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Arts Club of Washington Announces Winners

Here below is the latest news about the Arts Club of Washington awards, per Kim Roberts:

The Arts Club of Washington has announced the winners of the third annual National Award for Arts Writing. The $15,000 Award, although relatively new, has one of the largest purses of any annual book award in the U.S., and is the only award for non-fiction books on the arts for a general audience.

For the first time in the Award’s history, there are two winners, who will split the prize, and the books make a fascinating study in contrasts. The winners are:

Michael Sragow, for Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master (Pantheon Books) and

Brenda Wineapple, for White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Alfred A. Knopf)

The two biographies are fascinating read together, for what they tell us about the cultural construction of gender. Each is considered an iconic American voice within their fields of poetry and film, but the two artists are temperamental opposites–Dickinson representing the inward-looking female and Fleming the idealized, swashbuckling male.

White Heat illuminates Dickinson’s poetic influences, especially through her decades-long friendship with the former pastor and frequent Atlantic Monthly contributor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Although they only met in person twice, they kept up a decades-long correspondence that shows how they each influenced each other’s writing. Higginson, who would later make the posthumous publication of Dickinson’s poems possible, was known for his radical ideals (abolition and women’s rights) and for his lyrical nature writing. Although he was the famous one, Wineapple amply shows how Dickinson set the tone and tenor of their friendship. Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins praises Wineapple for “unraveling this intriguing chapter in the Emily Dickinson story…with respect for the mystery of compatibility at its core.”

Victor Fleming is the first full-length biography of the director of such movie classics as Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Sragow argues that Fleming’s greatest contribution was his molding of leading men such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Gary Cooper. He writes, “The stars he helped create have never stopped hovering over the heads of Hollywood actors, who still try to emulate their careers, or of American men in general, who still try to live up to their examples. The director’s combination of gritty nobility and erotic frankness and his ability to mix action and rumination helped mint a new composite image for the American male. Fleming’s big-screen alter egos melded nineteenth-century beliefs in individual strength and family with twentieth-century appetites for sex, speed, and inner and outer exploration. His heroes were unpretentious, direct, and honest, though not sloppily self-revealing.”

This year’s judges for the Award were noted book and film critic David Kipen; Linda Pastan, former Poet Laureate of Maryland; and Reynolds Price, National Book Critics Circle Award-winner and author of twenty-two novels. Winners of the National Award for Arts Writing must be living American authors, and books must be published in the U.S. in the previous year. The award honors and encourages excellence in writing (“prose that is lucid, luminous, clear and inspiring”) and can be about any artistic discipline. The award goes to books that help readers build a strong connection with arts and artists.

For more information on the award, and how to submit books for the 2009 competition, see the Arts Club of Washington web site: ArtsClubOfWashington.Org Awards.

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