Tomorrow afternoon, at three o’clock, Barack Obama will award the 2014 National Humanities Medals and the 2014 National Medals of Arts at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Among the recipients of the National Arts Medals will be Harper’s Magazine contributors Tobias Wolff, whose story “Lady’s Dream” was published in December 1992, and Stephen King, whose story from the September 2012 issue, “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation,” won the National Magazine Award for fiction. Larry McMurtry, who wrote the New Books column in 2012, will receive a National Humanities Medal at the ceremony, as will Annie Dillard, who contributed many articles to the magazine, including several sections from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the winner of the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
Dillard, whose collection The Abundance will be published next March, with a foreword by Geoff Dyer, recalled recently that her first essay for the magazine, “The Monster in a Mason Jar,” was pulled from the slush pile. After Harper’s Magazine Press agreed to publish Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard flew to New York to meet her editors at the magazine and the press, which shared an office. “I was wearing a tweed blazer, jeans; we had drinks,” she wrote in an email. “Larry Freundlich, editor of Harper’s Magazine Press, pronounced me ‘one of us’—why I remember what I was wearing. Then he introduced me to Lewis [Lapham], maybe, as ‘a genuine blue-eyed blonde,’ and I was shocked. Lewis told me, as we ordered drinks, what ‘on the rocks’ meant. It was shaping up to be a long haul with these people, and we were still in the airport.”