Wynton Marsalis awarded the National Humanities Medal by the National Endowment of the Humanities

WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 14, 2016) — President Barack Obama today announced the distinguished recipients of the 2015 National Humanities Medal. The awardees include authors, a poet, physician, historian, chef, and a higher education program.

President Obama will award the 2015 National Humanities Medals in conjunction with the National Medal of Arts during a White House ceremony on September 22. First Lady Michelle Obama will attend. The ceremony will stream live at

“Our understanding of ourselves, our history and our culture have been deepened and transformed by these extraordinary humanities medalists,” said NEH Chairman William Adams. “I am proud to join President Obama in celebrating the achievements of these distinguished individuals.”

Here are the recipients of the 2015 National Humanities Medal. The citations about the 2015 National Humanities Medal recipients will be read by the President at the ceremony. The citation is followed by each medalist’s current place of residence.

  • Rudolfo Anaya, Author. For his pioneering stories of the American southwest. His works of fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience and reveal universal truths about the human condition—and as an educator, he has spread a love of literature to new generations. (Albuquerque, NM)
  • José Andrés, Chef & Entrepreneur. For cultivating our palettes and shaping our culture. He has introduced new and vibrant ingredients to our Nation, whether through his innovative techniques in the kitchen, his work on clean cooking technology and access to education, or the inspiration he provides to new Americans. (Bethesda, MD)
  • Ron Chernow, Author. For bringing our Nation’s story to life. Through his examination of America’s successful giants and titans, he also invites his readers to discover their failures and foibles, uncovering enduring lessons that inform our modern era. (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Louise Glück, Poet. For giving lyrical expression to our inner conflicts. Her use of verse connects us to the myths of the ancients, the magic of the natural world, and the essence of who we are. (Cambridge, MA)
  • Terry Gross, Radio Host & Producer. For her artful probing of the human experience. Her patient, persistent questioning in thousands of interviews over four decades has pushed public figures to reveal personal motivations behind extraordinary lives—revealing simple truths that affirm our common humanity (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Wynton Marsalis*, Composer & Musician. For celebrating the traditions of jazz music from New Orleans to Lincoln Center and beyond. As a virtuoso trumpet player, composer, and educator, he has brought jazz to a wider audience and inspired music lovers to embrace America’s quintessential sound. (New York, NY)
  • James McBride, Author. For humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family. (Lambertville, NJ)
  • Louis Menand, Author. For prose and essays that invite us to think in new ways about the forces shaping our society. His influential works of intellectual and cultural history probe the power of ideas from one era to the next as they ripple across politics and culture. (Cambridge, MA)
  • Elaine Pagels, Historian & Author. For her exploration of faith and its traditions. Through her study of ancient manuscripts and other scholarly work, she has generated new interest and dialogue about our contemporary search for knowledge and meaning. (Princeton, NJ)
  • Prison University Project, Higher Education Program. For transforming the lives of incarcerated people through higher education. Its programs offer opportunity and inspiration to their students, providing an example for others to emulate. (San Quentin, CA)
  • Abraham Verghese, Physician, Professor, & Author. For reminding us that the patient is the center of the medical enterprise. His range of proficiency embodies the diversity of the humanities; from his efforts to emphasize empathy in medicine, to his imaginative renderings of the human drama. (Menlo Park, CA)
  • Isabel Wilkerson, Journalist & Author. For championing the stories of an unsung history. Her masterful combination of intimate human narratives with broader societal trends allows us to measure the epic migration of a people by its vast impact on our Nation and on each individual life. (Atlanta, GA)

*Will not be present at the ceremony

The National Endowment for the Humanities manages the nomination process on behalf of the White House. Each year, the NEH invites medalist nominations from individuals and organizations across the country. The National Council on the Humanities – NEH’s presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed advisory body – reviews the nominations and provides recommendations to the President, who selects the recipients.

Created as an independent federal agency in 1965, NEH awards grants that support research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities. NEH is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Since 1996, when the first National Humanities Medal was given, 175 individuals have been honored, inclusive of this year’s recipients. Thirteen organizations have also received medals. A complete list of previous honorees is available at this link:

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