President George W. Bush awarded the 2003 National Humanities Medal today to 10 distinguished Americans for their contributions to the humanities. At a White House ceremony, the President presented National Humanities Medals to Robert Ballard, Joan Ganz Cooney, Midge Decter, Joseph Epstein, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Jean Fritz, Hal Holbrook, Edith Kurzweil, Frank M. Snowden Jr., and John Updike. Following the presentation, First Lady Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney participated in a reception honoring the new medalists.
The National Humanities Medal, first awarded in 1989 as the Charles Frankel Prize, honors individuals whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand America’s access to important resources in the humanities.
The following individuals received the National Humanities Medal for 2003:
Robert Ballard, Ph.D. (Mystic, Conn.) is an award-winning deep-sea explorer. Best known for his 1985 discovery of the Titanic, Ballard has conducted more than a hundred deep-sea expeditions, using both manned and unmanned vehicles. A National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, Ballard received the Society's prestigious Hubbard Medal in 1996. He has been the subject of many National Geographic programs and articles. Further public outreach surrounding marine exploration is conducted through exhibits and programming at the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium, in Mystic, Conn. where he is founder and president. He spent 30 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he helped develop manned submersibles and remotely operated vehicles for marine research. Advanced technology as a teaching tool is a continuing theme brought forward through telecommunications and "telepresence" for his JASON Project, which allows hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to accompany him from afar on undersea explorations around the globe. His newest initiative is the brand new Institute for Archaeological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, where he is director and faculty member.
Joan Ganz Cooney (New York, N.Y.) is one of the visionaries and the chief moving force behind the creation of the Children's Television Workshop (CTW) and its highly successful children's television show, “Sesame Street.” She demonstrated that quality educational programming could attract and hold a mass audience, and the organization she established continues to produce innovative programming for all ages. “Sesame Street” first aired in November 1969 on nearly 190 public and commercial stations, and has won numerous awards, including a Peabody Award and three Emmys after the first year and 91 Emmys to date. Among the many honors that she and the Workshop have received was a 1970 Christopher Award. In 1990 Cooney stepped down as president to become chair of the CTW (now Sesame Workshop) Executive Committee, thus allowing her more time for creative development. She has enriched children's television with her vision, altered the public perception of public television, and raised the level of expectation for children entering school in the United States and around the world.
Midge Decter (New York, N.Y.) attended the University of Minnesota, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and New York University, but never graduated from college. Her first job was secretary to the editor of Commentary, the intellectual magazine published by the American Jewish Committee. She later worked as an assistant editor at Midstream magazine, editor of CBS Legacy Books, executive editor at Harper's magazine, literary editor at Saturday Review, and managing editor at Basic Books. She also founded and served as executive director of the Committee for the Free World, an anticommunist organization disbanded after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She is the author of five books, The Liberated Woman & Other Americans (1970); The New Chastity and Other Arguments Against Women's Liberation (1972); Liberal Parents, Radical Children (1975); An Old Wife's Tale (2001), and Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait (2003). She is on the board of directors of the Heritage Foundation. Her husband, Norman Podhoretz, was editor of Commentary for many years and is now editor-at-large.
Joseph Epstein (Evanston, Ill.), noted essayist, fiction writer, social commentator, and literary critic, was the editor of the American Scholar from 1975 to 1997. Educated in the public schools of Chicago and at the University of Chicago, he served as senior editor at Quadrangle/New York Times Books and Encyclopaedia Britannica. Since 1974, he has taught in the English Department at Northwestern University. Epstein is known for the range of subjects on which he writes. One reviewer wrote of Epstein’s 1999 collection of essays, Narcissus Leaves the Pool: “Among the things that arise here are naps, Gershwin, name-dropping, long books, growing older, talent versus genius, Anglophilia, and surgery. These are essays about the head and the heart.” Epstein is the author of thirteen books, including, most recently, With My Trousers Rolled (1995), Life Sentences (1997), and Snobbery (2002). He has also published collections of short stories, including Fabulous, Small Jews (2003) and The Goldin Boys (1991). Epstein’s essays appear regularly in The New Yorker, The London Times Literary Supplement, Commentary, and The New Criterion. In 1997, Epstein received the Distinguished Service Award to the Humanities from Phi Beta Kappa.
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (Atlanta, Ga.) is the Eléonore Raoul Professor of the Humanities and professor of history at Emory University, where she was the founding director of the Institute for Women’s Studies. Editor of The Journal of The Historical Society, she publishes on history and literature, public policy, education, religion, culture, and contemporary women’s, cultural, and ethical issues. She serves on boards for several organizations, including the American Academy for Liberal Education, The Historical Society, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the Society of Scholars of the James Madison Program at Princeton University. She is the author of numerous books, among them Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (1988) and Women and the Future of the Family (2000). She also serves on several advisory and editorial boards. Educated at Bryn Mawr College (B.A.), the Institut d’Études Politiques, and Harvard University (M.A. and Ph.D.), she has received numerous fellowships and is an elected member of the American Antiquarian Society and the Society of American Historians.
