Colson Whitehead, Amy Tan, and Ann Patchett are among the authors who will be awarded National Humanities Medals by President Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced in a news release.
The medals are awarded each year to individuals or organizations that have made notable contributions to the humanities.
Whitehead, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of novels including The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, was cited for his “genre-defying craftsmanship and creativity,” while Tan, known for books including The Joy Luck Club, was praised for her writing that “makes sense of the present through the past and adds ground-breaking narrative to the diverse sweep of American life and literature.”
The White House cited Patchett, author of novels like Bel Canto and The Dutch House, for “books that take people to places of the heart and feed the imagination of our Nation.”
Poet Richard Blanco, author of books including City of a Hundred Fires and The Prince of Los Cocuyos, was named a medal winner, as was biographer Walter Isaacson (Steve Jobs, Leonardo da Vinci) and memoirist Tara Westover (Educated).
Anthropologist Johnnetta Betsch Cole (Racism in American Public Life) won the award, along with historian Earl Lewis (In Their Own Interests), academic Henrietta Mann (On This Spirit Walk), and lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy).
Also winning medals were singer-songwriter Elton John and the audio program Native America Calling.
The National Humanities Medals were first awarded in 1997. Previous authors to win the prize have included Maxine Hong Kingston, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Rudolfo Anaya.
Michael Schaub, a journalist and regular contributor to NPR, lives near Austin, Texas.