LLL Presents — A Chance Meeting: Encounters between American Writers and Artists
Rachel Cohen, University of Chicago; Jill Dolan, Dean of the College
Wed, 3/20 · 6:00 pm—7:30 pm · Labyrinth Books
Labyrinth Books; Princeton Public Library
Each chapter of Cohen’s inventive consideration of American culture evokes an actual meeting between two historical figures. We invite you to a conversation between two acclaimed writers working at the height of their craft.
In 1854, Henry James, as a boy, goes with his father to have a daguerreotype made by Mathew Brady and is captured in a moment of self-consciousness about being American. Brady returns to photograph Walt Whitman and, later, at City Point in the midst of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant. Meanwhile, Henry James begins a lasting friendship with William Dean Howells, and also meets Sarah Orne Jewett, who in turn is a mentor to Willa Cather. Mark Twain publishes Grant’s memoirs; W. E. B. Du Bois and his professor William James visit the young Helen Keller; and Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz argue about photography.
Later, Carl Van Vechten and Gertrude Stein, who was also a student of William James’s, attend a performance of The Rite of Spring; Hart Crane goes out on the town with Charlie Chaplin; Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston write a play together; Elizabeth Bishop takes Marianne Moore, who was photographed by both Van Vechten and Richard Avedon, to the circus; Avedon and James Baldwin collaborate on a book; John Cage and Marcel Duchamp play chess; and Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell march on the Pentagon in the anti-Vietnam War demonstration of 1967.
The accumulation of these pairings draws the reader into the mysterious process through which creativity has been sparked and passed on among iconoclastic American writers and artists.
“Innovative . . . faultless . . . [Cohen] gives us a more intimate sense of these people in a few pages than one sometimes gleans from entire biographies.” —The New Yorker
Rachel Cohen is the author of three books of nonfiction, most recently Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels. Her essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, The London Review of Books, and The New York Times, among other publications, and her work has been included in Best American Essays and Pushcart Prize anthologies. She is Professor of Practice in the Arts in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago. Jill Dolan is the Dean of the College at Princeton University, where she also is Professor in English and Professor of Theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts. Dolan received the 2011 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for her blog, “The Feminist Spectator.” Her book, The Feminist Spectator in Action: Feminist Criticism on Stage and Screen, collects 20 of her blog posts and includes 10 new essays. Dolan’s most recent book is Wendy Wasserstein. Her other books include Theatre & Sexuality; Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre; Geographies of Learning: Theory and Practice, Activism and Performance; and Presence and Desire: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, Performance.
This event is co-presented by Labyrinth and the Princeton Public Library and cosponsored by Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, the Humanities Council, and the Department of Art and Archaeology.