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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.