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This title in other editions

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

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A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967 Cover

ISBN13: 9781400061648
ISBN10: 1400061644
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Review-A-Day

"Rachel Cohen, in her cunningly crafted and meticulously written book...has produced, in her first book, something fresh and unexpected and promising. What Cohen has written is not so much a group biography as a sort of evocative matrix of writers and artists over time, with exhilarating overlap and cross-reference." Christopher Benfey, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)

"The easy familiarity Cohen developed with her subjects has enabled her to evoke them with engaging vigour. She is good at capturing the look and feel of the period she covers....Despite its defects, A Chance Meeting is a spirited and lively book. At her best, Rachel Cohen brings to her subject — or subjects — an appealing verve and grace. Even so, one has to ask whether biographers should have a licence to make it up." James Atlas, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"They met in ordinary ways," writes Rachel Cohen in her introduction, "a careful arrangement after long admiration, a friend's casual introduction, or because they both just happened to be standing near the drinks. . . . They talked to each other for a few hours or for forty years, and later it seemed to them impossible that they could have missed each other."Each chapter of this inventive consideration of American culture evokes an actual meeting between two historical figures. In 1854, Henry James, as a boy, goes with his father to have a daguerreotype made by Mathew Brady and is captured in a moment of self-consciousness about being American. Brady returns to photograph Walt Whitman and, later, at City Point in the midst of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant. Meanwhile, Henry James begins a lasting friendship with William Dean Howells, and also meets Sarah Orne Jewett, who in turn is a mentor to Willa Cather. Mark Twain publishes Grant's memoirs; W.E.B. Du Bois and his professor William James visit the young Helen Keller; and Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz argue about photography. Later, Carl Van Vechten and Gertrude Stein, who was also a student of William James's, attend a performance of The Rite of Spring; Hart Crane goes out on the town with Charlie Chaplin; Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston write a play together; Elizabeth Bishop takes Marianne Moore, who was photographed by both Van Vechten and Richard Avedon, to the circus; Avedon and James Baldwin collaborate on a book; John Cage and Marcel Duchamp play chess; and Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell march on the Pentagon in the anti-Vietnam War demonstration of 1967. The accumulation of these pairings draws the reader into the mysterious process through which creativity has been sparked and passed on among iconoclastic American writers and artists.Ultimately, Rachel Cohen reveals a long chain of friendship, rebellion, and influence stretching from the moment just before the Civil War through a century that had a profound effect on our own time. Drawing on a decade of research, A Chance Meeting makes its own illuminating contribution to the tradition of which Cohen writes.

Review:

"I can't think of any book that would give more raw pleasure to a book-reading person than A Chance Meeting. Our sense of the continuum of literary community is strengthened and shaded by these stories, which are told with a strange alchemy of grace, restraint, humor and passion." Dave Eggers

Review:

"As original and impressive a work of cultural history as I have encountered in years." Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer-prize winning author of Carry Me Home

Review:

"It can sometimes seem as if all American artists and writers are, and always have been, lone figures who go about their business without any contact with others of their kind. Rachel Cohen has written a lively and fascinating book that turns this idea on its head. Through the captivating device of what the French call 'the magic of the unlikely encounter,' she traces a tradition of meeting, sharing, and encouragement among individual writers, painters, and photographers that has enriched American arts and letters in ways that could never have been foreseen. Cohen offers the reader the gift of interconnected portraits, tightly drawn and cleverly told, then stands aside and allows the stories of these encounters — good as any fiction — to work their magic. Compelling and delightful." Thad Carhart, author of The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

Review:

"A wonderful, absorbing book in which information, anecdote, literary understanding and gossip take fire and are transformed into insight. Rachel Cohen's wit and learning, conjoined, are a marvel. The writing of A Chance Meeting, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, is at a rare level of grace. This is a book worth returning to, immensely distinguished and pleasurable." Robert Pinsky

Review:

"These moments add up to a fresh if sidelong look at American letters, and to a work that culturally minded readers will greatly enjoy." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Cohen, in her book debut, provides an engrossing, if simplistic, cavalcade of American arts from the Civil War period through the 1960s." Publishers Weekly

Review:

"Innovative...faultless...[Cohen] gives us a more intimate sense of these people in a few pages than one sometimes gleans from entire biographies." The New Yorker

