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A MacDowell Salute to Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

- July 31, 2023

Type: Buildings & Grounds, Events, Artist Profiles

Resident Director David Macy explains the recent renaming of Veltin Studio to Van Zorn Studio on Medal Day. (Brie Morrissey photo)

Resident Director David Macy explains the recent renaming of Veltin Studio to Van Zorn Studio on Medal Day. (Brie Morrissey photo)

Transcript: Resident Director David Macy explains the naming of Van Zorn Studio

Thank you, Chi! This is one of those moments to savor, here today with you, with Christine, and with Nell, celebrating MacDowell and to honor Alanis!

When Medal Day’s logistics unfold without you even noticing them, it is thanks to MacDowell’s small but mighty staff. I’d like to mention Events Manager Brett Solomon who’s in the house, and Dan Millbauer who is based here in New Hampshire. They and the rest of my colleagues are currently working outside the perimeter of the tent, so you’ll need to be emphatic if you want them to hear you in saying, “Thank You.”

[applause]

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am just delighted to see a lot of familiar faces and a lot of new faces in the crowd. The veterans who already planned a strategic course through the open studios after lunch today. Some of you with the sharpest eyes might have noticed that in place of Kirby Studio, Van Zorn Studio has appeared. It was just last evening we renamed that studio in honor of past Chairman of MacDowell’s Board of Directors, 14-time Fellow, and brilliantly genre-defying writer, Michael Chabon.

[applause]

Happily, Michael is in the house today together with writer and essayist, and multi-time Fellow Ayelet Waldman. They have made the long journey to be with us today, and when I see Michael under a big tent on a hot summer day, I start to wax nostalgic. There are past Medal Days with Rollins, Sondheim, Morrison, and more. And now I’m going to have to adlib, because I said, “Leaning his linen-clad elbow on this very lectern,” but this is a different lectern. Michael’s words took us places we never thought we would go. He was provocative and irreverent, he saw that the MacDowell portion of this program could sometimes become – how do you say – a little self-congratulatory. So he once mocked this august organization for seeming, and I quote, “to have been founded on the idea that writers and artists are a bunch of prima donna hothouse flowers so gifted at finding excuses NOT to work that they actually need to be removed from the general population and isolated under the watchful gaze of benevolent minders.

[laughter]

And I just thought, God, how I wish I’d written that.

During Michael’s chairmanship, charitable gifts to MacDowell topped $36 million, $12 [million] of that went into permanently restricted funds for the future. Michael and Ayelet also worked as a team to help raise MacDowell’s national profile. And seeing Michael last night, I realized that during the most intense period of his writing career, he was prioritizing MacDowell, giving his time to support artists he would almost surely never meet.

Raising operating funds for an arts organization fits the metaphor of the renaissance masons and craftsmen who would labor for decades, though they’d never see the finished cathedral. And MacDowell, in a similar sense, will never be complete because we’re not building a grand structure, we are building a community. And that includes artists, staff, and board, and everyone who is here under the tent today. Whether you’ve come here because you’ve read about MacDowell in an author’s acknowledgement or if you came to meet a Medalist who changed the way you view the world, it doesn’t matter how you got here, it doesn’t matter how you found us, what matters is that you’re here and that MacDowell keeps expanding.

During Michael’s last year as board chair, Ayelet led a campaign to raise funds in his honor. Since then, there has been an annual writers’ Fellowship that will go on in perpetuity, and we were inspired last night to name Van Zorn Studio.

Given our time constraints, I’ll share only that August Van Zorn first appeared in 1995, in the opening sentence of Wonder Boys. Now, pay attention because there will be a quiz after lunch. The novel’s narrator, Grady Tripp, opens the book with praise for a crusty English professor who had, under the pen-name Van Zorn, published countless tales of horror in the mode of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.

In subsequent years, Michael extended the ruse to levels never achieved by even the FBI’s most advanced efforts at the witness protection program.

In 1997, a tale of horror by August Van Zorn, “In the Black Mill,” was published in a major magazine, and not long after, a Van Zorn scholar posted a complete Van Zorn bibliography on an obscure web site. It was that Van Zorn scholar by the name of Leon Chaim Bach, who also declared that August Van Zorn was, and I quote: “Without question, the greatest unknown horror writer of the twentieth century."

So with today being Van Zorn Studio’s public debut, and with everyone under the tent now in on the secret, you’re all sworn in as members of the MacDowell community. On behalf of all of future Fellows, I hope you’ll join me in saluting Michael and Ayelet!

[applause]

The time has come for the main event it is my honor to introduce Jesse Wente to present this year’s Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts. Jesse is a husband and father and an award-winning writer and critic. His acclaimed first publication, Unreconciled, is both a memoir and a polemic, teasing out the challenges and possibilities for reconciliation between First Nations and Canada. An off-reserve member of the Serpent River First Nation, Jesse was on the airwaves for more than two decades as film and popular culture critic on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning.” In 2018, Jesse was named Founding Director of the Indigenous Screen Office and shortly after, appointed Chairman of the Canada Council for the Arts. Please join me in a warm MacDowell welcome for Mr. Jesse Wente.

[applause]