The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1904 as a highly selective group of 50 members within a larger organization called the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Over the years the two groups functioned separately with different memberships, budgets, and boards of directors. In 1993 the two groups finally agreed to form a single group of 250 members under the name of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Members are chosen from the fields of literature, music, and the fine arts. Members must be native or naturalized citizens of the United States. They are elected for life and pay no dues. New members are elected only upon the death of other members. Among the current African American members are Kwame Anthony Appiah, Rita Dove, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, John Edgar Wideman, and Kara Walker.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters recently inducted 12 individuals into the 250-member honorary society. Of the 12 new members, two are African Americans.
George E. Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University in New York City. Professor Lewis came to Columbia in 2004, having previously taught at the University of California, San Diego, Mills College in Oakland, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2002. A graduate of Yale University, Professor Lewis studied composition and trombone at the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians.
Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and a screenwriter, is an associate professor in the theatre department at the Columbia School of the Arts. Nottage is the co-founder of the production company, Market Road Films, which has produced projects for HBO and Showtime as well as independent productions. She is a winner of a MacArthur “genius award.” Nottage is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Compton native and acclaimed hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar has won the Pulitzer Prize for music for his 2017 album “Damn.” It is the first time work outside of the classical and jazz genres has been recognized in that category.
In today’s announcement, the Pulitzer board described the album as a “virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African American life.”
“Damn,” released on April 14, 2017, is Lamar’s fourth studio album following 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” 2012’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city” and “Section.80,” released in 2011. In January “Damn” won the Grammy for best rap album and was among the nominees for album of the year.
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University has announced the eight winners of this year’s Windham-Campbell Prizes in the fields of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry. Each winner will receive a $165,000 prize at an international literary festival at Yale in September.
Four of the eight winners of this year Windham-Campbell Prizes are Black. Three have ties to academic institutions in the United States.
Lorna Goodison, a winner of a poetry prize, is a professor emerita at the University of Michigan, where she served as the Lemuel A. Johnson Professor of English and African and Afro-American studies. She currently serves as poet laureate of the nation of Jamaica. Professor Goodison has published 13 collections of poetry including Supplying Salt and Light (McClelland & Stewart, 2013).
John Keene, a professor of English at Rutgers University-Newark is the recipient of a Windham-Campbell Prize in the fiction category. He is the author of the short story collection Counternarratives (New Directions, 2015) and the novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995). Professor Keene received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a master of fine arts degree from New York University.
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a native of Uganda who now lives in England, won a prize in the fiction category. Her debut novelKintu (Transit Books, 2014) tells the parallel stories of the fall of a cursed bloodline—the titular Kintu clan—and the rise of modern Uganda. Dr. Makumbi earned a Ph.D. in African literature from Lancaster University in England. She has taught creative writing at several universities in the United Kingdom.
Suzan-Lori Parks won an award in the drama category. She is a professor of creative writing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Parks is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She is a former MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” winner. Professor Parks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her play “Topdog/Underdog.” In addition to her plays, Parks is the author of the novel Getting Mother’s Body(2003).
The Pulitzer Prize committee announced its 2017 winners at its 101st annual ceremony on Monday. Among the 21 winners of the prestigious literary award, four black writers were commended for their work. BuzzFeed News’ executive editor Saeed Jones tweeted that Tyehimba Jess, Hilton Als, Lynn Nottage and Colson Whitehead were among the new class of winners.
Jess won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry forOlio, a collection of his sonnets, songs and narratives that highlight the lives of “unrecorded African-American performers” before the Civil War up to World War I.
Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for her Broadway show Sweat. The play, a political drama, centers on a group of friends who spent most of their lives working with each other in a factory and follows their friendship’s tumultuous friendship as rumors of layoffs begin to stir. According to Playbill, Nottage is the first female playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize twice. Nottage tweeted out thank yous for her award.
Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his 2016 novelThe Underground Railroad. The novel tells the story of a teenage heroine, Cora, in 1850s Georgia who tries to escape a cotton plantation and start her journey toward freedom.
Als, a theater critic for the New Yorker, won a Pulitzer Prize in criticism.
Hilton Als, the theatre critic for The New Yorker, has won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Als became a staff writer for The New Yorker in 1994 and a theatre critic in 2002. Week after week, he brings to the magazine a rigorous, sharp, and lyrical perspective on acting, playwriting, and directing.
With his deep knowledge of the history of performance—not only in theatre but in dance, music, and visual art—he not only shows us how to view a production but how to place its director, its author, and its performers in the ongoing continuum of dramatic art. His reviews are not simply reviews; they are provocative contributions to the discourse on theatre, race, class, sexuality, and identity in America.
Suzan-Lori Parks, who teaches creative writing at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, has been chosen as the winner of the 2015 Gish Prize, established through the will of the late actress Lillian Gish. The prize, considered among the top honors in the arts, comes with a cash award valued at $300,000.
The Gish Prize Trust said that Parks’ work “challenges contemporary conceptions of race, sexuality, family and society, and is distinguished by its striking wordplay, vibrant wit, and uninhibited style.” Parks will be honored at a ceremony on November 30 at the Public Theater in New York.
Parks is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She is a former MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” winner. Professor Parks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her play “Topdog/Underdog.”
Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts named Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith as the new director of the University’s Program in Creative Writing. Smith, a Professor of Creative Writing on the Princeton faculty since 2005, succeeds National Book Award finalist and poet Susan Wheeler, who has led the program since 2011.
“I’m delighted that Tracy has agreed to take on this leadership role in our world-renowned, undergraduate-focused program in creative writing,” notes Michael Cadden, Chair of the Lewis Center. “A brilliant wordsmith in both poetry and prose as well as a life-changing teacher, Tracy embodies everything that is best about the arts at Princeton and is a most worthy successor to our colleague Susan Wheeler. I look forward to working with her on her vision for the future of what is already an extraordinary program.”
Smith is the author of the memoir Ordinary Light (2015) and three poetry collections: Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and named as a “Best Book of the Year” by The New Yorker, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, a “Notable Book of 2011″ by the New York Times, and as an “Editor’s Choice” by the New York Times Book Review; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Award, and a Whiting Award. From 2009 to 2011 she was the Literature protégé in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
Born in Massachusetts and raised in northern California, Smith earned her A.B. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999 she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. She taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, the University of Pittsburgh, and Columbia University before joining the faculty at Princeton.
“I have such deep gratitude and enthusiasm for the community of writers and students here at Princeton,” says Smith. “I’m delighted to step into a position I’ve watched several of my colleagues navigate with such generosity, insight, and grace.”
Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing traces its origins to 1939, when Dean Christian Gauss approached the Carnegie Foundation to help the University focus on the cultivation of writers and other artists. He appointed poet and critic Allen Tate as the first Resident Fellow in Creative Writing. Since then world-renowned writers have served as faculty and visiting guest writers including John Berryman, Elizabeth Bowen, Robert Fitzgerald, Thomas Gunn, Edmund Keeley, David E. Kelley, Lorrie Moore, Philip Roth, Delmore Schwartz, Kevin Young, and Nobel laureates Toni Morrison and Mario Vargas Llosa, as well as Joyce Carol Oates, who recently retired after 37 years on the faculty. Oates will continue to teach one class each year as a Professor Emerita.
Currently the faculty includes award-winning writers Jeffrey Eugenides, Chang-rae Lee, Paul Muldoon, James Richardson, Susan Wheeler, and Edmund White, along with Smith and Jhumpa Lahiri, who joins the faculty in September. Other writers teaching this fall include Michael Dickman, A.M. Homes, Christina Lazaridi, Patrick McGrath, Fiona Maazel, Idra Novey, Hanna Pylväinen, and Monica Youn.
