In a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday 2 March, 2011, Rampersad shook hands with Obama and received his medal, which “honours individuals whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and the human condition.” He was one of ten distinguished awardees. Rampersad remarked: “it’s always special to receive a national honour, and it’s especially gratifying to receive an honour involving the humanities from someone as well read, as devoted to books, both as a reader and a writer, as is President Obama.”
Arnold Rampersad is Sara Hart Kimball Professor Emeritus in the Humanities at Stanford University. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books, including the two-volume definitive Life of Langston Hughes;Days of Grace: A Memoir (co-authored with Arthur Ashe), and the masterful Ralph Ellison: A Biography, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography, and he served for two years on the Pulitzer panel of judges, the experience of which he brings to his chairmanship of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.
Beginning his working career in teaching at Fatima College in Port of Spain, he returned to academia, after spells in broadcasting, to earn a PhD in English at Harvard University. Since then, he has taught at such leading universities as Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Stanford. He won a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 1991, and in 2009 the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, awarded him an honorary doctorate.
The 2011 OCM Bocas Prize will be presented on 30 April at the inaugural Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain. Rampersad will read from his Ellison biography at the festival and participate in other events in the programme.