WASHINGTON — It’s not often presidents appear starstruck, but on Wednesday, President Barack Obama sounded giddy surrounded by luminaries including author Stephen King and chef Alice Waters as he honored them at the White House for their contributions to American culture.

“I’m grateful that I’ve gotten promises for at least a couple of signed books,” he said to laughter in the East Room of the White House. “I think Alice said she’s going to cook me something; nothing unethical.”

King, Waters and Oscar-winning actress Sally Field were among 18 people and three organizations that Obama recognized for excellence in the arts and humanities as he awarded the 2014 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal.

“They all have one thing in common,” said Obama. “They do what they do because of some urgent inner force.”

The National Medal of Arts is considered the government’s highest award given to artists and arts patrons. The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work have deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities, which, along with the National Endowment for the Arts, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“We celebrate here today our fellow citizens, from all walks of life, who share their gifts with all of us, who make our lives and our world more beautiful, and richer, and fuller, and I think most importantly, help us understand each other a little bit better,” Obama said. “They help us connect.”

Since the 1960s, Field has appeared in a range of TV shows and box office hits, including “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Forrest Gump.” Her numerous awards include best actress Oscars for her roles in “Norma Rae” in 1979 and “Places in the Heart” in 1984.

King, a Maine native, has been called the “master of horror” for such thrillers as “Carrie,” “The Shining” and “Misery.” Hundreds of millions of copies of the author’s books have been sold and translated in dozens of languages. His work also has been adapted to the screen, which has helped make his name nearly synonymous with the horror genre.

“I’m amazed and grateful” for the award, King recently wrote on his Facebook page.

A long proponent of the organic food movement, Waters opened her organic restaurant in Berkeley, California, in 1971. Her Edible Schoolyard Project provides an educational curriculum that promotes nutritious eating and works closely with students at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

“I am so honored to accept the National Humanities Medal,” she wrote on Twitter.

Other 2014 National Medal of Arts recipients are: John Baldessari of Venice, visual artist; Ping Chong of New York, theater director and artist; Miriam Colon of New York; the New York-based Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; Ann Hamilton of Columbus, Ohio, visual artist; Meredith Monk of New York, singer and composer; George Shirley of Ann Arbor, Michigan, tenor; the Ann Arbor-based University and author and educator Tobias Wolff of Stanford, California.

The additional 2014 National Humanities Medal honorees are: historian Vicki Lynn Ruiz of Irvine; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham of Auburndale, Massachusetts, historian; Annie Dillard of Key West, Florida, author; the Annandale-On-Hudson, New York-based Clemente Course in the Humanities; Rebecca Newberger Goldstein of Boston, novelist; Larry McMurtry of Archer City, Texas, author and screenwriter; Everett Fly of San Antonio, Texas, architect; Jhumpa Lahiri of New York, author; and Fedwa Malti-Douglas of Rhinebeck, New York, scholar.

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