From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Audubon Terrace, the campus that the academy shares.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters is a
250-member organization whose goal is to "foster, assist, and
sustain excellence" in American literature, music, and art. It is located in
Washington Heights, a
neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, in New York. It shares Audubon
Terrace, its Beaux Arts campus on Broadway at West 155th
Street, with the Hispanic Society of America
College. The academy's galleries are open to the public for two
exhibitions each year.
The Academy was created in 1904 by the membership of the
National Institute of Arts and Letters in
emulation of the French Academy. The first seven
Academicians were elected from ballots cast by the entire
membership. They were William Dean Howells, Samuel L. Clemens, Edmund Clarence Stedman, and John Hay, representing
literature; Augustus Saint-Gaudens and John La Farge, representing art; and Edward
MacDowell, representing music. In 1976
the two groups combined under the name American Academy and
Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1992 members adopted the
current organizational title.
The oldest organization associated with the group was founded in
1865 at Boston. The
American Social Science
Association produced the National Institute of Arts and Letters
in 1898. The qualification for membership in this body was to have
made notable achievements in art, music, or literature. The
membership was at first limited to 150. In 1904 the membership was
increased by the Institute's introducing a two-tiered structure: 50
elite members and 200 regular members. The people in the elite
group were gradually elected over the next several years. The
larger group was called the "Institute," while the elite group was
called the "Academy."
The strict two-tiered system persisted for 72 years (1904-76).
In 1976 members created an organization called the American
Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The combined
Academy/Institute structure had a maximum of 250 living United
States citizens as members, plus up to 75 foreign composers,
artists, and writers as honorary members. It also established the
annual Witter Bynner Poetry Prize
in 1980 to support the work of a young poet. The two-tiered system
persisted until 1993, when it was completely abandoned.
The Academy holds a Congressional charter under Title 36 of the United
States Code (42 USC 20301 et seq.), which means that it is one
of the comparatively rare "Title 36" corporations in the United
1916 statute of incorporation established this institution amongst
a small number of other patriotic and national organizations which
are similarly chartered. The
federal incorporation was originally construed primarily as an
honor. The special recognition neither implies nor accords Congress
any special control over the Academy, which remains free to
Active sponsors of Congressional action were Senator Henry Cabot
Lodge of Massachusetts and former-President Theodore
process which led to the creation of this federal charter was
accompanied by controversy; and the
first attempt to gain the charter in 1910 failed. Sen.
Lodge re-introduced legislation which passed the Senate in
Academy was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York in
factors in decision-making which resulted in Congressional approval
Members of the Academy are chosen for life and have included
some of the leading figures in the American art scene. They are
organized into committees that award annual prizes to help
Although the names of some of the members of this organization may
not be well known today, each of these men were well known in their
own time. Greatness and pettiness are demonstrable among the
Academy members, even during the first decade during which William James
declined his nomination on the grounds that his little brother Henry had been elected
of the giants of the academy in his time, Robert Underwood Johnson,
casts a decades-long shadow in his one-man war against encroaching
modernism, blackballing such masters as H. L. Mencken, F. Scott
Fitzgerald, and T.
S. Eliot (before his exile to England disqualified him for full
former President of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot
declined election to the Academy "because he was already in so many
societies that he didn't want to add to the number."
Although never explicitly excluded, women were simply not
elected to membership in the early years. The
admission of Julia Ward Howe in 1907 (at the age of
86) as the first woman in the Academy was only one incident in the
intense debate about the very consideration of female members. In
1926, the election of four women -- Edith Wharton, Margaret Deland, Agnes Repplier
and Mary E. Wilkins
Freeman -- was said to have "marked the letting down of the
bars to women."
Below is a partial list of past members of the National Institute
and Academy of Arts & Letters:
Distinguished Service to the Arts
The award, a certificate, and $1,000 goes to a United States
resident who has "rendered notable service to the arts".
The academy gives out numerous awards, with recipients chosen by
committees made up of Academy members. Candidates for all awards
must be nominated by Academy members, except for the Richard
Rodgers awards, for which an application may be submitted.
- Academy Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters — In
1941 the Academy established awards to encourage creative work in
the arts. Now $7500 each, Academy Awards are given annually: five
to artists, eight to writers, four to composers, and three to
- Marc Blitzstein Award — The $5,000 award is given periodically
to a composer, lyricist, or librettist, "to encourage the creation
of works of merit for musical theater and opera". The award was
established in 1965 by the friends of Marc Blitzstein, an Academy
- Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize — The annual prize of $5,000
goes to an architect of any nationality who has "made a
contribution to architecture as an art".
