Feb 24, 2015 9:00 AM
Angell, Alexie and Eggers among new arts academy members
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) At age 94, Roger Angell keeps collecting honors.
Over the past year, the longtime New Yorker contributor and editor has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his writing about the game and received a National Magazine Award for his highly praised personal essay "This Old Man." The latest tribute comes from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which Tuesday welcomed him as one of five new members for 2015.
"My theory is that if you stick around long enough this stuff happens," Angell told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview.
Angell, whose byline first appeared in The New Yorker during World War II, is not the oldest new academy member. Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld was 99 when elected in 2003.
The latest inductees have a wide range of achievements. Sherman Alexie is a poet, short story writer, screenplay writer and novelist whose "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" is a National Book Award winner and a favorite among young readers. Dave Eggers is an author, screenplay writer and literacy advocate who has been a finalist for the Pulitzer and National Book Award, helped found the publishing house and literary journal McSweeney's and has assisted numerous writers and young people through his 826 Valencia and ScholarMatch projects.
Art Spiegelman, best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Maus," is among the first cartoonists and graphic novelists to receive serious critical attention. Sharon Olds has been an acclaimed poet for more than 30 years; her awards include the National Book Critics Circle prize for "The Dead and the Living" and the Pulitzer for "Stag's Leap."
The academy also added pianist Robert Levin as an honorary member.
"It's sort of a triumph of pluralism," Eggers said of the new inductees. "It makes me especially proud to be among them."
Eggers added that he was surprised at his selection, and relieved; a letter sent by the academy had been lost at the McSweeney's office.
"It's not a very organized place," he said. "I was terrified they would revoke my membership because I had taken so long to respond."
Founded in 1898, the academy is an honor society with a core membership of 250 writers, musicians, artists and architects. Openings are created when a member dies, and current members vote in new ones. Richard Ford nominated Angell.
"He's an exemplary writer," Ford, whose novels include "Independence Day" and "The Sportswriter," told the AP. "It would be a travesty if his name was not enshrined in the academy."
Angell waited a long time to get in, but he and the academy are not strangers. In 2012, he received a $5,000 prize for his light verse, which includes his annual Christmas poems for The New Yorker.
Angell noted that his late stepfather, E.B. White, turned down membership in the academy.
"He was not a joiner. I'm not a big joiner, either, but I do look forward to it," said Angell, adding that he's relieved new members are free from one traditional obligation of honorees.
They don't have to give a speech.