NEW YORK – Joni Mitchell's latest honor finds her in company with some giants from other fields.
The celebrated singer-songwriter and musician has received honorary membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the venerable institution based in Upper Manhattan where general inductees have ranged from Henry James and Hannah Arendt to Dizzy Gillespie and Jasper Johns. She now shares honorary status with a peer she knows well, Bob Dylan, along with Meryl Streep, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Martin Scorsese among others.
“It’s fun to be part of such a historic roll call along with all of the talented and interesting people who have received this honor," Mitchell said in a statement. "Thank you for including me.”
On Thursday, the academy announced 18 new general members, voted in by the current membership. They include such ground breakers as 88-year-old author N. Scott Momaday, the first Native American to win a Pulitzer Prize, and 82-year-old avant-garde musician and composer Annea Lockwood, a New Zealand native who said her election reaffirmed the “welcoming generosity of spirit” she had felt since moving to the U.S. in 1973.
Founded as an honor society in 1898, the academy announced last year that it was expending its core membership of 250 artists in literature, music, art and architecture to 300 by 2025. Mostly restricted to male, white artists in its early years, the academy now includes an increasingly broad range of members and has committed itself to reflecting the general population.
“Our new members do continue to reflect the diversity of American excellence, as you can see. I’m delighted,” says author and scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah, the academy's new president.
Besides Momaday, literature inductees include “The Joy Luck Club” novelist Amy Tan, the essayist, fiction writer and translator Lydia Davis, Pulitzer winner Elizabeth Strout of “Olive Kitteridge” fame, “The Things They Carried” author Tim O'Brien and the prize-winning poet Terrance Hayes.
Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, was among the architects voted in, along with Thomas Phifer, whose many previous honors include an arts and letters award from the academy; Michael Van Valkenburgh, whose projects have ranged from Pittsburgh's Allegheny Riverfront Park to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.; and Mabel O. Wilson, whose Global Africa Lab project was honored by the academy in 2019.
“I look forward to joining a cadre of brilliant creators, so many of whom have been inspirational and influential on my own practice,” Wilson told The Associated Press, citing such current members as poet Claudia Rankine, visual artist Carrie Mae Weems and architect Elizabeth Diller.
In music, the new members besides Lockwood are Pulitzer-winning composers John Luther Adams and Jennifer Higdon, composer-bandleader David Sanford and two-time Grammy nominee Christopher Theofanidis. Visual artists elected were abstract painter Suzan Frecon, educator and conceptual artist Charles Gaines and cinematographer and filmmaker Arthur Jafa, whose credits range from directing the video for Ye's single “Wash Us in the Blood” to collaborating with director-screenwriter and then-wife Julie Dash on the acclaimed film “Daughters of the Dust.”
Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro and British painter Bridget Riley were named foreign honorary members, joining previous honorees that include Nobel winner Alice Munro and German artist Gerhard Richter.