1971) and Political Liberalism (1993), and his many articles stimulated a national revival of attention to moral philosophy, which had received less attention than logic and linguistic analysis in the analytic philosophy of the midcentury. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls applies the methods of philosophy to important political and economic issues, including basic rights and equal opportunity. In Political Liberalism, Rawls revised and extended his theory to accommodate the constraint that no one should be coerced in the name of another's conception of the good. His books have the distinction of being widely read and discussed not only by philosophers but also by political scientists, economists and legal theorists. Rawls's influence as a teacher is similarly profound. He trained many members of the generation who are now the most distinguished practitioners of moral and political philosophy, and through his mentorship he has helped many women into the ranks of a male-dominated field. Rawls is James Bryant Conant University Professor Emeritus at Harvard.

Steven Spielberg
Los Angeles, Calif.

Acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg has brought history and literature powerfully to life for millions of Americans. The excellence of his work in historical and literary dramatization is evident in Saving Private Ryan (1998, five Academy Awards), which presents the Normandy invasion from the infantryman's perspective; Amistad (1997), about an 1839 mutiny aboard a Spanish slave ship and the ensuing U.S. court case; Schindler's List (1993, seven Academy Awards), about an unlikely hero's efforts to rescue Jews from the Nazi death camps; and The Color Purple (with coproducer Quincy Jones, 1985), a critically acclaimed screen adaptation of the Alice Walker novel. Spielberg's other film credits include Jurassic Park (1993), Empire of the Sun (1987), E.T. (1982), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Jaws (1975). In 1994, Spielberg established the grant-making Righteous Persons Foundation with his profits from the film Schindler's List. He also founded the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to videotaping and archiving interviews of Holocaust survivors all over the world. Spielberg is also chairman of the Starbright Foundation, which combines the efforts of pediatric health care, technology and entertainment to empower seriously ill children. The most recent of Spielberg's many awards are the Smithsonian Institution's 1999 James Smithson Bicentennial Medal and the U.S. Department of Defense's 1999 Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

August Wilson
Seattle, Wash.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson is a major voice in the American theatre. His main body of work-- The Piano Lesson (1990 Pulitzer Prize for drama), Fences (1987 Pulitzer Prize for drama), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II and Jitney -- tells an epic story of the black experience in America. With each play set in a different decade, the 10-play projected cycle will chronicle a century of African American history. In addition to the Pulitzer Prizes, Wilson has received one Tony and six New York Drama Critics awards. In 1995, Wilson adapted The Piano Lesson for a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" television production, which also won positive critical attention. He has been inducted into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is chairman of the board for the African Grove Institute for the Arts, which supports artistic excellence and promotes the advancement and preservation of black theater and black performing arts.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens' engagement with the humanities or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities. The humanities carry the voices of one generation to the next through history, literature, philosophy, religion, languages, archaeology and related subjects that make up the record of human civilization.

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.

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About the National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

Media Contacts: Office of Communications at (202) 606-8446 or info@neh.gov