NEW YORK, NY — Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, playwright, and professor N. Scott Momaday, Ph.D., accepted the 2019 Ken Burns American Heritage Prize at an event held on May 1 at the American Museum of Natural History.
L to R: Ken Burns, Dr. N. Scott Momaday, and George Matelich. Photo by Marta Skovro.
Meryl Streep, considered by many to be the greatest living actress, introduced Ken Burns by saying, “He burns with curiosity and he and Dr. Momaday were cut from the same cloth.” Ms. Streep added, “One has dedicated his life to teaching us the history of America through the medium of film. The other, a distinguished Native American, has inspired us through the lyrics of his poems and novels. Both have made us better.”
Ms. Streep commended Mr. Burns for, “inspiring an entirely new generation of documentary makers.” She went on to say, “He shows us time and time again that time and distance are not obstacles to understanding, they help.”
Named in honor of America’s most revered visual historian and documentary filmmaker, the Ken Burns American Heritage Prize recognizes an individual whose body of work has advanced our collective understanding of the indomitable American spirit.
Mr. Burns welcomed prize recipient Dr. Momaday by noting that, “his lifetime achievements command our attention and warrant our admiration.” The filmmaker went on to say, “He is especially qualified to receive this national tribute. It is, in part, a recognition of the courage and character of America’s Native Peoples who first knew this ‘remembered land,’ who loved it, cared for it, and lost it.”
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Momaday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel, House Made of Dawn. Burns remarked, “Scott Momaday is a distinguished teacher, poet and author. The mission of American Prairie Reserve to preserve huge swaths of northern prairie must be accompanied by an honest reckoning with the complicated human history of that habitat we seek to restore. Professor Momaday is precisely the person to help us with that reckoning.”
After receiving the Prize bronze, Dr. Momaday said, “I cannot tell you how honored I am to be the recipient of this wonderful Prize,” and thanked Mr. Burns by saying, “I don’t know anyone who has done more to identify and preserve our American heritage.”
Dr. Momaday regaled the audience with his storytelling, but also spoke of the importance of protecting native grasslands and the environment.
“Unless we reverse this trend, I think we are doomed. The Earth is our home and we must protect this sacred land, love it and cherish it,” said Dr. Momaday. “It is important that we realize where we are in relation to time, in relation to atmosphere and Earth and the universe. If we do not do that, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”
Dr. Momaday received the honor from Mr. Burns and others during the Prize presentation event on May 1, 2019, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The evening’s festivities include remarks by Meryl Streep, Ken Burns, and Dr. Momaday, as well as American Prairie’s CEO Alison Fox and Board of Directors Chair George Matelich, and Ken Burns American Heritage Prize National Jury Chair Dawn Arnall.