July 3, 1997 
Jane Alexander  The National Endowment for the Arts 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue  Washington, DC 20506 
 Dear Jane Alexander, 
I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal. 
Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright.


In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country. 

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. 
I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. 

 Sincerely,   Adrienne Rich   cc: President Clinton
**
Adrienne Rich’s “Final Notations” is included in The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine, forthcoming this fall.

July 3, 1997 

Jane Alexander
The National Endowment for the Arts
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20506 

 Dear Jane Alexander,

I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright.

In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.

I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me.

 Sincerely,
 Adrienne Rich
 cc: President Clinton

**

Adrienne Rich’s “Final Notations” is included in The Open Door: One Hundred Poems, One Hundred Years of Poetry Magazine, forthcoming this fall.

  1. geoohr reblogged this from 23rd-block and added:
    We all have heroes.
  2. hollywok reblogged this from 23rd-block
  3. danslefeudelaction reblogged this from uchicagopress
  4. theotherelliot reblogged this from spectermagazine
  5. jenthinksharder reblogged this from literaryartifacts
  6. kyranium reblogged this from literaryartifacts
  7. the23rd-operator reblogged this from ranaa
  8. spectermagazine reblogged this from uchicagopress
  9. thesearethelastwords reblogged this from anotherinnocentgirl
  10. anotherinnocentgirl reblogged this from restlessasthetarantula
  11. restlessasthetarantula reblogged this from 23rd-block
  12. fringe-upon-fringe reblogged this from 23rd-block
  13. 23clementines reblogged this from 23rd-block and added:
    Courage of conviction. Happy Poetry Month! Orion Far back when I went zig-zagging through tamarack pastures you were my...
  14. williamlmoore reblogged this from rafaelfajardo
  15. artcatssummer reblogged this from 23rd-block
  16. theouterspacehuman reblogged this from ranaa
  17. kkkno reblogged this from 23rd-block
  18. lonelygibberish reblogged this from psychicdisco
  19. psychicdisco reblogged this from 23rd-block
  20. 23rd-block reblogged this from ranaa
  21. thateffinpoco reblogged this from artlistpro
  22. fieldofadventure reblogged this from artlistpro
  23. janhanklcult reblogged this from artlistpro
  24. artlistpro reblogged this from notational and added:
    via uchicagopress:
  25. nikipattanaik reblogged this from uchicagopress
  26. alinapruitt reblogged this from literaryartifacts and added:
    Pioneering feminist poet and essayist Adrienne Rich has died. Here’s what she had to say when the NEA tried to give her...
  27. sparklenotion reblogged this from notational
  28. rafaelfajardo reblogged this from notational
  29. notational reblogged this from uchicagopress
  30. haikumomentsandinspiration reblogged this from ebonisenai and added:
    July 3, 1997 Jane Alexander The National Endowment for the Arts 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, DC 20506 Dear Jane...