Four African-American Scholars Elected 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.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters recently inducted 11 individuals into the 250-member honorary society. Of the 11 new members, four are African Americans. All four have current academic affiliations.

Edward P. Jones is a professor of English at George Washington University, where he has been on the faculty since 2010. He is the author of three books: Lost in the City (William Morrow, 1992), All Aunt Hagar’s Children (Amistad, 2006), and The Known World (Amistad, 2003), which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Professor Jones is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He holds a master of fine arts degree from the University of Virginia.

Suzan-Lori Parks is an art professor in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Earlier in her career she taught at the California Institute of the Arts and the Yale School of Drama. In 2002, she became the first African-American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her Broadway play, Topdog/Underdog. She is the author of the novel Getting Mother’s Body (Random House, 2003). Additionally, she has been the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award.

Professor Parks is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she double majored in English and German literature.

Claudia Rankine is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry in the departments of African American studies and English at Yale University. Previously, she taught at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Her poetry collection, Citizen: An American Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014), won the PEN Open Book Award, the PEN literary Award, the NAACP Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. In 2013, Professor Rankine was elected chancellor of the American Academy of Poets.

Professor Rankine is a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where she majored in English. She holds a master of fine arts degree in poetry from Columbia University.

Natasha Tretheway is the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. She was appointed as the United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and in 2014. Professor Trethewey is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection, Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) and four other poetry collections. She is also the author of Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press, 2010).

Professor Tretheway is a graduate of the University of Georgia where she majored in English. She holds a master’s degree in English and creative writing from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, and a master of fine arts degree in poetry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


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