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

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Random House Publishing Group, Mar 9, 2004 - Biography & Autobiography - 384 pages
“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.

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User Review  - bnbookgirl - LibraryThing

An interesting look at chance meeting between some of the literary worlds most prominent figures; Henry James, Mark Twain, WIlla Cather, and many others fill these pages with wonderful stories of friendship, commraderie, and the power of chance. Read full review

A chance meeting: intertwined lives of American writers and artists, 1854-1967

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Cohen, who teaches in the Sarah Lawrence nonfiction M.F.A. program, won the 2003 PEN/Jerard Fund Award for emerging women nonfiction writers for the manuscript of this book. Entertaining and ... Read full review


CHA PTER 1 Henry James and Mathew Brady
Mathew Brady and Ulysses S Grant
Walt Whitman and Mathew Brady
CHAPTER G Mark Twain and William Dean Howells
Mark Twain and Ulysses S Grant
W E B Du Bois and William James
GHA PT err 1 O Henry James and Annie Adams Fields
Zora Neale Hurston and Carl Van Vechten
A Pēr Err 25 Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp 213
GHA pēt ER 29 Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop
H A PTER 3 O John Cage and Richard Avedon
W E B Du Bois and Charlie Chaplin
Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten
3 Richard Avedon and James Baldwin

GHA pter 14 Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz
H A Pt Err 18 Alfred Stieglitz and Hart Crane
H A Pter 19 Hart Crane and Charlie Chaplin
H A Pt Err 20 Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston 1
Hart Crane and Katherine Anne Porter
3 Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore
Marianne Moore and Norman Mailer 29

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About the author (2004)

RACHEL COHEN grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and graduated from Harvard. She has written for The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, McSweeney’s, and other publications. Her essays appeared in Best American Essays 2003 and the 2003 Pushcart Anthology. Cohen has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony, and won the 2003 PEN/Jerard Fund Award for the manuscript of A Chance Meeting. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn.

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