NEW YORK (AP) — David Sedaris, one of the new class of inductees into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, has a story to tell.
“The academy sent a letter to my house in West Sussex (England), and we hadn’t been out there because we didn’t have any heat. When we finally saw the letter it was kind of moldering,” the author and humorist told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.
“I sat at my desk and I said, ‘Oh my God’ over and over again, until my boyfriend (painter Hugh Mamrick) came upstairs and said, ‘Are you OK?’ I don’t think he had ever heard me say ‘Oh my God’ that way.”
His membership safely confirmed, Sedaris joins an elite group which over the past century and a half has included Langston Hughes, Georgia O’Keeffe and John Updike. This year, the academy voted in 11 new members, among them the multimedia artist Meredith Monk, poet-playwright Claudia Rankine, poet-essayist Grace Schulman, author-essayist Ian Frazier, author-conservationist Terry Tempest Williams and violinist-composer Chen Yi.
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Others include four Pulitzer Prize winners from a variety of fields: playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, fiction writer Edward P. Jones, historian Stacy Schiff and poet Natasha Trethewey.
“It’s humbling to be included among this distinguished group, many of whom are the artists and writers whose work has inspired and instructed me over the years,” Trethewey wrote in an email to the AP.
The academy also voted in five honorary foreign members: the Canadian-born British novelist Rachel Cusk, Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, Polish poet Adam Zagajewski, Irish architect Sheila O’Donnell and Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado.
An honor society founded in 1898, the academy has 240 core members, in the categories of books, music and art. New artists are voted in after previous ones die, with those dying over the past year including Philip Roth, Donald Hall and Ursula K. Le Guin.
New members will formally join in May, at a ceremony held at the academy’s complex in upper Manhattan, where composer David Del Tredici will give the keynote address. The academy will also hand out literary medals, and Rankine, Yi and Sedaris are among those who have been awarded in the past.
Sedaris was honored last year with a Medal for Spoken Language. He remembers the pre-ceremony luncheon, and his awe at being seated with authors Calvin Trillin, Ann Patchett and Mary Gaitskill. As he often does, Sedaris finds himself thinking of his family, wondering how his 95-year-old father might respond to Tuesday’s news. He imagines his father’s long digression about a distant acquaintance who went into real estate and also became a writer.
“Anyway,” his father would say, “She just self-published a book, so why do you get into the academy and she doesn’t?
“She self-published one book,” Sedaris would reply. “That doesn’t mean she gets into the academy.”
“Ah, baloney, they let you in.”