Edmund White

Edmund White will be awarded the 2019 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He’s written thirteen works of fiction, including his amalgamation of Heian Japan in The Tale of Genji and contemporary life on Fire Island, Forgetting Elena, and an autobiographical trilogy, A Boy’s Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988), and The Farewell Symphony (1997).

Awarded by the National Book Foundation with the 2019 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

Edmund White was born on January 13, 1940, in Cincinnati, Ohio. When White was seven his parents divorced, and he went with his mother and sister to live on the outskirts of Chicago. Summers were spent with his father in Cincinnati or Michigan. Both his parents and all his relatives were Texans, and as a child he often visited Texas aunts, cousins, and grandparents and lived one year in Dallas.

White attended Cranbrook Academy, majored in Chinese at the University of Michigan, and then moved to New York City where he worked for Time-Life Books from 1962 until 1970. After a year’s sojourn in Rome, White returned to the US, where he served as an editor at The Saturday Review and Horizon. Beginning in the late 1970s, he and six other gay New York writers—Christopher Cox, Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley, Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, and George Whitmore—formed a casual club known as the Violet Quill. Meeting in one another’s apartments, they would read and critique one another’s work, then move on to high tea. Together they represented a flowering of the kind of gay writing White as a teenager in the Midwest had longed to discover.

In 1982, White co-founded (along with Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Larry Mass, Paul Popham, and Paul Rapoport), the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first provider of HIV/AIDS care and advocacy. White was the first president. In 1983, White moved to France; when he returned to teach at Princeton in 1998 it was to a literary landscape devastated by AIDS. Four members of the Violet Quill—Cox, Ferro, Grumley, and Whitmore—had died, as well as numerous other promising young writers such as Tim Dlugos and John Fox, White’s student. White’s two closest friends, the critic David Kalstone and his editor Bill Whitehead, were also dead from the disease. White wrote, “For me, these losses were definitive. The witnesses to my life, the people who had shared the same references and sense of humor, were gone. The loss of all the books they might have written remains incalculable.”

White has written thirteen works of fiction, including his amalgamation of Heian Japan in The Tale of Genji and contemporary life on Fire Island, Forgetting Elena (1973), Nocturnes for the King of Naples (1978), and an autobiographical trilogy, A Boy’s Own Story (1982), The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988), and The Farewell Symphony (1997). In 2000, he published The Married Man, about life in France and the US with a lover dying of AIDS. In Jack Holmes and his Friend (2012), he took up the subject of a lifelong friendship between a straight man and a gay man. In Hotel de Dream (2007), which White considers his best book, he looks at gay life in New York in the late 19th century.

White is not only known as a novelist whose work has been widely praised by such writers as Vladimir Nabokov and Susan Sontag, he is also an influential cultural critic. Urbane, knowing, and sophisticated, he has chronicled gay life in the seventies through the nineties with wit, insight, and compassion. His travelogue States of Desire: Travels in Gay America (1980) remains a classic if insouciant (and now poignant) look at gay life at a particular cultural moment just before the onslaught of AIDS (it was recently re-issued with a new forward and postface). His pioneering book, The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Life (1977), written with Dr. Charles Silverstein, introduced millions, gay and straight and curious alike, to a brave new world of sexual practices and lifestyle.

As a biographer, Edmund White has written a monumental biography of the French novelist and playwright Jean Genet (Genet, 1993) and short biographies of Marcel Proust (Marcel Proust: A Life, 1998) and the poet Arthur Rimbaud (Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel, 2008). White’s other nonfiction includes City Boy (2009); The Flâneur (2000); Inside a Pearl (2014), about his years in Paris; and The Unpunished Vice (2018), about his life as a reader; among other memoirs. He is also a playwright. His first play, The Blue Boy in Black, was staged in 1963 and starred Cicely Tyson. His most recent play, Terre Haute (2006), was about Timothy McVeigh and Gore Vidal, and was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Ireland, and in the UK and US. He is currently writing a new play, Both Ways. Cumulatively, White’s simultaneous presence within so many different genres began to define—in the late 1970s and early 1980s—the parameters of “gay culture.”

Edmund White and his work remain central to any consideration of gay male life in late 20th-century America. He was named the 2018 winner of the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and his forthcoming novel, A Saint From Texas, will be published in August 2020. White lives in New York with his husband, the writer Michael Carroll.

Isabel Allende

The Foundation will award Isabel Allende with its 2018 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL) on November 14, 2018.

Chilean author Isabel Allende won worldwide acclaim when her bestselling first novel, The House of the Spirits, was published in 1982. In addition to launching Allende’s career as a renowned author, the book, which grew out of a farewell letter to her dying grandfather, also established her as a feminist force in Latin America’s male-dominated literary world.

