2004 National Medal of Arts
President George W. Bush and Laura Bush present the National Medal of Arts award to Helen Hecht who accepts the honor on behalf of her late husband Anthony Hecht. White House photo by Susan Sterner.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Anthony Hecht is internationally recognized as one of America’s most important poets of the past half century. His poetic distinction is rooted in his mastery of formal verse and his exploration of the universal issues of love, war, suffering, and the Holocaust. Weaving together accounts of modern war with classical and biblical themes, Hecht has made a vital contribution to American letters and to the greater understanding of humanity in inhumane times.
Born in 1923 in New York City, Hecht received his B.A. from Bard College and his M.A. from Columbia University. During his long teaching career, Hecht served on the faculties of Kenyon College, the University of Iowa, New York University, Smith College, Bard College, Rochester University, Harvard University, Yale University, and Georgetown University.
From 1982 to 1984, he served as Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress, the position now known as Poet Laureate of the United States. In addition, he was a Trustee to the American Academy in Rome from 1983 to 1991. He held lifetime membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets.
Hecht’s books of poetry include Collected Later Poems (2003), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Darkness and the Light (2001); Flight Among the Tombs (1996); The Transparent Man (1990); Collected Earlier Poems (1990); The Venetian Vespers (1979); Millions of Strange Shadows (1977); The Hard Hours (1967), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; and A Summoning of Stones (1954).
Hecht is the author of many critical books, including Melodies Unheard: Essays on the Mysteries of Poetry (2003), On the Laws of Poetic Art: The Andrew Mellon Lectures (1995), Obbligati: Essays in Criticism (1986), and The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W.H. Auden (1993). He was co-translator of Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes (with Helen Bacon, 1973).
He received numerous awards among then the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Prize, the Russell Loines Award, the Librex-Guggenheim Eugenio Montale Award, the Harriet Monroe Poetry Award, the Robert Frost Medal, and the Wallace Stevens Award. He garnered fellowships from the Ford Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the Bogliasco Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Through his poems, scholarship, and teaching, Anthony Hecht has come to be recognized as the moral voice of his poetic generation and his works continue to have a profound impact on contemporary American poetry.
Anthony Hecht passed away on October 20, 2004.
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