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.
Malachi Jones, the 17-year-old wunderkind who is heading to Columbia University this fall, has been awarded a Gold Medal Portfolio, the highest honor of the 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards presented by the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers.
The high school senior, who attends the Charleston County School of the Arts in Charleston, South Carolina, says he greeted the news, which he received by phone, with a “loud silence.”
“I felt like a siren was going off inside my head, but I was speechless,” Malachi is quoted as saying in a Charleston Chronicle article. “I had been submitting work to Scholastic since 7th grade, so it is insane to me to think an audience outside my family and peers wants to read and appreciate my work.”
Malachi has joined a prestigious group of former youth winners, now all household names, including Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, and Stephen King, according to the Post and Courier website.
None of them, however, have grappled in their writing with the constraints of race in the arresting way Malachi has. According to the Post and Courier, Malachi has rejected the trope of the stereotypical black man and instead chosen to forge his own way of being black in the world.
The article states, “Jones’s award-winning work—a collection of lyric essays and free-verse poems—revolves around his experience as a black teenager struggling with and finally coming to terms with his identity.
“In a poem titled ‘Pantoum for my Mother,’ Jones writes, ‘Stripped of my blackness, / uprooted by judgement. / I was never dark enough for you / or for the ones who called me whitewashed.’
“It’s about the questions and judgment he endures from both his white and black peers for not fitting the stereotypical ‘formula of a black male.’”
Elizabeth Alexander, whose memoir was a finalist in 2016 for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and who wrote and recited an original poem at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural, will be the next president of theAndrew W. Mellon Foundation, the country’s largest humanities philanthropy.
“All of the things that I’ve cared about my whole life and worked toward my whole life Mellon does,” said Ms. Alexander in a telephone interview, citing areas like higher education and scholarship, arts and cultural heritage, and diversity.
She added that “arts and humanities are not the most protected entities right now.”
Ms. Alexander succeeds Earl Lewis, who has served since 2013. She will start in March, becoming the foundation’s first female president.
“She has deep experience in cultivating partnerships that extend and amplify creative vision,” Danielle Allen, the foundation’s chairwoman, said in a statement, adding that Ms. Alexander “brings an artist’s forward-looking energy to institutional purpose.”
Ms. Alexander, who has written six books of poetry and two essay collections, was most recently a humanities professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Before that, she served as the director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation, where she helped design Agnes Gund’s $100 million Art for Justice Fund.
“This appointment is a milestone in the history of American philanthropy,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation. “It’s the combination of being both rooted in the arts and grounded in the humanities and understanding philanthropy that is going to make her a success.”
Ms. Alexander has also worked closely with the Poetry Center at Smith College; the nonprofit Cave Canem, which trains aspiring poets; and Yale University, where she spent 15 years on the faculty and helped rebuild the African-American Studies department.
Dr. Charles V. Hamilton, a political scientist, activist and Professor Emeritus at Columbia University best known for his 1967 book co-written with Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Black Power: ThePolitics of Liberation in America, has established The Drs. Charles V. and Dona C. Hamilton Institute for Research and Civic Involvement at the DuSable Museum of African American History. The DuSable is scheduled to open the Hamilton Institute’s Reading Room on Monday, February 19, 2018 with a special dedication event.
The Hamilton Institute will provide a range of opportunities for visitors to peruse its non-circulating reference collection, including a special collection of rare books, to research the DuSable Museum archives and to attend scholarly lectures and history & policy discussions, many of which will be directed toward youth audiences to inspire their interest and encourage their involvement in topics that affect the African American community. Visitors to the Hamilton Institute’s Reading Room will include educators, authors, photo researchers, independent scholars, journalists, students, historians, community members and others. Visitors will be allowed access to the DuSable Museum Archives, one of the oldest and richest African American archival collections in the nation, which includes manuscripts, books and journals, photographs, slides, and other printed materials.
