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 Decade, by Eleven Members

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Louis Auchincloss, John Updike
Columbia University Press, 1998 - Art - 346 pages
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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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Contents

19081917
35
19181927
47
1938194?
105
19481957
136
19581967
156
19681977
203
19781987
239
19881997
273
ACADEMY MEMBERS PAST and PRESENT
293
INDEX
339
Copyright

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About the author (1998)

Louis Auchincloss was born on September 27, 1917 in New York. He attended Groton College and Yale University and received a law degree from the University of Virginia. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years during World War ll. A practicing attorney, Auchincloss wrote his first novel, "The Indifferent Children," in 1947 under the pseudonym Andrew Lee, establishing a dual career as a successful lawyer and writer. Born into a socially prominent family, Auchincloss generally writes about society's upper class. Strong family connections, well-bred manners, and corporate boardrooms are subject matter in such novels as "Portrait in Brownstone" and "I Come As a Thief." He has also written several biographical and critical works on such notable writers as Edith Wharton and Henry James. Auchincloss was President of the Museum of the City of New York.

American novelist, poet, and critic John Updike was born in Reading, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1932. He received an A.B. degree from Harvard University, which he attended on a scholarship, in 1954. After graduation, he accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England. After returning from England in 1955, he worked for two years on the staff of The New Yorker. This marked the beginning of a long relationship with the magazine, during which he has contributed numerous short stories, poems, and book reviews. Although Updike's first published book was a collection of verse, The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures (1958), his renown as a writer is based on his fiction, beginning with The Poorhouse Fair (1959). During his lifetime, he wrote more than 50 books and primarily focused on middle-class America and their major concerns---marriage, divorce, religion, materialism, and sex. Among his best-known works are the Rabbit tetrology---Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit at Rest (1988). Rabbit, Run introduces Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom as a 26-year-old salesman of dime-store gadgets trapped in an unhappy marriage in a dismal Pennsylvania town, looking back wistfully on his days as a high school basketball star. Rabbit Redux takes up the story 10 years later, and Rabbit's relationship with representative figures of the 1960s enables Updike to provide social commentary in a story marked by mellow wisdom and compassion in spite of some shocking jolts. In Rabbit Is Rich, Harry is comfortably middle-aged and complacent, and much of the book seems to satirize the country-club set and the swinging sexual/social life of Rabbit and his friends. Finally, in Rabbit at Rest, Harry arrives at the age where he must confront his mortality. Updike won the Pulitzer Prize for both Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest. Updike's other novels range widely in subject and locale, from The Poorhouse Fair, about a home for the aged that seems to be a microcosm for society as a whole, through The Court (1978), about a revolution in Africa, to The Witches of Eastwick (1984), in which Updike tries to write from inside the sensibilities of three witches in contemporary New England. The Centaur (1963) is a subtle, complicated allegorical novel that won Updike the National Book Award in 1964. In addition to his novels, Updike also has written short stories, poems, critical essays, and reviews. Self-Consciousness (1989) is a memoir of his early life, his thoughts on issues such as the Vietnam War, and his attitude toward religion. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977. He died of lung cancer on January 27, 2009 at the age of 76.

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