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American Academy of Arts and Letters Class Of 2012: Jonathan Franzen, Michael Chabon Among The Honorees

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Michael Chabon
Michael Chabon

NEW YORK -- Michael Chabon credits his latest honor to the gray in his beard.

"I knew that when the gray came in it was only a matter of time before my augustness would be recognized," the 48-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner said with a laugh during a recent telephone interview about being voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an "honor society" where members include Toni Morrison, Maya Lin and Philip Glass.

"I am definitely honored and delighted and when I saw who else was in the academy I was sure they had made some kind of mistake."

Three acclaimed contemporary writers – Chabon, Jonathan Franzen and Jhumpa Lahiri – are among the class of 2012, announced Friday.

Franzen, 52, has written two of the most talked-about literary novels of the past decade, "The Corrections" and "Freedom." Both were chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club, and "The Corrections," published in 2001, won the National Book Award. A book of essays, "Farther Away," is coming out in April.

Lahiri, 44, won the Pulitzer in 2000 for her first book, the story collection "Interpreter of Maladies." Her 2003 novel, "The Namesake," was later made into a film of the same name, starring Kal Penn.

Chabon received the Pulitzer in 2001 for "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," and also is known for the novels "Wonder Boys" and "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh." A new novel, "Telegraph Avenue," is scheduled for the fall.

The academy also selected visual artist Kara Walker, sculptors Lynda Benglis and Robert Gober, architect Elizabeth Diller, architect-critic Kenneth Frampton and composers Stephen Jaffe and Tobias Picker. Soprano Leontyne Price and three foreign artists – sculptor Anish Kapoor, artist-author-filmmaker Yayoi Kusama and composer Jo Kondo – were made honorary members.

Founded in 1898, the academy is housed in a beaux arts complex in upper Manhattan. The academy has a core group of 250 artists, musicians and writers, and openings occur upon a member's death, with current inductees nominating and voting in new ones. Members have no real responsibilities beyond agreeing to join, although some become active in the academy, which awards numerous prizes, ranging in monetary value from $5,000 to $200,000.

"By far the most important thing the academy does is give awards to deserving artists, writers and composers," says architect and academy President Henry N. Cobb. "It really does help people in advancing their careers."

The new inductees will be officially welcomed at a ceremony in May, with the keynote speech – the Blashfield Address – to be given by artist Chuck Close. Previous Blashfield speakers include Helen Keller, Thornton Wilder and John Updike.

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