She has since written 22 more works, including Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, Stories of Eva Luna, The Infinite Plan, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, a trilogy for young readers (City of the Beasts, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies), Zorro, Ines of My Soul, Island Beneath the Sea, Maya’s Notebook, Ripper, The Japanese Lover, and her latest book, In the Midst of Winter. Books of nonfiction include Aphrodite, a humorous collection of recipes and essays, and three memoirs: My Invented Country, Paula (a bestseller that documents Allende’s daughter’s illness and death, as well as her own life), and The Sum of Our Days.

Allende’s books, all written in her native Spanish, have been translated into 35 languages and have sold nearly 70 million copies. Her works both entertain and educate readers by weaving intriguing stories with significant historical events. Settings for her books include Chile throughout the 15th, 19th and 20th centuries, the California gold rush, the guerrilla movement of 1960s Venezuela, the Vietnam War and the 18th-century slave revolt in Haiti.

Allende, who has received dozens of international tributes and awards over the last 30 years, describes her fiction as “realistic literature,” rooted in her remarkable upbringing and the mystical people and events that fueled her imagination. Her writings are equally informed by her feminist convictions, her commitment to social justice and the harsh political realities that shaped her destiny.

A prominent journalist for Chilean television and magazines in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Allende’s life was forever altered when General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup in 1973 that toppled Chile’s socialist reform government. Allende’s cousin Salvador Allende, who had been elected Chile’s president in 1970, died in the coup. The Pinochet regime was marked early on by repression and brutality, and Allende became involved with groups offering aid to victims of the regime. Ultimately finding it unsafe to remain in Chile, she fled the country in 1975 with her husband and two children. The family lived in exile in Venezuela for the next 13 years.

In 1981, Allende learned that her beloved grandfather, who still lived in Chile, was dying. She began a letter to him, recounting her childhood memories of life in her grandparents’ home. Although her grandfather died before having a chance to read the letter, its contents became the basis for The House of the Spirits, the novel that launched her literary career at age 40. The novel details the lives of two families living in Chile from the 1920s to the country’s military coup in 1973, and has been described as both a family saga and a political testimony.

In addition to her work as a writer, Allende also devotes much of her time to human rights. Following the death of her daughter, Paula, in 1992, she established in her honor a charitable foundation dedicated to the protection and empowerment of women and girls worldwide.

Since 1987, Allende has made her home in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. Allende became a U.S. citizen in 1993, but lives, she says, with one foot in California and the other in Chile.

Stephen King

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel), Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome.

Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel), Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. His novel 11/22/63—a Hulu original television series event—was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.

Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller (1915–2005) was born in New York City and studied at the University of Michigan. His plays include All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays (1955), After the Fall (1963), Incident at Vichy (1964), The Price(1968), The Creation of the World and Other Business(1972) and The American Clock (1980).

Arthur Miller (1915–2005) was born in New York City and studied at the University of Michigan. His plays include All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge and A Memory of Two Mondays (1955), After the Fall (1963), Incident at Vichy (1964), The Price(1968), The Creation of the World and Other Business(1972) and The American Clock (1980). He also wrote two novels, Focus (1945), and The Misfits, which was filmed in 1960, and the text for In Russia (1969),Chinese Encounters (1979), and In the Country (1977), three books of photographs by his wife, Inge Morath. His later work included a memoir, Timebends (1987); the plays The Ride Down Mt. Morgan (1991), The Last Yankee (1993), Broken Glass (1994), and Mr. Peter’s Connections (1999); Echoes Down the Corridor: Collected Essays, 1944–2000; and On Politics and the Art of Acting (2001). He twice won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and in 1949 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Miller was the recipient of the National Book Foundation’s 2001 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters in 2002, and the Jerusalem Prize in 2003.

Clifton Fadiman

Clifton P. “Kip” Fadiman was an American intellectual, author, editor, radio and television personality.

Clifton P. “Kip” Fadiman (1904-1999) was an American intellectual, author, editor, radio and television personality.

James Laughlin

James Laughlin’s many books include: In Another Country (City Lights, 1979); Selected Poems (City Lights, 1986); The House of Light (Grenfell Press, 1986); Tabellaie (Grenfell Press, 1986); The Owl of Minerva (Copper Canyon, 1987);Collemata (The Stinehour Press, 1988) and Pound As Wuz (Graywolf, 1988).

Poet, publisher and extraordinary man of letters James Laughlin (1914-1997) receives the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the Forty-Second Annual National Book Awards Dinner, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on the evening of November 18th, 1992.

