A Century of Arts and Letters

ISBN 13: 9780231102483

A Century of Arts and Letters

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9780231102483: A Century of Arts and Letters
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Although the American Academy of Arts and Letters 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. 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. 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 struggle 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 was already a member of the Diners Club.

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Review:

Rather grandly housed in a less-than-glamorous Manhattan neighborhood, the American Academy of Arts and Letters tends to keep a low profile. Indeed, most people have probably never heard of the institution, which hands out awards and grants and convenes once a year for a celebrity-intensive blowout. Yet this all-American equivalent of the Academie Française has just turned 100, occasioning this chronicle by an eminent round robin of academicians. R.W.B. Lewis covers the initial decade, during which William James declined his nomination on the grounds that his little brother Henry had been elected first. Norman Mailer recalls the momentary entente between the Kennedy White House and the arts community, while architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable documents the Academy's semicomatose state during the early 1980s. A Century of Arts & Letters is, on one hand, a kind of anthropological study, which tells us a great deal about the roosting patterns of artistically-inclined Homo sapiens. Yet it also tracks the slow incursion of modernism into the academy, which has finally embraced it and made a little room, even, for the postmodern barbarians at the gate.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A surprisingly dull collection of essays commemorating Americas preeminent institution of arts and letters on its centennial. Editor Updike, in his confusing foreword and his chapter covering the years 193847, sets the tone, managing to make this venerable, stodgy old institution seem . . . stodgy but venerable. Arranged chronologically, the essays are by historians and literary figures such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Cynthia Ozick, Norman Mailer, Louis Auchincloss, and Hortense Calisher, artists (Wolf Kahn and Richard Lippold), and the composer Jack Beeson. Founded in 1898, the National Institute was modeled on the Institut de France and its literary chamber, the Acadmie franaise. There would be confusion and in-fighting over the rules, domain, and membership status between the Institute and the Academy (an exalted, and much smaller, body within the Institute) until they were unified in 1993. The books liveliest passages have to do with the barring of such figures as H.L. Mencken and Theodore Dreiser, and with some pronounced rivalries: William James refused membership in the academy because his younger and shallower and vainer brother (Henry) was already in. Interesting and indicative of the character of the Academy-Institute is its decades-long battle against modernism, waged primarily by Robert Underwood Johnson, the secretary, who along with Grace Vanamee, the permanent deputy, would maintain a staunchly conservative tone. Leave it to Mailer to add a little zest to the proceedings. His chapter, Rounding Camelot, covers the period from 1958 to 1967. He laments that even at that late date the Academy-Institute was all but wholly incapable of any kind of effective social or political action. The organization would loosen up a little, eventually electing writers and artists Johnson would have abhorred. And its gold medals and grants remain highly sought after. Useful, but insufficiently edited. Nearly every entry re-explains who Johnson and Vanamee were or rehashes the early scandals. (85 photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Book Description Columbia University Press, United States, 1998. Hardback. Condition: New. New. Language: English. Brand new Book. Although the American Academy of Arts and Letters 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. 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. 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 struggle 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 was already a member of the Diners Club. Seller Inventory # AAH9780231102483

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