Six Women Awarded the National Humanities Medal

President Obama recently presented National Humanities Medals to 12 Americans. Six of the winners are women and five have strong ties to the academic world.

JillKerConwayJill Ker Conway came to the United States from Sydney, Australia, in 1960. In 1975 she was named the first woman president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her memoir, The Road from Coorain (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), tells the story of her growing up in Australia and why she decided to come to the United States to study at Harvard University. She is also the author of  The Female Experience in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century America: A Guide to the History of American Women (Garland, 1982). Dr. Conway is a graduate of the University of Sydney and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

natalie-zemon-davisNatalie Zemon Davis is the is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emerita at Princeton University and serves as an adjunct professor of history and anthropology and professor of Medieval studies at the University of Toronto. She has also taught at Brown University and the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Davis is the author of several books including The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000) and Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth-Century Muslim Between Worlds (Hill and Wang, 2006). She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Joan_DidionJoan Didion is a novelist and essayist. A native of Sacramento, California, she is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. Her first book, the novel Run River, was published in 1963. Where I Was From (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003) recounts the migration of her grandfather’s family “from the hardscrabble Adirondack frontier in the eighteenth century to the hardscrabble Sierra Nevada foothills in the nineteenth.” Didion is probably best known and most admired for The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A, Knopf, 2005), a wrenching memoir written after her husband’s death.

robinson-marilynneMarilynne Robinson was born in 1943 in Sandpoint, Idaho. The town is the subject of her first novel, Housekeeping, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction. Her next novel, Gilead, was published in 2004. She revisited that novel’s cast of characters in her 2008 novel, Home, which would win the Orange Prize (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction). Robinson is also the author of nonfiction works including Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989) and The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). Since 1991, Robinson has served on the faculty of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

KayRyanKay Ryan, a former poet laureate of the United States, was born in San Jose, California, in 1945, and grew up in towns in the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from UCLA. Kay Ryan is the author of several books of poetry, including Flamingo Watching (Copper Beach Press, 2006), The Niagara River (Grove Press, 2005), and Say Uncle (Grove Press, 2000). The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press, 2010) won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She has been a MacArthur Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow and won the 2004 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She has taught for nearly three decades at the College of Marin in Kentfield, California.

Anna_Deavere_SmithAnna Deavere Smith is an actress and playwright and University Professor in the Department of Performance Studies in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Two of Professor Smith’s best-known works are the one-woman plays about racial tensions she wrote and performed: Fires in the Mirror (Obie Award winner and runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize) and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 (Obie Award winner and Tony Award nominee). She has appeared in several television shows and feature films and is the author of several books, including Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines and Letters to a Young Artist. She has appeared in the film The American President (1995) and the television series The West Wing and Nurse Jackie. Smith is a graduate of what is now Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and earned a master of fine arts degree from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California.

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