Posts Tagged ‘Anna Deavere Smith’

The movie: President Obama honors National Medal winners

Thursday, July 11th, 2013
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ryan

Yayyyyy Kay!

Yesterday we wrote about the National Medal for the Humanities winners.  And today we have pitchas.  Here’s Kay Ryan, looking spiffy, accepting the award at the White House ceremony.

But wait a minute!  We hadn’t mentioned the National Medal for the Arts yet … or rather we did, because George Lucas and Tony Kushner were in fact winners of the arts medal, not the humanities medal.

jennyJust to sort everything out, here’s the complete list for both:

2012 National Medal of Arts: Herb Alpert, Lin Arison, Joan Myers Brown, Renée Fleming,  Ernest J. Gaines, Ellsworth Kelly, Tony Kushner, George Lucas, Elaine May, Laurie Olin, Allen Toussaint, and the Washington Performing Arts Society, Washington, DC.

2012 National Humanities Medal: Edward L. Ayers, William G. Bowen, Jill Ker Conway, Natalie Zemon Davis, Frank Deford, Joan Didion, Robert Putnam, Marilynne Robinson, Kay Ryan, Robert B. Silvers, Anna Deavere Smith, Camilo José Vergara.

Another familiar face is buried behind the “Washington Performing Arts Society”:  President and CEO Jennifer Bilfield (not Jenny Bellfield, as the subtitle says)  accepts the award on behalf of the organization in photo at right – you can read more about the society here.

But bleccchhh… some of the bland clichés that were offered to presumably reward excellence and innovation in the texts!  Robinson writes about “universal truths about what it means to be human.” The Washington Performing Arts Society has “inspired generations of young performers to follow their passion” – and follow their bliss, too, I’ll bet.  Silvers, co-founder of the New York Review of Books, “elevated the book review to a literary art form.”  So what about Edmund Wilson, Randall Jarrell, and a few others writing well before the NYRB launch in 1963?

We have the pitchas, but we also have the movie.  Kay accepts the award from President Obama at 28.05 below.  Jenny is at 20.42.

National Humanities Medal: New honors, familiar faces – including Kay Ryan!

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
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"Witty and accessible," for sure. (Photo L.A. Cicero)

“Witty and accessible,” for sure. (Photo L.A. Cicero)

Yesterday (or was it the day before?) we wrote about California as a literary epicenter.  What could be more timely, then, than the announcement that Marin poet Kay Ryan is among those who will receive the National Humanities Medal this year?  (We’ve written about her oh, here and here and here and here.)  Here’s what Steve Moyer at the NEH said about the Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur Fellow, and former U.S. poet laureate:

Her work is accessible and witty, marked by mordant humor and word play, but with serious intent and long-lasting impact on readers. “I want something to get done in a poem,” she said recently in a telephone interview. “I want to know something I didn’t know.” Her use of what she has termed recombinant rhyme is one of her defining characteristics. Her tightly woven verse (lines are sometimes no more than two or three syllables) can ponder a philosophical conundrum, crystallize an irony, or hold up for brief yet piercing examination the opposing poles of a contradiction. Poet and editor J. D. McClatchy has said of Ryan’s work, “Her poems are compact, exhilarating, strange affairs, like Satie miniatures or Cornell boxes.” …

Ryan, born in San Jose, California, in 1945, grew up in towns in the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, where she was something of a class clown and from childhood had a “rapaciousness for language.” Her father worked as a ranch hand, an oil driller, and a prospector on a chromium claim. He died when Ryan was nineteen, prompting “After Zeno,” an unsentimental meditation on lives that overlap until the day when suddenly, they no longer do. The four-stanza poem begins, “When he was / I was. / But I still am / And he is still.” After positing questions about time and plurality, the poem—her first—concludes, “There’s no sense / In past tense.”  …

Surprisingly, Ryan says she reads little poetry, fiction, or history, opting instead for the “belle lettrists,”—essays on literature by Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera, Vladimir Nabokov, and Joseph Brodsky. She prefers not to read fellow poets because, as she slyly puts it, “Like eucalyptus trees, they poison the soil beneath them so nothing else can grow there.” Ryan has other reading tics. She doesn’t like electronic reading devices, she chuckles, because she feels compelled to physically deface a book by taking notes in the margins.

Kushner, too.

Kushner, too.

And the future of poetry? “It will change platforms maybe, but I don’t worry about poetry or people reading poetry. It will survive because it’s pleasurable and is the most expedient method for certain kinds of exchange.”

It’s always pleasant to see friends’ names on the list … or even acquaintances.  I’ve interviewed playwright Tony Kushner before, in an article about his former mentor, Carl Weber.  It was a fun interview, though it took eons to schedule through intermediaries.  Another famous Californian, George Lucas, will be awarded, as will playwright Anna Deavere Smith and author Joan Didion will also be awarded, and Robert B. Silvers (of New York Review of Books fame).

Other winners include: Edward L. Ayers, William G. Bowen, Jill Ker Conway, Natalie Zemon Davis, Frank Deford, Robert Putnam, Marilynne Robinson, and Camilo José Vergara.

The awards ceremony will take place … tomorrow!