10 Revered Writers Honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 2007, forty-seven years after the original publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to Harper Lee for her monumental contribution to American literature.

The award itself dates back to 1963 and recognizes “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” For Presidents’ Day, let’s celebrate some of the writers who have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende

In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Isabel Allende was awarded in 2014.

God Help the Child
by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s first novel to be set in our current moment, this is a spare and unsparing tale about how the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult. Toni Morrison was awarded in 2012.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou

As joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable as childhood itself, Maya Angelou’s debut memoir captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou was awarded in 2011.

The Wright Brothers
by David McCullough

Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, David McCullough tells the dramatic behind-the-scenes-story of Wilbur and Orville Wright, the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly. David McCullough was awarded in 2006.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
by Eudora Welty

Including the collections A CURTAIN OF GREEN, THE WIDE NET, THE GOLDEN APPLES, and THE BRIDGE OF INNISFALLEN, as well as previously uncollected pieces, these forty-one stories demonstrate Eudora Welty's talent for writing from diverse points-of-view. Eudora Welty was awarded in 1980.

Invisible Man
by Ralph Ellison

A milestone in American literature, this novel has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. Ralph Ellison was awarded in 1969.

Travels with Charley in Search of America
by John Steinbeck

To hear the speech of the real America, to smell the grass and the trees, to see the colors and the light—these were John Steinbeck’s goals as he set out, at the age of fifty-eight, to rediscover the country he had been writing about for so many years. John Steinbeck was awarded in 1964.

Abraham Lincoln
by Carl Sandburg

Called “the greatest historical biography of our generation,” Carl Sandburg’s magisterial work is the definitive account of Lincoln’s life. Carl Sandburg was awarded in 1964.

T. S. Eliot: Collected Poems, 1909-1962
by T. S. Eliot

Poet, dramatist, critic, and editor, T. S. Eliot was one of the defining figures of twentieth-century poetry. This edition includes “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” along with “Four Quartets,” “The Waste Land,” and several other poems. T. S. Eliot was awarded in 1964.

Here is New York
by E. B. White

Perceptive, funny, and nostalgic, E. B. White’s stroll around Manhattan remains the quintessential love letter to the city. The New York Times named it one of the ten best books ever written about the metropolis, and The New Yorker calls it “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city.” E.B. White was awarded in 1963.