It is with these internationally known writers that over 300 Princeton undergraduates take courses in poetry, fiction, screenwriting, and literary translation each semester, a number that continues to grow.
“For those students serious about becoming writers, the one-on-one mentoring and intimate workshops we offer are on par with the attention and rigor characterizing the best M.F.A. programs,” notes Smith. “Regardless what our students decide to do after graduation, the experience of working alongside such illustrious writers changes their view of language and literature immeasurably.” Students who seek a certificate in creative writing (similar to a minor) in addition to their major area of study, work one-on-one with a member of the faculty on a novel, collection of poems, short stories or translations, or a screenplay.
Some of these senior thesis projects become the first published work by graduates of the program, as was the case for writers Jonathan Ames ’87 and Jonathan Safran Foer ’99. Other graduates from the program include Catherine Barnett ’82, Boris Fishman ’01, Jane Hirshfield ’73, Kristiana Kahakauwila ’03, Galway Kinnell ’48, Walter Kirn ’83, William Meredith ’40, W. S. Merwin ’48, Emily Moore ’99, Jodi Picoult ’87, Julie Sarkissian ’05, Akhil Sharma ’92, Whitney Terrell ’91, and Monica Youn ’93.
In addition to this course of study, the program invites writers of national and international distinction to give a reading and discuss their work. The Althea Ward Clark W’21 Reading Seriesfeatures acclaimed poets and fiction writers, which this year will include Edwidge Danticat, Natalie Diaz, Robert Hass, and Claudia Rankine, among others. The Emerging Writers Reading Series presented in partnership with Labyrinth Books in Princeton showcases new work by seniors in the program along with established writers as special guests, who this year will include Alexander Chee, Eduardo Corral, Ocean Vuong, and Tiphanie Yanique. Occurring monthly from September through May, readings in both series are free and open to the public.
The Program in Creative Writing also hosts an international high school poetry contest and awards the Theodore H. Holmes ’51 and Bernice Holmes National Poetry Prize with recipients such as Mark Doty, Matt Rasmussen, and Evie Shockley. The biennial Princeton Poetry Festival, curated by faculty member Paul Muldoon, features poets from around the world, in recent years presenting readings by Bei Dao, Kwame Dawes, Jorie Graham, Major Jackson, Ellen Bryan Voight, and Ray Young Bear, among others.
“Digest” by Gregory Pardlo has won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The judges cited Pardlo’s “clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.”
Pardlo was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey. Currently, he is an associate editor for the literary journal Callaloo and a contributing editor for Painted Bride Quarterly. Pardlo’s poems, reviews, and translations have been widely published and are noted for “language simultaneously urban and highbrow… snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.” He lives in Brooklyn.
To learn more about Pardlo and his work, click here.
In “Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” a new drama by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog/Underdog”), Hero, a slave, is offered a deal by his master: Leave behind his family and fight for the Confederacy in exchange for his freedom. This decision and its implications are at the heart of this historical tale, whose first three parts open Tuesday at the Public Theater. If this work sounds too familiar to be a “world premiere,” as it is billed, that’s because it has been gestating for years, with workshop productions staged at the Public Lab in 2009 and this year. Sterling K. Brown (“The Brother/Sister Plays”) is Hero, and Jo Bonney directs. (425 Lafayette Street, at Astor Place, East Village, 212-967-7555, publictheater.org.)
Natasha Trethewey, the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University in Atlanta, was reappointed to another term as Poet Laureate of the United States. She is also serving a four-year term as the poet laureate of the state of Mississippi.
James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, stated, “The Library and the country are fortunate Natasha Trethewey will continue her work as Poet Laureate. Natasha’s first term was a resounding success, and we could not be more thrilled with her plans for the coming year.”
A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, Professor Trethewey is a graduate of the University of Georgia. She holds a master’s degree from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, and a master of fine arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.