Review:

"Enthralling...The 36 essays, as they progress...constitute something of a new genre... What is being divined is nothing less than a century or so of American taste." Richard Howard, Los Angeles Times Book Review

Review:

"Captivating...While carving a set of brilliant miniatures, Cohen is also indirectly telling a story of sex, race, political protest, and celebrity culture in America, from the Victorian era to the 1960s." The Boston Globe

Review:

"Rachel Cohen has created a masterpiece of variety and balance in her first book.... Fascinating." The Economist

Review:

"Dazzling... A book that's as addictive as popcorn, as guiltless as cruciferous vegetables....A Chance Meeting heralds an auspicious beginning to an already thrilling career." San Francisco Chronicle

Synopsis:

This unique American cultural history defines relationships among writers and artists who knew and influenced each other over the course of a century: 1854-1967.

Synopsis:

Includes bibliographical references (p. [331]-346) and index.

About the Author

RACHEL COHEN grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and graduated from Harvard. She has written for The New Yorker, The Threepenny Review, McSweeney’s, and other publications. Her essays appeared in Best American Essays 2003 and the 2003 Pushcart Anthology. Cohen has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony, and won the 2003 PEN/Jerard Fund Award for the manuscript of A Chance Meeting. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn.

Table of Contents

Henry James and Mathew Brady — William Dean Howells and Annie Adams Fields and Walt Whitman — Mathew Brady and Ulysses S. Grant — William Dean Howells and Henry James — Walt Whitman and Mathew Brady — Mark Twain and William Dean Howells — Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant — W.E.B. Du Bois and William James — Gertrude Stein and William James — Henry James and Annie Adams Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett — Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz — Willa Cather and Mark Twain — Willa Cather and Annie Adams Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett — Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Stein — Carl Van Vechten and Gertrude Stein — Marcel Duchamp and Alfred Steiglitz — Willa Cather and Edward Steichen and Katherine Anne Porter — Alfred Stieglitz and Hart Crane — Hart Crane and Charlie Chaplin — Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston — Beauford Delaney and W.E.B. Du Bois — Hart Crane and Katherine Anne Porter — Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Morore — Zora Neale Hurston and Carl Van Vechten — Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp — Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin — Joseph Cornell and Marianne Moore — James Baldwin and Norman Mailer — Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop — John Cage and Richard Avedon — W.E.B. Du Bois and Charlie Chaplin — Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten and Richard Avedon — Richard Avedon and James Baldwin — Marianne Moore and Norman Mailer — John Cage and Marcel Duchamp — Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

g.donahue, June 14, 2010 (view all comments by g.donahue)
If you have even the slightest curiosity of the lives of famous American writers, poets, artists, or otherwise cultural icons—this book is for you. How would you like to visit Mathew Brady in his studio in New York City when he photographs Walt Whitman? How about walking alongside Mark Twain in Boston as he enters the publishing office of William Dean Howells to thank him for a great review? Or witness the intersection between the lives of writer Katherine Anne Porter and tragic poet Hart Crane in Mexico in the early 1930s. Each chapter introduces a meeting between two or three famous figures ranging in time from the Civil War Era to the Civil Rights Era, over a period of 100 years. Alfred Stieglitz pops up in three different “meetings” as a central figure of importance to the avant-garde at the turn of the century. I also enjoyed the chance meetings between younger figures and their older mentors such as Willa Cather and her mentor Sarah Orne Jewett, or Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen. For humor, the story of the genesis of Marcel Duchamp’s urinal “the Fountain” was well worth it; or Zora Neale Hurston’s anthropological measuring of heads in New York City streets that made me chuckle. It turns icons into people and gives us a glimpse of what might have been. If you are looking for biography, this is not it; but you will end up a little richer in your who’s who in American culture list. Each ‘meeting’ is the spark which brings the ‘chance meeting’, then the author interweaves short histories of the characters involved, to return again to the original spark of the ‘chance meeting’ in the first place. Each visit or encounter has notes in the back of the book, which explain where the idea germinated. All of these chance meetings are backed up with a smorgasbord of evidence, even more to the reader’s delight to find an impressive and tantalizing bibliography for further reading.

