Ann-ecdotes from the White House

Ann enters the medal ceremony at the White House. Photo courtesy of the White House and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I met a head-spinning number of fascinating people at the ceremony for the National Humanities Medal and the National Arts Medal. I soon set off on a mission to get a picture with everyone who had a book, and while I didn’t get them all, I got a lot of them. If you find my reflections to be superficial, all I can say is, you didn’t see Mindy Kaling’s shoes and I did. It’s my job to bear witness and report back.

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose By Joe Biden Cover ImagePromise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

By Joe Biden

I love the president. There’s a reason people call him Uncle Joe. He makes you feel like you’re with a favorite family member. He manages to be immediately warm, funny, and present. He was also wearing a great suit. He called me kiddo.

Educated: A Memoir By Tara Westover Cover ImageEducated: A Memoir

By Tara Westover

Tara and I made a trip to the women’s room together before pictures to comb our hair and put on lipstick. She was friendly and extremely chic. I kept thinking, I’m putting on lipstick with Tara Westover!

Where the Past Begins: Memory and Imagination By Amy Tan Cover ImageWhere the Past Begins: Memory and Imagination 

By Amy Tan

Amy’s hair was a light, lavender blue. She’s stunning. She showed me pictures on her phone of birds she’s drawn. Guess what? She’s as talented an artist as she is a writing. We both cried when the military orchestra started playing “Born in the USA.”

Another must-read by Amy Tan: The Joy Luck Club

Why Not Me? By Mindy Kaling Cover ImageWhy Not Me?

By Mindy Kaling

Mindy had on highest heels I have ever seen a human being walk in. She did it gracefully. I couldn’t stop staring at her feet. She also made a joke about State of Wonder that I’m still laughing about. She is very, very funny.

Another must-read by Mindy Kaling: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Born to Run By Bruce Springsteen Cover ImageBorn to Run

By Bruce Springsteen

The boss wore an unbelievably great black suit. I had no idea a plain black suit could be so nice. He and his wife Patti Scialfa took pictures with everyone, and everyone wanted a picture.

Harlem Shuffle: A Novel By Colson Whitehead Cover ImageHarlem Shuffle: A Novel

By Colson Whitehead

I’ve been running into Colson since The Intuitionist and he was always the best dressed person in the room. Now his wife Julie Barer is the best dressed person in the room. Julie should have received a medal for the dress she was wearing.

Pre-order Colson’s new novel, Crook Manifestoreleasing July 18!

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race By Walter Isaacson Cover ImageThe Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

By Walter Isaacson

Walter was so friendly. I found it very touching. Whenever I was feeling lost in the crowd or overwhelmed, Walter appeared to make conversation. He said he’d come to Parnassus with his Elon Musk book. I’m counting on it.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption By Bryan Stevenson Cover ImageJust Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

By Bryan Stevenson

I was thrilled to meet Bryan. He brought his sister, who was lovely. He said he almost came alone and was so glad his sister was there. He told me I should come to Montgomery to see his museum. I’m going to do it.

The Book with No Pictures By B. J. Novak Cover ImageThe Book with No Pictures

By B. J. Novak

BJ came to the event with Mindy. He brought along a small girl in a fluffy yellow dress who continually head-butted him in the stomach. He continually repeated the word “ow” while talking to me. It was like an Abbott and Costello routine.

How to Love a Country: Poems By Richard Blanco Cover ImageHow to Love a Country: Poems

By Richard Blanco

Richard had on a bright blue tuxedo. He was the best dresser at the event (second place: Vera Wang). He was also extremely friendly. It’s not often that the friendliest person and the snappiest dresser turns out to be a poet. Forgive the generalities, but it’s true.

All of us here at Parnassus are so incredibly proud of Ann. This prestigious honor is given to those who have contributed towards deepening the nation’s understanding of the human experience and broadening citizens’ engagement with history or literature. We can say with confidence that she has done just that. Congratulations on this well-deserved award, Ann!

President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff pose for photos with National Humanities Medal recipients Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in the Blue Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)