Jean Fritz (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.), the author of many acclaimed children’s books, writes stories that portray individuals in history. When she writes about actual people of the past, Fritz relies on letters, journals, and diary entries so that every quotation, even in her fiction, has an original source. Born in China, where she and her missionary parents lived for 13 years, Fritz arrived in the United States with an international background and an interest in American history. Her informal historical biographies have received praise for their ability to engage young readers with figures from the past. The author’s first book, The Cabin Faced West (1958), centers on a Pennsylvanian girl who is surprised by a visit from George Washington. Earlier this year, the National Endowment for the Humanities included The Cabin Faced West as one of 15 books for young readers exploring the theme of “courage” on the first “We the People Bookshelf.” Fritz has received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association, the Regina Medal from the Catholic Library Association, and the Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature from the New York State Library Association.
Hal Holbrook (Beverly Hills, Calif.), first appeared on stage as Mark Twain in his production of Mark Twain Tonight! in the 1950s. He has appeared as the well-known writer and humorist before audiences around the world, delivering more than 2,000 performances. A one-man theatrical performance, Mark Twain Tonight! quickly garnered widespread acclaim and opened on Broadway in 1966. That same year, Holbrook received a Tony Award (Best Actor) for his impersonation of Twain. Holbrook has been featured in several television programs, including a 1967 CBS special on Twain, and Ken Burns’s Mark Twain, which aired on PBS in 2002. The recipient of multiple Emmy Awards, Holbrook has also acted in several well-known films, including Wall Street (1987) and The Firm (1993). He also has appeared several times as Abraham Lincoln in various network specials. Now in his 70s, Holbrook continues to portray his favorite humorist on Mark Twain Tonight!.
Edith Kurzweil (New York, N.Y.) edited the journal of politics and culture, Partisan Review. Founded and edited for decades by her late husband, William Phillips, Partisan Review assembled in its pages the writings of some of the most prominent writers in the West, often presenting them to the American public for the first time. Partisan Review kept abreast of new developments in politics and culture; for instance, it was one of the earliest English-language journals to publish Czeslaw Milosz. Partisan Review in its last three decades was instrumental in keeping the intellectual and cultural life of the U.S. open to developments in Eastern Europe, and was an important source for readers interested in work emerging from the former Soviet bloc. Edith Kurzweil hosted frequent symposia, which were often published in Partisan Review, and has edited numerous anthologies of classic work from the magazine, such as Our Country, Our Culture: The Politics of Political Correctness (1995) and A Partisan Century (1996). She is also the author of Freudians and Feminists (1995), The Age of Structuralism: From Levi-Strauss to Foucault (1996), and The Freudians: A Comparative Perspective (1998).
Frank M. Snowden Jr. (Washington, D.C.), one of the foremost scholars on blacks in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Italy, is Professor Emeritus of Classics at Howard University in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Harvard, Snowden has served as a member of the U.S. delegation to UNESCO in Paris and as a cultural attaché to the American Embassy in Rome. As a U.S. specialist lecturer for the Department of State, Snowden delivered lectures in Africa, Egypt, Italy, Austria, Greece, India, and Brazil. His many books on blacks in the ancient Mediterranean world include Blacks in Antiquity (1970), The Image of the Black in Western Art I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire, which he co-authored (1976), and Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks (1983). Snowden’s nominator writes, “Howard students will remember him for his dramatic classroom recitations in ancient Greek and Latin from memory and his plea for the beauty and universality of great literature.”
John Updike (Beverly Farms, Mass.), American novelist, short story writer, poet, and critic, is known internationally for his novels Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1990). They follow the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a star athlete, from his youth through the social and sexual upheavals of the 1960s, to later periods of his life, and to final decline. Updike has written more than fifty books, including novels, collections of poems, short stories, and essays. Widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading literary critics, Updike has reviewed the works of many noted authors. Updike has received a Guggenheim Fellowship (1959), Rosenthal Award, National Institute of Arts and Letters (1959), National Book Award in Fiction (1964), O. Henry Prize (1967-68), American Book Award (1982), National Book Critics Circle Award, for fiction (1982, 1990), Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award (1982), National Arts Club Medal of Honor (1984); and the National Medal of the Arts (1989). In 1976 he became a member of American Academy of Arts and Letters. Updike's novels Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest won Pulitzer Prizes.
The National Endowment for the Humanities gratefully acknowledges The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and Hallmark Cards for their support of the 2003 National Humanities Medals.