The University of Chicago Magazine

December 1997


The inaugural year of the National Humanities Medal awards, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, had a distinctly Chicago cast. Four of the ten honorees feted at a White House reception this fall have U of C connections. Honored by President Bill Clinton for enriching Americans' understanding of and access to the humanities were Divinity School professor Martin E. Marty, PhD'56; radio raconteur Studs Terkel, PhB'32, JD'34; literary scholar Luis Leal, AM'41, PhD'50; and Richard J. Franke, a University trustee and former CEO of John Nuveen & Co.

Marty, who canceled his Mon-day-evening class to attend the reception, is the Fairfax M. Cone distinguished service professor in the Divinity School. Recognized as the leading analyst of American religion, he recently completed the five-year Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and now directs the Public Religion Project. His most recent book is Under God, Indivisible.

Terkel, whose signature red socks and red-checked shirt coordinated perfectly with the medal's red ribbon, won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for one of his 11 books, The Good War. "He has quite literally defined the art of the oral history," said Clinton, who also an-nounced that Terkel, who retires from WFMT Radio at year's end, will serve as a presidential adviser on the White House Millennium American history project. Later in the fall, Terkel was honored with the 1997 National Book Foundation medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.

Leal, who has taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara, since 1976, was recognized for his contributions to Chicano literary history and Mexican short-fiction criticism. Author of A Brief History of the Mexican Short Story, Leal has received the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor granted to foreign citizens by the Mexican government.

Franke, who chairs the visiting committee to the humanities at the U of C, has also been on the boards of WTTW­Channel 11, the Lyric Opera, the Newberry Library, and the Orchestral Association. In 1990, Franke created the Chicago Humanities Festival, an annual program of lectures, films, and performances that this year attracted 30,000 participants.

How deep is Franke's commitment to the humanities? Invited by U of C President Hugo Sonnenschein to an early November reception honoring the three Chicago-area medalists, Franke initially declined: The date coincided with the biweekly meeting of his book group, which has been meeting for 21 years. Sonnenschein suggested that the group meet at his home that day. And so, led by U of C English professor David Bevington, they met in the upstairs library for a two-hour discussion of Timon of Athens. Then they joined the rest of the guests. A good time was had by all.



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