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A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

Cohen, Rachel

ISBN 10: 1400061644 / ISBN 13: 9781400061648
Published by Random House, 2004
Used Condition: Fine Hardcover
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About this Item

1400061644 Chapters on James, Cather, Twain, Whitman, Stein, Porter, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, Hurston, Baldwin, Mailer, Moore, Lowell, etc. Bookseller Inventory # 006201

Bibliographic Details

Title: A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of ...

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 2004

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition

About this title

Synopsis:

“They met in ordinary ways,” writes Rachel Cohen in her introduction, “a careful arrangement after long admiration, a friend’s casual introduction, or because they both just happened to be standing near the drinks. . . . They talked to each other for a few hours or for forty years, and later it seemed to them impossible that they could have missed each other.”

Each chapter of this inventive consideration of American culture evokes an actual meeting between two historical figures. In 1854, Henry James, as a boy, goes with his father to have a daguerreotype made by Mathew Brady and is captured in a moment of self-consciousness about being American. Brady returns to photograph Walt Whitman and, later, at City Point in the midst of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant. Meanwhile, Henry James begins a lasting friendship with William Dean Howells, and also meets Sarah Orne Jewett, who in turn is a mentor to Willa Cather. Mark Twain publishes Grant’s memoirs; W.E.B. Du Bois and his professor William James visit the young Helen Keller; and Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz argue about photography. Later, Carl Van Vechten and Gertrude Stein, who was also a student of William James’s, attend a performance of The Rite of Spring; Hart Crane goes out on the town with Charlie Chaplin; Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston write a play together; Elizabeth Bishop takes Marianne Moore, who was photographed by both Van Vechten and Richard Avedon, to the circus; Avedon and James Baldwin collaborate on a book; John Cage and Marcel Duchamp play chess; and Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell march on the Pentagon in the anti–Vietnam War demonstration of 1967. The accumulation of these pairings draws the reader into the mysterious process through which creativity has been sparked and passed on among iconoclastic American writers and artists.

Ultimately, Rachel Cohen reveals a long chain of friendship, rebellion, and influence stretching from the moment just before the Civil War through a century that had a profound effect on our own time. Drawing on a decade of research, A Chance Meeting makes its own illuminating contribution to the tradition of which Cohen writes.

From the Back Cover:

"I can't think of any book that would give more raw pleasure to a book-reading person than A Chance Meeting. Our sense of the continuum of literary community is strengthened and shaded by these stories, which are told with a strange alchemy of grace, restraint, humor and passion."
-Dave Eggers

"As original and impressive a work of cultural history as I have encountered in years." -Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer-prize winning author of Carry Me Home

"It can sometimes seem as if all American artists and writers are, and always have been, lone figures who go about their business without any contact with others of their kind. Rachel Cohen has written a lively and fascinating book that turns this idea on its head. Through the captivating device of what the French call 'the magic of the unlikely encounter', she traces a tradition of meeting, sharing, and encouragement among individual writers, painters, and photographers that has enriched American arts and letters in ways that could never have been foreseen. Cohen offers the reader the gift of interconnected portraits, tightly drawn and cleverly told, then stands aside and allows the stories of these encounters -- good as any fiction -- to work their magic. Compelling and delightful."
- Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

"A wonderful, absorbing book in which information, anecdote, literary understanding and gossip take fire and are transformed into insight. Rachel Cohen's wit and learning, conjoined, are a marvel. The writing of A Chance Meeting, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, is at a rare level of grace. This is a book worth returning to, immensely distinguished and pleasurable."
- Robert Pinsky
"How rare to find a book that acts as both intellectual tonic and spiritual inspiration. Even rarer that it's written by a first-time author. The writing is elegant, poetic, and true. The monumentally deep reading that went into it is indeed its own kind of religion -- a temple of worship for thinking people who believe in the human artistic impulse."
-John Burnham Schwartz

A Chance Meeting is a brilliant, innovative journey through American culture. It manages simultaneously to be intimate and sweeping, wide-ranging and sharply focused. Best of all, it makes its own quirky path through cultural history seem both serendipitous and inevitable. Like so many of the writers whose early successes she examines, Rachel Cohen is destined for great things.”
-Geoff Dyer

“There are thirty-six braided essays in Rachel Cohen’s lyrically evocative celebration of the American cultural provenance. Read one of them and you won’t be able to keep yourself from reading the next. Read them all and you’ll emerged transformed, transfigured: so that’s what this whole adventure has been about — that splendor, that anguish, this bounty. What a lavish gift there is in this book. Where does this new young writer get off being so good? And how do the rest of us get off being so lucky?”
-Lawrence Weschler, director of the New York University Institute for the Humanities and author of Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder

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