Rich Refuses NEA Medal of Arts Award in Protest of Government’s Actions

Award-winning poet Adrienne Rich has declined the 1997 National Medal for the Arts. In explaining her decision to the Clinton Administration, Rich commented that “democracy in this country has been in decline.” Rich expressed her views in a letter written to Jane Alexander, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which administers the awards. The letter further stated, “the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administrationƒ[Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner-table of power which holds it hostage.” Rich expressed her concern that the gap between rich and poor continues to increase. In a statement Alexander commented, “Ms. Rich is eminently qualified to receive this distinguished award from President Clinton. However, I certainly respect Ms. Rich’s decision not to accept it.” Rich has published more than 15 volumes of poetry since 1951. Her most recent work is entitled Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991 – 1995. Past recipients of the award include the writer Eudora Welty, the artist Roy Lichtenstein, the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, and the opera diva Leontyne Price. A spokesperson for the NEA commented that Rich is very likely the only person to have ever turned down the award.


Nando- July 11, 1997

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