Inside the MacDowell Colony

September 10, 2013

My latest up at Ploughshares:


“It can sometimes be hard to communicate what goes on at MacDowell. It’s more than inspiration, more than creativity or myth or the eternal human spirit or any other kind of foofy thing you’d want to name—and I’m happy to name all of them. But it’s in the taking of pains, it’s in affirming the craftsman’s simple truth that what’s worth doing is worth doing well, that you will find the root of art’s power to affirm, in the face of so much dark and brutal evidence to the contrary, that life matters, that we matter, and that anything worth doing well is simply worth doing.”

—from novelist and MacDowell Chairman Michael Chabon’s introductory remarks at the Edward MacDowell Medal Ceremony, August 11, 2013.

The MacDowell Colony is one of America’s oldest and most prestigious artists’ retreats, tucked away in the woods of Peterborough, New Hampshire. While its remote campus offers the solitude and freedom that has inspired a vast variety of artists for more than a hundred years, once a year, every August, MacDowell opens its doors to the public for a terrific summer lawn party.

The purpose of the shindig is to award the Edward MacDowell Medal, given each year to an artist who has made “an outstanding contribution to American culture.” The first recipient was Thornton Wilder, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town, was primarily composed at MacDowell; other recipients include Leonard Bernstein, Georgia O’Keeffe, I.M. Pei, John Updike, Sonny Rollins, and Joan Didion. 

For the rest of the story, click here.


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