An Afternoon at the White House

I had the very great honor of being awarded the National Humanities Medal today by President Obama, in the company of people for whom I have the most enormous respect: John Ashbery, poet extraordinary and genial companion; Amartya Sen, one of the deepest philosophers of our age and, in part because of that, one of the most important figures in shaping modern economics; Charles Rosen, musician and historian and theorist of music (also a great humanist in so many other ways) … I could gloss each of the others with such respectful epithets.

Various people in my family asked what it was that the President said to me. What I remember is that he said that he had wanted to call his first book “In My Father’s House” but that I had already taken that title. (I should have had the presence of mind to say that my book would have been called “The Invention of Africa” if Valentin Mudimbe had not already taken that title … so he should have been complaining to Valentin.)

Here are just a few pictures of the event, courtesy of Jonathan Finder, my brother-in-law: