TOBIAS WOLFF, professor emeritus of English, has been awarded a National Medal of Arts for his contributions as an author and educator. President BARACK OBAMA presented Wolff and fellow honorees with the medals – the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the federal government – during a White House ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 10.
“With wit and compassion, Mr. Wolff’s work reflects the truths of our human experience,” noted the National Endowment for the Arts citation. Wolff is known for his memoirs This Boy’s Life, about a 1950s American childhood, and In Pharaoh’s Army, about his experiences during the Vietnam War, as well as for his short stories and novels, including The Barracks Thief, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Commenting on the arts medal, Wolff said, “Every award is special to me, as a reminder that the work you perform in solitude is also a social act – that you’re not just talking to yourself, that what you do can stir a response in others. It’s easy to forget that, when you spend your hours sweating over the choice of a word, taking semicolons out and putting them back in. But of course I’m not so jaded as not to feel particular gratitude at receiving this award from the hands of our president – a man I greatly admire.”
Wolff began his career as a high school teacher and a journalist. He worked as a reporter for theWashington Post in the ’70s. “I was there during Watergate, a reporter’s dream. My desk was right next to Carl Bernstein’s,” Wolff said in a Boston Review interview last year. He received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in 1975 and earned a master’s degree in English at Stanford in 1978, after working as a high school teacher at a Catholic boys’ school. Wolff joined the Stanford faculty as a professor in 1997.