President Barack Obama celebrated excellence in the arts and humanities Thursday by honoring 21 writers, academics and performers, including Texas author Larry McMurtry, at a White House ceremony.
Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, said that presenting the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal, is “one of our favorite events of the year.”
The crowd in the ornate East Room applauded loudly for the honorees, especially the better known ones, including McMurtry, horror genre author Stephen King and Oscar-winning actress Sally Field.
All the honorees, said Obama, “have one thing in common: They do what they do because of some urgent inner force, some need to express the truth that they experience, that ‘rare truth.’ And as a result, they help us understand ourselves in ways that we might not otherwise recognize.”
Singling out McMurtry, the president said, “He wrote about the Texas he knew from his own life, and then the Old West as he heard it through the stories of his grandfather’s — on his grandfather’s porch. And in Lonesome Dove, the story of two ex-Texas Rangers in the 19th century, readers found out something essential about their own souls, even if they’d never been out West or been on a ranch.”
McMurtry, of Archer City in North Texas, is known for best-seller Lonesome Dove about the settlement of the American West, as well as being a co-writer of the screenplay of the Oscar-winning film, Brokeback Mountain.
McMurtry, 79, appeared somewhat frail and wore sneakers with his suit and red tie. Obama placed the large round medal, tied with a red ribbon, around the author’s neck while a military aide read the citation: “Larry McMurtry for his books, essays, and screenplays. Mr. McMurtry’s work evokes the character and drama of the American West with stories that examine quintessentially American lives.”
Another Texan who got a presidential shout-out was landscape architect and historian Everett Fly of San Antonio. “We celebrate historians like Everett Fly, who studied to become both a building and landscape architect, and who got his start studying forgotten African-American towns and communities,” the president said.
Obama also acknowledged Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and a former Kansas City arts executive, and William “Bro” Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, on the 50th anniversary this month of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing a bill creating their agencies.