One African American Among the Ten New Members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters

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.

As is the case with the other honorary societies, there are no official statistics on the current racial makeup of the AAAL membership. However, independent analysis of the membership list by JBHE concludes that, at the present time, blacks make up about 5 percent of the total. Among the black members of the society are Henry Louis Gates Jr., Toni Morrison, and Jamaica Kincaid.

This year 10 new members were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of Poetry at the University of Virginia, is the only new black member. Professor Dove, former poet laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a summa cum laude graduate of Miami University of Ohio. She holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Iowa.