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Brainpickings Remembers That Time That Adrienne Rich Declined the National Medal of the Arts

By Harriet Staff


Adrienne Rich, who would have celebrated her eighty-fifth birthday this past Saturday, remains the only artist to refuse this honor. As Brainpickings explains, the National Medal of the Arts is “the highest honor bestowed upon an individual artist on behalf of the people of the United States.” More:

Beloved poet, essayist, and reconstructionist Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012) is celebrated as one of the most influential literary voices of the twentieth century, her essays and poems having catapulted into the forefront of collective conscience controversial issues like sexual identity and the oppression of women and lesbians. In 1997, to protest the growing monopoly of power and the government’s proposed plan to end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, she became the first and only person to date to decline the prestigious National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed upon an individual artist on behalf of the people of the United States, awarded to such luminaries as Maya Angelou, John Updike, Ray Bradbury, and Bob Dylan.

In this 1997 broadcast from the radio show Democracy Now, Rich reads her spectacular letter — one of the bravest and most eloquent acts of political dissent in creative culture, and a superb addition to history’s finest definitions of art — later published in Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations. […]

To read Adrienne Rich’s complete letter to the NEA and to hear her read from the letter, visit Brainpickings.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 by Harriet Staff.