Mindy Kaling awarded prestigious National Medal of Arts

National Medal of Arts recipient actor Mindy Kaling reacts with her medal after being presented it by U.S. President Joe Biden during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

At a joyous White House ceremony March 21, 2023, that was telecast live, and featured some of the most famous writers, artists and organizations in the nation, President Joe Biden presented the 2021 National Medals for the Arts and for the Humanities, to 23 awardees for their accomplishments in their fields of endeavor.

Among them was Indian American author, actor, comedian, and ground-breaking film-maker Mindy Kaling. Some of the other renowned awardees included musician Bruce Springsteen, fashion designer Vera Wang, author Amy Tang, singer Gladys Knight, actress Julia Louis Dreyfus, and The Billie Holiday Theatre.

The National Medal of Arts honors outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth support, and availability of the arts in the United States; and the National Medal of Humanities recognizes those whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities and broadened the public’s engagement with history, literature, philosophy, etc.


After recognizing actress Julia Louis Dreyfus who played vice president and president on television, President spoke about Mindy Kaling, joking that even though she was originally from Massachusetts, her real home is Scranton, PA, harking to the renowned comedy series The Office which is set in Scranton, for which Kaling was a scriptwriter and also played the character of Kelly Kapoor. President Biden speaks often of his upbringing in Scranton.

“Following her (Julia Louis Dreyfus) example, including Mindy Kaling.  You know, from Massachusetts, but as we all know, Scranton, Pennsylvania, made her who she is,” raising a laugh from the audience.

“The first woman of color to create, write, and star in a primetime sitcom, she empowers a new generation to tell their stories with their own irreverence and sincerity,” Biden said about Kaling.

“The daughter of Indian immigrants – We know about that, right?  Our Vice President is a daughter of Indian immigrants — a mother who was a great scientist,” the President went off script.

“Above all, she’s (Kaling) hardworking and an adoring mom, just like her own mom was.  And, Mindy, we know your mom is always with you in your spirit.  We know that,” the President said.

During the presentation of the National Medal for the Arts, which the President placed on Kaling, the citation was read out loud. It said, For giving voice to a new generation of storytellers.  Imbued with humor and heart, Mindy Kaling’s work across television, film, and books inspires and delights, capturing and uplifting the experiences of women and girls across our nation.”

Calling them ‘masters’ of their craft, President Biden said, “The work of our honorees is as diverse as the nation that celebrates with them today.  But … common threads weave them together in many ways in the very fabric of America: the pursuit of excellence, the drive to create, the yearning to connect, and the boldness to be truthtellers, bridge builders, and change seekers.”

After the ceremony, Kaling went on Instagram posting a picture with the President as she held the medal, looked up symbolically toward her mother in heaven, and pointed a finger up towards the sky.

“A little while ago, I got a call from Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson that the National Endowment of the Arts and the office of the President wanted to give me the National Medal of Arts for my work in television and as an author. I’m still processing how to receive the news. Yesterday, I went with my family to receive the medal at the White House. To hear the President speak about my parents, their journey to the United States, my late mother’s dreams for me, and the power of comedy to make people understand each other was almost too much to take in. It didn’t feel real! I mean, I was sitting next to GLADYS KNIGHT. I guess I just want to express my heartfelt gratitude to @potus, @neaarts and @kamalaharris.”

“And to say I promise to spend the rest of my life earning this medal because I don’t feel like I’ve earned it yet. I wish my mom could have been there, but what are you gonna do. Nothing is perfect, but yesterday was pretty close. I love everyone. Thanks @katelinden, Vinay Reddy and @picsschmicks for helping it all happen,” Kaling added.

Born Vera Mindy Chokalingam, the 43 year-old Indian American celebrity and influencer, graduate of Dartmouth College, and actor on many movies. Apart from being a scriptwriter and playing Kelly Kapoor on The Office, Kaling produced the eponymously named, quirky television show The Mindy Project (2012–17) where she played a doctor. She has also co-produced acclaimed series Never Have I Ever, and is the co-creator of The Sex Lives Of College Girls. She has acted in numerous films, and also been the voice for animation movie characters.

The daughter of late physician mother Swati Chokalingam ne Raisircar, a Bengali, and Avu Chokalingam of Telugu descent, Kaling has two children, a daughter and a son.

List of awardees:

2021 National Medal of Arts (Source: arts.gov)

  1. Judith Francisca Baca, artist
  2. Fred Eychaner, businessman and philanthropist
  3. Jose Feliciano, singer
  4. Mindy Kaling, actress
  5. Gladys Knight, singer
  6. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, actor
  7. Antonio Martorell-Cardona, painter
  8. Joan Shigekawa, film producer
  9. Bruce Springsteen, musician
  10. Vera Wang, fashion designer
  11. The Billie Holiday Theatre
  12. The International Association of Blacks in Dance

2021 National Medal in Humanities (Source: neh.gov)

  1. Richard Blanco, poet and author
  2. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, anthropologist
  3. Walter Isaacson, writer
  4. Earl Lewis, social historian
  5. Henrietta Mann, academic
  6. Ann Patchett, author
  7. Bryan Stevenson, advocate
  8. Amy Tan, author
  9. Tara Westover, author
  10. Colson Whitehead, author
  11. Native America Calling


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