- Benjamin H. Danks Award — The $20,000 award is given in
rotation to a composer of ensemble works, a playwright, and a
writer (fiction, non-fiction, poetry). Since 2002 the Academy has
administered the prize established by Roy Lyndon Danks in honor of
his father, Benjamin Hadley Danks.
- Jimmy Ernst Award — The Jimmy Ernst Award of $5,000 is given to
a painter or sculptor "whose lifetime contribution to his or her
vision has been both consistent and dedicated".
M. Forster Award — E.M. Forster, a foreign honorary member of
the Academy, bequeathed the U.S. royalties of his posthumous novel
Maurice to Christopher Isherwood, who
transferred them to the Academy to establish this $15,000 award. It
is given to a young English writer for an extended visit to the
- Walter Hinrichsen Award — The Walter Hinrichsen Award is given
for the publication of "a work by a mid-career American
- William Dean
Howells Medal — This award is given once every five years in
recognition of the most distinguished American novel published
during that period. It was established in 1925.
- The Charles
Ives Awards — Six scholarships of $7500 and two fellowships of
$15,000 are now given annually to young composers. In 1998, the
Academy established the Charles Ives Living, an award of $75,000 a
year for a period of three years given to an American composer. The
award's purpose is to free "a promising talent from the need to
devote his or her time to any employment other than music
composition" during that period.
- Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Award — an annual award of $5,000
"given either to a composition student or an experienced
- Goddard Lieberson Fellowships — Two Goddard Lieberson
Fellowships of $15,000 are given annually to young composers of
extraordinary gifts. The CBS Foundation endowed the fellowships in
memory of the late president of CBS Records.
- American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit — The Award
of Merit, a medal and $10,000, is given each year, in rotation, to
an outstanding person in America representing one of the following
arts: Painting, the Short Story, Sculpture, the Novel, Poetry, and
- Metcalf Awards — In 1986, the Academy received a bequest from
Addison M. Metcalf, son of the late member Willard L. Metcalf, for
two awards to honor young writers and artists of great promise. The
Willard L. Metcalf Award in Art and the Addison M. Metcalf Award in
Literature are biennial awards of $10,000.
- Katherine Anne Porter Award — This biennial award of $20,000
goes to a prose writer who has demonstrated achievements and
dedication to the literary profession.
Rense Prize — In 1998, the $20,000 award was established to
honor "an exceptional poet" once every third year.
- Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater — These awards subsidize full productions,
studio productions, and staged readings of musicals put on by
nonprofit theaters in New York City. The plays are by composers and
writers not already established in this field. These are the only
awards for which the Academy accepts applications.
- Rome Prize in
Literature — Every year the Academy selects and partly subsidizes
two young writers for a one-year residence at the American Academy
- Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Awards — Each of these
two awards are for $5,000. The first, established in 1956, is for a
fiction work of "considerable literary achievement" published in
the previous year. The second, created in 1959, is for a young
painter "who has not yet been accorded due recognition".
- Medal for Spoken Language — This medal, awarded from time to
time, recognizes individuals who set a standard of excellence in
the use of spoken language.
- The Mildred and Harold Strauss Livings — These Livings provide
an annual stipend of $50,000 a year for five years, awarded to two
writers of English prose literature to enable them to devote their
time exclusively to writing.
- Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award — This $10,000 award is given
each year to honor a writer of "recent prose that merits
recognition for the quality of its style".
- Morton Dauwen Zabel Award — This $10,000 biennial award is
given in rotation to a poet, writer of fiction, or critic, "of
progressive, original, and experimental tendencies".
"Aims of National Academy;
Organization Formed to Promote Art, Music, and Literature."
New York Times. January 23, 1909.
Moe, Ronald C. "Congressionally Chartered
Nonprofit Organizations ("Title 36 Corporations"): What They Are
and How Congress Treats Them," Congressional Research Service,
CRS Report to Congress. Order Code RL30340 (April 8,
"What is a congressional
charter?", Knight Ridder Newspapers, Dec. 12, 2007.
Kosar, Kevin R. "Congressional or Federal
Charters: Overview and Current Issues," Congressional Research
Service, CRS Report to Congress. Order Code RS22230
(January 23, 2007).
"Slur on the 'Immortals';
Lodge's Proposed Institutions Shorn of Glory," New York
Times. January 19, 1909.
"Official Action Just Taken
Contemplates American Federation.; The Movement to Advance Arts and
Letters in America," New York Times. January 24,
"A Charterless Academy,"
New York Times. February 28, 1910.
