Four Women Elected to 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.

This year 10 new members were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Four of the new members are women.

(L to R) Elizabeth Diller, Kara Walker, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lynda Benglis

Elizabeth Diller is a professor of architecture at Princeton University in New Jersey. She is a founding principal of Diller Scofidio & Renfro, a 75-person interdisciplinary design studio that integrates architecture, the visual arts, and the performing arts.

A native of Lodz, Poland, she earned a degree in architecture at Cooper Union. She is a 1999 winner of a Genius Award from the MacArthur Foundation.

Kara Walker is a native of Stockton, California. She is a professor of visual arts at Columbia University School of the Arts in New York City. Walker is a graduate of the Atlanta College of Art. She earned a master of fine arts degree at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Her work is included in numerous museums and public collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Tate Gallery in London, the Centro Nazionale per le Arti Contemporanee in Rome, and Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt.

Jhumpa Lahiri is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author for her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. Her 2003 novel, The Namesake, was made into a major motion picture.

Dr. Lahiri was born in London to Bengali parents and moved to the United States at the age of 3. She grew up in Rhode Island and graduated from Barnard College in New York City. She holds a master’s degree in English, a master of fine arts degree in creative writing, a master’s degree in comparative literature and a Ph.D. in renaissance studies, all from Boston University. She has taught at Boston University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Lynda Benglis is a sculptor who was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Newcomb College at Tulane University. She is known for working with beeswax, polyurethane, gold-leaf, zinc, and aluminum. She recently had exhibits at the Irish Museum of Art, the Consortium in France and the New Museum in New York.

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