“I was interested in combining academic studies with political action. My concern was not only to profess but to participate. I see the DuSable Museum as a repository of study of those efforts; and people will come look at them with those eyes; that people will see someone who not just wrote books but participated,” said Dr. Charles V. Hamilton.
Although Dr. Charles V. Hamilton was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, raised on the South Side of Chicago, and educated at Roosevelt University, Loyola University and the University of Chicago. The contribution to establish the Hamilton Research Institute and Reading Room is one that supports the continuation of progressive development for the city of Chicago—a place near and dear to Dr. Hamilton. His donation represents one of the largest individual gifts in the DuSable Museum’s history.
When President Truman integrated the military (1948), Hamilton served for a year. A chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement, he was a young adult at the time of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-56). He lived through the Jim Crow era and witnessed the political transformation that made possible the election of Black officials in the South. Watching the unfolding of civil rights history informed and enriched his scholarship as he created a role for himself as an intellectual amongst activists.
In 1969, Hamilton arrived at Columbia University as a Ford Foundation funded professor in urban political science and became one of the first African Americans to hold an academic chair at an Ivy League university. It was the height of the turbulent 1960s and the nation was reeling from assassinations, demonstrations and riots. Hamilton was at the peak of his fame as the intellectual half of the “Black Power Duo.”
The activist half was Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), a former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, self-professed Black Nationalist and nascent Pan-Africanist. In a brilliant stroke, Hamilton had teamed up with Carmichael, a folk hero and icon for his generation to write what would be Hamilton’s most famous book, Black Power: ThePolitics of Liberation in America (1967).
“This is a game changer for the DuSable Museum,” said Perri Irmer, President and CEO. “The over-arching mission of this institution is the education of all people through African American history, art and culture. The creation of the Hamilton Institute gives concrete form to this education mission, allowing us to present a commitment to a superior level of scholarly activity and engagement. Now, thanks to Dr. Hamilton, we will have the infrastructure and a vehicle for the engagement of young audiences and visitors of all ages, from around the world, in what I believe will become a center for black thought leadership and intellectual exploration. What better place to do this but Chicago, and in what finer institution than the DuSable Museum of African American History?”
About The Hamilton Research Institute and Reading Room
The Drs. Charles V. and Dona C. Hamilton Institute for Research and Civic Involvement’s Reading Room will be open by appointment only, Tuesday through Saturday to anyone who is at least 14 years of age or in the ninth grade (younger visitors must be accompanied by an adult). The Hamilton Institute staff will provide a range of services to visitors interested in conducting research in the Museum. Reading Room Procedures and Policies will be made available on DuSable’s website, and visitors will be able to make follow-up appointments as related to research needs during the time of their visit.
About The DuSable Museum of African American History
The DuSable Museum of African American History is one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the country. Their mission is to promote understanding and inspire appreciation of the achievements, contributions and experiences of African Americans through exhibits, programs and activities that illustrate African and African American history, culture and art. The DuSable Museum is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. For more information on the Museum and its programs, call 773-947-0600 or visit at www.dusablemuseum.
Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University in New York, has announced a major new commitment to increase the diversity of the university’s faculty. Over the next five years, Columbia University will invest $100 million in the effort to support recruitment and career development for professors, doctoral, and postdoctoral students who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.
The new program comes on the heels of $85 million invested in similar initiatives since 2005. Some of the funds will be earmarked for faculty retention programs. Additional funding will provide for the recruitment of dual-career couple and for mid-career research grants.
President Bollinger stated that “the aim is to develop new leaders and expand scholarship, initiatives and programming to meet the needs of the University. This is a longstanding initiative inseparable from Columbia’s identity and core values.” Dennis Mitchell, vice provost for faculty diversity and inclusion at Columbia University, added that “diversity changes the climate and the culture of the university. We can’t have excellence without diversity, and the belief that they are separate things is a fallacy.”
Alondra Nelson, a professor of sociology and dean of social science at Columbia University in New York City, will be the next president of the Social Science Research Council. Founded in 1923, the Social Science Research Council is an independent, international, nonprofit organization which supports research and development of social scientists. Professor Nelson will serve a five-year term as president of the organization, beginning September 1.
