Yaddo Exhibit at New York Public Library Showcases Lives of Literary Luminaries

by Staff

The New York Public Library unveils today an exhibit of the library's archives from Yaddo, an arts colony located in upstate New York. The collection, titled "Yaddo: Making American Culture," includes letters, papers, photographs, and sound and film clips dating from 1926 to 1980 that reveal the lives-in-retreat of luminaries such as Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, Flannery O'Connor, and Truman Capote, among other writers, musicians, and artists who worked and played at Yaddo's mansion and four hundred acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Highlighted in the archive is a record of the friendships and romances that burgeoned at Yaddo, which the exhibit illustrates in a searchable computer display. "Yaddo has always been the kind of place where artists can, if they choose, experience a lifetime’s worth of relationships in a month or so," wrote Charles McGrath in his New York Times review of the show.

Letters and admissions reports contained in the archive also reveal who was left out of Yaddo, where residents are selected by a jury of their contemporaries. Beat writers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg were written off by a critic on the jury and Henry Miller was also prohibited. African American artists were finally invited, after much debate, in 1941.

Yaddo is the former estate of Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina, herself a poet, who, after the deaths of their children, chose to bequeath their home to generations of artists, "their sole qualification being that they have done, are doing, or give promise of doing good and earnest work." Yaddo began welcoming writers and artists in 1926, and has since hosted more than five thousand, among them sixty-three Pulitzer Prize winners, twenty-five MacArthur Fellowship recipients, winners of fifty-eight National Book Awards and twenty-two National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a Nobel Prize laureate (novelist Saul Bellow).

The collection is on view in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City until February 15. A number of other libraries across the country are also holding exhibitions of Yaddo archives as well as other related programming. More information is available on the Yaddo Web site.