Rachel Cohen researches and expands biographies to create 36 chapters, each depicting a hypothetical meeting among 30 well-known (at least to the student of American history) cultural icons. The author, Rachel Cohen, calls this “imaginative fiction.” I prefer to call it “imaginative nonfiction.” But, nevertheless, an interesting slant on biography for 30 American cultural icons. Grab a cup of tea and let your imagination soar.

American Literature’s repertoire can use books with unique perspectives like this. Historical works and biographies can be too limited, too large, and too pedantic as a sole reading source for the literature lover. So I applaud this new perspective and the work it took to bring it all together. As a teacher, I would like to see more of this for the secondary marketplace to reach the imagination of students.
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(9 of 18 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400061648
Author:
Cohen, Rachel
Publisher:
Random House
Location:
New York
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Friendship
Subject:
Artists, Architects, Photographers
Subject:
United states
Subject:
American - General
Subject:
Artists
Subject:
American literature
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
Arts, American
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Series Volume:
03-5
Publication Date:
March 2004
Binding:
Hardcover
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
9.34x6.58x1.25 in. 1.46 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Art » History and Criticism
Biography » Literary
History and Social Science » Literary History » United States » General
History and Social Science » US History » General

A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967 Used Hardcover
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$4.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Random House - English 9781400061648 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "Rachel Cohen, in her cunningly crafted and meticulously written book...has produced, in her first book, something fresh and unexpected and promising. What Cohen has written is not so much a group biography as a sort of evocative matrix of writers and artists over time, with exhilarating overlap and cross-reference." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review A Day" by , "The easy familiarity Cohen developed with her subjects has enabled her to evoke them with engaging vigour. She is good at capturing the look and feel of the period she covers....Despite its defects, A Chance Meeting is a spirited and lively book. At her best, Rachel Cohen brings to her subject — or subjects — an appealing verve and grace. Even so, one has to ask whether biographers should have a licence to make it up." (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
"Review" by , "I can't think of any book that would give more raw pleasure to a book-reading person than A Chance Meeting. Our sense of the continuum of literary community is strengthened and shaded by these stories, which are told with a strange alchemy of grace, restraint, humor and passion."
"Review" by , "As original and impressive a work of cultural history as I have encountered in years."
"Review" by , "It can sometimes seem as if all American artists and writers are, and always have been, lone figures who go about their business without any contact with others of their kind. Rachel Cohen has written a lively and fascinating book that turns this idea on its head. Through the captivating device of what the French call 'the magic of the unlikely encounter,' she traces a tradition of meeting, sharing, and encouragement among individual writers, painters, and photographers that has enriched American arts and letters in ways that could never have been foreseen. Cohen offers the reader the gift of interconnected portraits, tightly drawn and cleverly told, then stands aside and allows the stories of these encounters — good as any fiction — to work their magic. Compelling and delightful."
"Review" by , "A wonderful, absorbing book in which information, anecdote, literary understanding and gossip take fire and are transformed into insight. Rachel Cohen's wit and learning, conjoined, are a marvel. The writing of A Chance Meeting, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, is at a rare level of grace. This is a book worth returning to, immensely distinguished and pleasurable."
"Review" by , "These moments add up to a fresh if sidelong look at American letters, and to a work that culturally minded readers will greatly enjoy."
"Review" by , "Cohen, in her book debut, provides an engrossing, if simplistic, cavalcade of American arts from the Civil War period through the 1960s."
"Review" by , "Innovative...faultless...[Cohen] gives us a more intimate sense of these people in a few pages than one sometimes gleans from entire biographies."
"Review" by , "Enthralling...The 36 essays, as they progress...constitute something of a new genre... What is being divined is nothing less than a century or so of American taste."
"Review" by , "Captivating...While carving a set of brilliant miniatures, Cohen is also indirectly telling a story of sex, race, political protest, and celebrity culture in America, from the Victorian era to the 1960s."
"Review" by , "Rachel Cohen has created a masterpiece of variety and balance in her first book.... Fascinating."
"Review" by , "Dazzling... A book that's as addictive as popcorn, as guiltless as cruciferous vegetables....A Chance Meeting heralds an auspicious beginning to an already thrilling career."
"Synopsis" by , This unique American cultural history defines relationships among writers and artists who knew and influenced each other over the course of a century: 1854-1967.
"Synopsis" by , Includes bibliographical references (p. [331]-346) and index.
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