American Academy of Arts and Letters

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Entrance to the Academy's grounds, which it shares with the Hispanic Society of America

The American Academy of Arts and Letters , formerly also known as the National Institute of Arts and Letters , is a society in the United States based in Washington Heights , Manhattan , with 250 members from the fields of writing, visual arts, and composition . The aim is to promote and maintain the general interest in high-quality art by honoring outstanding artists with a series of prizes and awards, as well as exhibitions of the respective works.


The society emerged from the American Social Science Association (ASSA) founded in Boston in 1865 . This included several departments such as jurisdiction or training. H. Holbrook Curtis , one of the members, submitted in September 1898 to the ASSA President Simeon Baldwin the proposal to found a subsidiary whose orientation and organization should be based on the Institut de France . The idea was approved by the organization, and after many of the invitations had been accepted, the first meeting of the newly formed National Institute of Arts, Science and Letters took place on February 11, 1899 , at which Charles Dudley Warner was elected provisional president. In September of that year the company decided whether to remain a subdivision of ASSA or to become a self-governing apparatus. The members opted for the latter and in the course of this, science was deleted from the name.

William Dean Howells, first member and first president from 1904 to 1920

Initially, a maximum of 150 members was permitted. From 1904, 30 of them formed the “Academy”, the inner core of the institute, which was made up of elite members and was modeled on the Académie française . The first seven members elected by the Institute were William Dean Howells , Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorn Clemens), Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) and John Hay in the Literature Department, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and John La Farge ( 1835–1910) in the visual arts and music department was represented by Edward MacDowell . These seven then elected a further eight, who in turn appointed new members until the maximum number was finally reached. In 1907 this was increased to 250 (200 members of the "Institute" and 50 "Academy" members). In 1916 the company was officially recognized by the US government in a so-called congressional charter .

The organizational form, divided into institutes and academies, lasted until 1976, when the two-tier system was combined under the name American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters . In the period that followed, there was only one supervisory board and one common budget. In addition to the 250 living US citizens, 75 foreign artists were also given honorary membership. However, internally there was still a dichotomy. It was not until 1993 that the two-tier organizational structure was completely abandoned by combining the institute and academy by name and giving them the current name American Academy of Arts and Letters . Today the board consists of a president, three vice-presidents for visual arts, three vice-presidents for literature, two for music, as well as a treasurer and a secretary. Since 2012, Henry N. Cobb has served as President for three years.

Timeline of the creation of the American Academy of Arts and Letters


Membership is reserved for those who are nominated by one of the members themselves. The election is for life and the elected does not have to pay membership fees or other taxes. A new candidate can only be nominated when a seat becomes vacant due to the death of a member. In the first few years, except for Julia Ward Howe, who was admitted in 1907, only men were represented in the Academy. It was only with the election of Edith Wharton , Margaret Deland , Agnes Repplier and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman in 1926 that the female sex was also increasingly introduced into society.

See also: Category: Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Prizes and awards

The individual committees of the Academy have donated a large number of prizes in the various categories since it was founded. A nomination is only possible here by members of the Academy. The only exception is the Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater , for which you can also apply:

Prizes and awards currently being given

  • The Academy Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters has been presented annually since 1941. The $ 7,500 prize is awarded in the visual arts, writing, composition, and architecture categories
  • The $ 5,000 Marc Blitzstein Award has been presented to composers, poets and librettists since 1965 .
  • Biennial Michael Braude Award for Light Verse winners will receive $ 5,000. The award is given to short English-language poetry, regardless of the author's country of origin.
  • Winning the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize is associated with a grant of $ 5,000 and will be awarded architect, operate the architecture as art.
  • Benjamin H. Danks Award : This $ 20,000 prize is awarded alternately to composers, screenwriters, and prose and poetry authors.
  • The Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts is given to curators, performance artists, publishers, etc. and is endowed with $ 1,000.
  • The Jimmy Ernst Award is endowed with $ 5,000 and is presented in the painting category.
  • The EM Forster Award winner will receive $ 15,000 in the Writing Category.
  • The Academy has been awarding gold medals since 1909, which are intended to honor the entire work of the recipient. The medal in its current form was designed by the American sculptor James Earle Fraser in 1916.
  • The Walter Hinrichsen Award is presented in the composition category
  • The William Dean Howells Medal has been awarded every five years since 1925 to the author of the best novel in this period.
  • The Charles Ives Awards are six grants, valued at $ 7,500 each and two, valued at $ 15,000, that are awarded annually to young composers. Since 1998 there is also the Charles Ives Living , which enables the award winner to receive an annual sum of $ 75,000 for three years.
  • The Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction has been awarded since 1979 and is endowed with $ 5,000. The award goes to the best first publication by an author.
  • The Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Award is a $ 5,000 composition prize awarded annually.
  • The Goddard Lieberson Fellowships are grants worth $ 15,000 each, two of which are awarded annually to outstanding composers.
  • American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit is a medal of merit awarded along with $ 10,000 in alternating categories of painting, short story, sculpture, epic, poetry, and drama since 1942.
  • The Addison M. Metcalf Award and the Willard L. Metcalf Award have been presented every two years since 1986 in the literary and visual arts categories and are each endowed with $ 10,000.
  • The Katherine Anne Porter Award is presented every two years to authors of prose texts and is rewarded with 20,000.
  • The Arthur Rense Prize has been awarded to an outstanding poet every three years since 1998.
  • Since the Richard Rodgers Awards for Musical Theater are more of a young talent and are intended to support artists from the theater sector who are not yet established, they are the only awards given by the Academy for which one can apply.
  • The Rome Fellowship in Literature is a grant that enables two young writers to work at the American Academy in Rome each year.
  • The Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Awards are each rewarded with $ 5,000 and recognize authors of fictional literature and creators from the field of the visual arts.
  • The Medal for Spoken Language is awarded at irregular intervals to people who distinguish themselves through the correct use of cultivated language.
  • The Mildred and Harold Strauss Livings are five-year scholarships that donate $ 50,000 annually to award winners, allowing them to devote themselves exclusively to writing.
  • The Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award is worth $ 10,000 and is presented annually in the prose literature category.
  • The granted every two years Morton Dauwen Zabel Award is rewarded with $ 10,000 and is characterized alternately a poet, a writer of fiction or critics.

Previously given prizes and awards

  • The Institute Award for Distinguished Achievement was only given to three young artists, as it only existed in the period from 1945 to 1947.
  • The Nathan and Lillian Berliawsky Award was a $ 5,000 music prize awarded between 1984 and 1988.
  • The Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry was launched in 1979 and awarded a young poet with $ 5,000 until 2002.
  • The Russell Loines Award was presented to young poets between 1931 and 1983.
  • The $ 5,000 Louise Nevelson Award in Art was presented from 1988 to 1997
  • The Jean Stein Award was presented to writers annually between 1984 and 1994.
  • The Marjorie Peabody Waite Award was a prize awarded in the categories of writing, fine arts, or composition that lasted between 1956 and 1984.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Aims of National Academy , in: New York Times, January 23, 1909
  2. About the Academy on the official website ( Memento from July 3, 2008 in the Internet Archive )