NEW YORK, March 16, 2023—The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced the recipients of its highest honors for excellence in the arts. Critic and scholar Helen Hennessy Vendler has been awarded the Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism and visual artist Faith Ringgold has been awarded the Gold Medal for Painting. Given each year in rotating categories of the arts, Gold Medals are awarded to those who have achieved eminence in an entire body of work. Photographer Susan Unterberg will then be recognized for her significant contribution to the arts as founder of Anonymous Was A Woman. The recipients were chosen by the members of the Academy, and will be honored at its annual induction and award ceremony on May 24.
Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism
HELEN HENNESSY VENDLER
Gold Medal for Painting
Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts
HELEN HENNESSY VENDLER
Helen Hennessy Vendler’s numerous essays on poetry were most recently collected in The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar (2015). In 2006, the New York Times called her “the leading poetry critic in America” and credited her work with helping “establish or secure the reputations” of poets including Jorie Graham, Seamus Heaney, and Rita Dove. Her remarkable lucidity in examining the difficult, often-elusive ways by which poems achieve meaning in such diverse poets as Shakespeare, Keats, Emily Dickinson, and Wallace Stevens is unparalleled. She is the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor Emerita at Harvard, where she received her Ph.D. in English and American literature. She is author of over 30 books, previously a Pulitzer Prize board member, contributor to The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, and The London Review of Books. Helen Hennessy Vendler was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1993.
Faith Ringgold’s artistic influence and practice spans painting, sculpture, performance, quilting, and children’s books. She draws from the language of protest to amplify struggles for social justice; her large-scale paintings of the 1960s remain some of the most enduring artworks of the Civil Rights era. Her work is in permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, among others. She is a founding member of the National Black Feminist Organization, co-founder of Women Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation, and winner of the Medal of Honor for Fine Arts from the National Arts Club, among many other honors. Faith Ringgold was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021.
In 1996, Susan Unterberg created Anonymous Was a Woman, a program conceived to give unrestricted grants of $25,000 each to women artists at significant junctures in their careers. These awards helped painters, photographers, video artists, sculptors, performance artists, and others buy time, space, materials, equipment, and support. Nothing was asked of the recipients, and over the years, the list of winners grew long and impressive: 280 artists to date with grants totaling more than $7 million. For years, Unterberg remained invisible, supporting women artists while working as an artist in her own right. Her photography has been exhibited worldwide and is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2018, she stepped forward as the face of Anonymous Was a Woman to inspire others to join her in uplifting women in art.
Helen Hennessy Vendler – Photo credit Alex Vendler
Faith Ringgold – Photo credit Grace Matthews
Susan Unterberg – Photo credit Susan Unterberg