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A Century of Arts & Letters The History of the National Institute of Arts & Letters and the American Academy of Arts & Letters As Told, Decade by Deca cover
  • ISBN: 9780231102483
  • ISBN10: 0231102488

A Century of Arts & Letters The History of the National Institute of Arts & Letters and the American Academy of Arts & Letters As Told, Decade by Deca

by John Updike

  • List Price: $61.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr
  • Publish date: 06/01/1998
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Description
Election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters is counted among the foremost honors an American in the arts can receive; its ranks are limited to 250 members. And although the Academy is best known for the awards and prizes it grants artists, writers, and musicians, the organization itself remains as little-understood as its awards are acclaimed, a quiet Pantheon on an obscure street in upper Manhattan.

John Updike has brought together eleven current members -- including Cynthia Ozick, Norman Mailer, and Louis Auchincloss -- to raid the Academy's archives. With each writer taking on a decade of the Academy's history, they have created an eye-opening documentary of an organization central to the arts in America for the past century. Together, the essays here provide illuminating insight into those artists members held in high esteem -- and those they did not.

R. W. B. Lewis writes of the admission of Julia Ward Howe in 1907 (at the age of 86) as the first woman in the Academy, and the intense debate about the very consideration of female members. Lewis also recounts the humorous saga of the feuding James brothers, with William declining membership and decrying the election several months prior to the nomination of his -- "younger and shallower and vainer brother" -- Henry. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., tells of the Academy's straggle against modernism in the 1930s -- largely a one-man war waged by its feisty septuagenarian secretary, Robert Underwood Johnson -- that resulted in a perennial failure to nominate F. Scott Fitzgerald and H. L. Mencken, among others. And composer Jack Beeson notes Gore Vidal's droll telegram declining an honorary membership on the grounds that he wasalready a member of the Diners Club.

Enriched with 85 photographs, this is a fascinating treasury of anecdote and story. Equally entertaining for its tales of those who didn't make the cut as for the tales of those who did, A Century of Arts and Letters is a window into the inner workings of the American cultural establishment in the twentieth century.

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