Luminaries such as Langston Hughes, John Singer Sargent and Frank Lloyd Wright have all been members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In May, when the Academy inducts 11 new members, one of them will be from Kansas City: Chen Yi, professor of Composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Conservatory of Music and Dance.
"Such an honor and encouragement!" Chen wrote on her Facebook page after hearing the news on Tuesday. Chen, a native of China, has taught at the Conservatory since 1998 and combines Chinese and Western traditions in her work.
The other music inductee is New York-based multimedia artist Meredith Monk.
According to the Academy's website, the 250-person organization was founded in 1898 to serve as "an honor society of the country's leading architects, artists, composers, and writers." The goal is to "foster, assist and sustain excellence." New members are elected as vacanies open.
"It is my great honor to be nominated and also selected to be a life member," Chen told KCUR (all inductees are life-time members).
The nine newly elected members in literature are Ian Frazier, Edward P. Jones, Suzan-Lori Parks, Claudia Rankine, Stacy Schiff, Grace Schulman, David Sedaris, Natasha Trethewey and Terry Tempest Williams.
Besides administering more than 70 awards and prizes for art exhibitions, the Academy also funds new work and purchases artwork for museums.
The Academy awarded Chen with a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship for $12,500 in 1996 and the Charles Ives Living Award for $225,000 in 2001.
"At that time, I had a full year leave for composing, which freed me from teaching time and other responsibilities in order to focus on composing. It gave me a lot of opportunities for development," she said.
"I am really thankful for the organization," she added, "and for UMKC Conservatory for the long-time support which allows me to make bigger contributions to our society and our culture. It is an honor and encouragement for me to work harder for our society."
Chen has also been a life member of another honor society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, since 2005.
KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.