Professor Nelson is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of California at San Diego, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She holds a doctoral degree in American studies from New York University.
After 67 years, two prison stints and so many arrests he’s lost count, David Norman, a former Harlem drug dealer, graduated from Columbia University as the oldest member of his class.
Norman shed his dark past for a cap and gown Wednesday after earning his long-awaited bachelor’s degree in philosophy. “It’s always possible to pursue your dreams,” Norman told the Daily News.
Norman’s extraordinary journey from the gritty streets of Harlem to the gleaming lawns at Columbia was studded with obstacles. His decades-old battle with substance abuse began early. Norman was drinking by age 11 and using heroin before his 15th birthday. His high school education lasted all of one day. Norman turned into a street hustler, slinging dope to satisfy his drug cravings. “I had a 35-year run with addiction,” he said.
Norman racked up a mile-long rap sheet filled with arrests for robbery and drug trafficking. His first stint upstate came in 1967. Nearly three decades later, he was charged with manslaughter after fatally stabbing a man in a street fight. The six years he spent in Mohawk Correctional Facility in upstate Rome proved life-changing.
He found joy in books. He started learning Hebrew. And he helped run a program that taught life skills to inmates preparing to return to society. “I had a moment of clarity in which I was able to recognize everything I had done at that point was fairly counter-productive and I needed to engage in some new activities and some new behaviors,” Norman said.
He walked out of prison in 2000 a changed man, eager to devote the second half of his life to raising up the most vulnerable.
The Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C., has named Camille A. Nelson as its next dean. She will become dean on July 25.
Professor Nelson was dean of the Suffolk University Law School in Boston from 2010 to 2015. She continues to teach at the law school. Before joining the faculty at Suffolk University, Professor Nelson taught for nearly a decade at the Saint Louis University School of Law. Before entering the academic world, she was a clerk for the Supreme Court of Canada. She was the first Black woman to clerk for Canada’s highest court.
A native of Jamaica, Professor Nelson is a graduate of the University of Toronto and earned a law degree at the University of Ottawa. She also holds a master’s degree in law from Columbia University.
Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia University and a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, will receive the Outstanding Scholar Award from the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation.
Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced. Awards are given out in six categories: autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Five finalists are chosen in each category. The winners will be announced on March 17 at a ceremony at the New School in New York City.
Several of the finalists are African Americans who have ties to the academic world:
Elizabeth Alexander is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. Professor Alexander has been a member of the faculty at Yale since 2000. She previously taught at the University of Chicago. Professor Alexander is the author of six collections of poetry. She is being honored in the autobiography category for her book The Light of the World(Grand Central Publishing, 2015). Professor Alexander is a graduate of Yale University. She earned a master’s degree at Boston University and a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a finalist in the criticism category for his book Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015). The book is a memoir of his life as a Black man in America. The book earlier won the National Book Award. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. Coates has served as a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Management. Coates attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 2015, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Ross Gay teaches in the creative writing program at Indiana University and for the low-residency master of fine arts degree program in poetry at Drew University in New Jersey. He is a finalist in the poetry category for his collection Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015). Dr. Gay is a native of Youngstown, Ohio. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Dr. Gay earned a master of fine arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and a Ph.D. in American literature from Temple University in Philadelphia.
Terrance Hayes was nominated in the poetry category for his collection How to Be Drawn (Penguin Books, 2015). Professor Hayes joined the English department faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 2013. He previously taught at Xavier University of Louisiana and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. A graduate of Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, Professor Hayes earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh. In 2014, he was named a MacArthur Fellow.
Margo Jefferson is a professor of writing in the School of the Arts at Columbia University and a professor at the Eugene Lang College of The New School for Liberal Arts in New York. She is nominated in the autobiography category for Negroland (Pantheon, 2015). She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism while writing for The New York Times. Professor Jefferson is a graduate of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, and holds a master’s degree from Columbia University.