"Two New Art Societies;
Senator Lodge Introduces Bills Providing for Their
Incorporation," New York Times. January 19, 1913.
"Arts Academy Chartered;
Membership Never to Exceed 50 -- William Dean Howells
President," New York Times. June 11, 1914.
Walnerth, Charles et al. "Greetings to the American
Academy of Arts and Letters," New York Times. August
"Rival to the Great French
Academy Limited to 50 Members, Receives Official Recognition From
the U.S. Senate; Something About Those on the Original List,"
New York Times. January 26, 1913.
"Editorial Review" of Updike's A Century of Arts and
Letters: "Editorial Reviews":
"Editorial Review" of John Updike's A Century of Arts and
Letters: Alan Weakland, writing in
"Eliot not in Academy;
Harvard's President Emeritus Said He Was in Too Many
Societies<" New York Times. January 21, 1913.
"Immortals' Plan Hall of Fame
Here; Women Would Be Eligible- But "Better Form a Hall of Their
Own," New York Times. November 16, 1913.
Google Books summary: John Updike's A Century
of Arts and Letters
- ^ a
"First Women Elected to
Institute of Arts; Edith Wharton Among the Four Chosen -- American
Academy Makes Two Men Members," New York Times.
November 12, 1926.
The history of the National Institute of Arts & Letters and the
American Academy of Arts & Letters as Told, Decade by Decade,
by Eleven Members: Louis Auchincloss, Jack Beeson, Hortense
Calisher, Ada Louise Huxtable, Wolf Kahn, R.W.B. Lewis, Richard Lippold, Norman Mailer, Cynthia Ozick, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.- John Updike, Editor, Columbia University Press, New York, 1998
- ^ a
"Academicians Meet Here This
Week; Members of Institute Will Join Them in Sessions at the
Ritz-Carlton. France to send Greeting; Concert Wherein All Works
Are by American Composers Will Be Heard," New York
Times. November 12, 1916.
- ^ a
"Two New Members for the
Academy; Dr. Barrett Wendell and Garl Melchers, the Painter,
Honored at Meeting<" New York Times. November 16,
American Academy of Arts and Letters: Deceased Members, accessed
January 5, 2010
"W. R. Thayer Wins Medal.;
J.G. Huneker and Others Elected to Arts and Letters
- ^ a
"Academy Honors John
Burroughs; Naturalist Praised by Bliss Perry and Hamlin Garland at
Memorial Meeting," New York Times. November 19,
- ^ "Elected to Academy; Brand
Whitlock and Hamlin Garland in Arts and Letters," New York
Times. January 12, 1918.
"Dr. Griffis, Friend of
Japan, Dies; Educator Who Helped Japanese Adapt Themselves to
Western Civilization," New York Times. February 6,
Stanley Wertheim, A Stephen Crane Encyclopedia, Greenwood
Press, 1997, page 155 
"Huntington Gives Site for
Academy; Men of Arts and Letters to Erect Building Near Riverside
Drive and 155th St. Next to Hispanic Museum; National Institute and
American Academy Accept Offer of Eight City Lots for Site,"
New York Times. January 25, 1915.
"Academicians Meet Here This
Week; Members of Institute Will Join Them in Sessions at the
Ritz-Carlton," New York Times. November 12, 1916.
Joseph Pennell, Noted Artist,
Dead; Won High Honors as Etcher and Illustrator -- Later Taught Art
and Wrote Books," New York Times. April 24, 1926.
"Academy Elects Gay and
Lippman; Artist and Journalist Named to Vacancies Left by Deaths of
Platt and Shorey," New York Times. November 9,
"Would Encourage Study of
Classics; Academy of Arts and Letters Suggests Courses for Schools
and Colleges; Sees Aid to Civilization; Resolution Says Opposite
Policy Would Lower the Culture of the American People," New
York Times. December 16, 1918.
"Mr. Lorado Taft Dies;
Leading Sculptor; Creator of Some of Country's Outstanding
Monuments is Stricken at 76; Was Teacher in Chicago; Fountain
of Time and Columbus Memorial in Washington Among
Chief Works," New York Times. October 31, 1936.
van Gelder, Lawrence. "Arts Briefing: American
Academy Honors," New York Times. May 19, 2003.
van Gelder, Lawrence. "Arts, Briefly: American
Academy Picks Caro and Trillin," New York Times. April
Hetrick, Adam."Richard Rodgers Awards Honor
Cheer Wars and Rosa Parks Musicals",playbill.com, March 12,
This article incorporates text from an edition of the
Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.