Born October 30, 1914 in Pittsburgh, James Laughlin is the son of Henry Hughart and Marjory Rea Laughlin. He attended schools in the United States and abroad, graduating from Harvard University with an A.B. degree in 1939. At eighteen he had already published short stories and poetry in The Atlantic Monthly and the little magazines. New Directions was founded in 1936 when James Laughlin, then a twenty-two-year-old Harvard sophomore, issued the first of his New Directions anthologies. Intended “as a place where experimentalists could test their inventions by publication,” these volumes have continued to appear each year. Here readers were first introduced to the early works of such writers as William Saroyan, Delmore Schwartz, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Merton, John Hawkes, Denise Levertov, James Agee, Bertolt Brecht, Celine, Cocteau, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Shortly after issuing the first of the anthologies, Mr. Laughlin began to publish novels, plays, and collections of poems. Tennessee Williams first appeared as a poet in the early Five Young American Poets and Karl Shapiro printed his first work in the second volume of the same series. William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, who once had difficulty finding publishers, have had many books published by New Directions. Mr. Laughlin has also been interested in issuing new editions of older, influential European writers in new translations often in a bilingual edition. Thus he contributed to the revivavl of interest in Kafka, Henry James, and E.M. Forster. He issued Henry Miller’s unorthodox essays and travel books and first printed James Joyce’s Three Lives, Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha; and spotted the importance of Vladimir Nabokov, whose second novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, was published by New Directions in 1941, and of Boris Pasternak, who was presented in a volume of Selected Writings in this country in 1949.

James Laughlin’s many books include: In Another Country (City Lights, 1979); Selected Poems (City Lights, 1986); The House of Light (Grenfell Press, 1986); Tabellaie (Grenfell Press, 1986); The Owl of Minerva (Copper Canyon, 1987);Collemata (The Stinehour Press, 1988) and Pound As Wuz (Graywolf, 1988). His Collected Poems were by Moyer Bell, Ltd.

Daniel Boorstin

Daniel J. Boorstin was the author of The Americans, a trilogy (The Colonial Experience, The National Experience, and The Democratic Experience) that won the Francis Parkman Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1989, he received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters.

Daniel J. Boorstin was the author of The Americans, a trilogy (The Colonial Experience, The National Experience, and The Democratic Experience) that won the Francis Parkman Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1989, he received the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters. He was the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and for twelve years served as the Librarian of Congress. He died in 2004.

Jason Epstein

Jason Epstein has led one of the most creative careers in book publishing of the past half century. In 1952, while a young editor at Doubleday, he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called ‘paperback revolution’ and established the trade paperback format. In the following decade he became co-founder of The New York Review of Books.

Jason Epstein has led one of the most creative careers in book publishing of the past half century. In 1952, while a young editor at Doubleday, he created Anchor Books, which launched the so-called ‘paperback revolution’ and established the trade paperback format. In the following decade he became co-founder of The New York Review of Books. In 1979,  with the critic Edmund Wilson,  he created the Library of America, the prestigious publisher of American classics, and The Reader’s Catalog, the precursor of online bookselling. For many years, Jason Epstein was editorial director of Random House. He was the first recipient of the National Book Award for Distinguished Service to American Letters and was given the Curtis Benjamin Award for ‘inventing new kinds of publishing and editing.’ In 2001 he received the National Book Critics Circle’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. He has edited many well-known novelists, including Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabokov, E. L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and Gore Vidal, as well as many important writers of nonfiction.

Don DeLillo

Don DeLillo is the author of fifteen novels and a novella, including the National Book Award Winner White Noise; two National Book Award Finalists, Libra and Underworld, and the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning Mao II. In addition to his novels, DeLillo has published a collection of short stories, several plays, and a screenplay. He has received many honors, including the Library of Congress’s Prize for American Fiction and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award.

Born in 1936, Don DeLillo grew up in The Bronx and graduated from Fordham University. He wrote his first work of fiction while working as an advertising copywriter and published his first novel, Americana, in 1971. Since then he has produced fourteen novels, one novella, five plays, and many stories and essays. In 1985, DeLillo’s eighth novel, White Noise, won a National Book Award. In 1988 his novel Libra was selected as a National Book Award Finalist and received the first Irish Times International Fiction Prize. His novel Underworld was selected as both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize Finalist and received the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, given for the best novel published in the previous five years; in 2006 Underworld was placed number two on the New York Times’s list of “The Best Books of the Last 25 Years,” (after Toni Morrison’s Beloved). DeLillo’s novel Mao II received the 1992 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist. His short story collection, The Angel Esmeralda, was a Finalist for both the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award and the 2011 Story Prize.

DeLillo’s plays have premiered in London, Chicago, and Massachusetts. His novel Libra was adapted for the stage and directed by John Malkovich at the Steppenwolf Theater. Steppenwolf also commissioned “The Word for Snow” for the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Among DeLillo’s other awards and honors are the 1999 Jerusalem Prize, the international literary prize awarded to a writer whose work expresses the theme of the freedom of the individual in society, the first American to be so honored. In 2010, he received the PEN/Saul Bellow Prize for Achievement in American Fiction and in 2012 the Chicago Public Library’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award, both for lifetime achievement.

DeLillo lives in Westchester County, New York.