The 86-year-old Morrison, who won the Nobel literature prize in 1993, was cited by longtime editor Robert Gottlieb for literary achievements in such novels as "Beloved" and "Song of Solomon," and for her contributions as an editor and educator.
"We're all here together," Morrison reminded the audience, which included such fellow authors as Erica Jong and Walter Mosley. "We are a necessary community." Morrison warned of the dangers of "ignorance," and called for language to be given its rightful place as a force of "power" and "eloquence," rendered "one book at a time."
Patterson, 70, was honored not only for his extraordinary commercial success, more than 300 million books sold worldwide, but also for donating millions of dollars to librarians, booksellers and schools.
Patterson's productivity is hard to match. He sometimes turns out best-sellers on a monthly basis. The man who negotiates his book deals, Washington attorney Robert Barnett, was not kidding Wednesday night when he said that Patterson's latest contract called for 22 books, to come out in two years.
Patterson spent much of his speech mocking his own image. He conjured a daily ritual in which he wrote multiple outlines for novels in the morning and ordered a gaggle of co-writers, kept under lock and key, to finish the job.
There were jokes about President Donald Trump, a gag about writing a "truer than truer crime" book with Russian President Vladimir Putin, some profanity and, to top it off, a few words from the song "You Light Up My Life."
"I did not steal that from Will Ferrell's speech at USC," he added.