The iconic American actress Lillian Gish lived from 1893 to 1993. Born when Grover Cleveland was president, she lived to see Bill Clinton take office. Starting out working silent with the director D.W. Griffiths (she starred in the seminal film school staple The Birth of a Nation), Gish later made a good living in television, though she was in her sixties before TV was in most homes. Gish won numerous accolades, including an Honorary Academy Award. But she is remembered now for bestowing them, having endowed the prize that bears her (and her sister’s) name, The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.
The 2015 Gish Prize — given to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life” — has been awarded to Suzan-Lori Parks. Parks is a playwright and screenwriter who joins perhaps the most illustrious prize list this side of the MacArthur. Ornette Coleman, Ingmar Bergman, Spike Lee, Anna Deavere Smith, Chinua Achebe and Pete Seeger are among the 22 winners so far. Architect Frank Gehry was given the first Gish Prize in 1994. The prize is worth at least $300,000.