New York, NY, February 11, 2022 — Philosopher and writer Kwame Anthony Appiah has been elected President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, succeeding the architect Billie Tsien. Mr. Appiah, who will serve a three-year term, was inducted into Academy membership in 2008, and has served previously on its board of directors as Vice-President for Literature and on various award juries.
“The Academy is fortunate to welcome our new president Kwame Anthony Appiah at a time of uncertainty but also a time of reinvention,” said outgoing president Billie Tsien. “As a thinker on the topic of moral philosophy, he is generous and open. In our most recent members’ meeting Meredith Monk asked him about his concept of ‘sidling up’ as a way to connect to people with whom it is difficult to connect. His answer was simple but not easy. He embraces nuance, which is a rare and delicate commodity, and he will bring this deeply thoughtful vision to his leadership of the Academy.”
“It will be an honor and a pleasure to help the Academy advance its mission of supporting literary and artistic creativity and sustaining a broader culture in which the Muses can flourish,” said Mr. Appiah.
Kwame Anthony Appiah was born in London, raised in Ghana, and received his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Cambridge University. He has taught philosophy on three continents, most recently at Princeton University and at New York University, where he is now Professor of Philosophy and Law.
Mr. Appiah has written widely in literary and cultural studies, with a focus on African and African-American culture. Notable books include the award-winning In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (1992) and Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2006). His most recent book, The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity (2018), explores the contradictions and myths that shape our collective identities. Since 2015, Mr. Appiah has written the weekly Ethicist column for the New York Times Magazine, answering readers’ questions about ethical quandaries.
Over the course of his career, Mr. Appiah has received numerous national and international honors including the 2011 National Humanities Medal, which was presented to him by President Barack Obama. In the spring of 2020, he was awarded the J. Paul Getty Medal, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to the practice, understanding, and support of the arts and humanities.
Beyond his teaching and writing, Mr. Appiah is a devoted participant in the cultural community. He has served on the boards of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, New York Public Library, and Public Theater, among others. He has been president of the Modern Language Association and, in 2009, he succeeded Francine Prose as the president of the PEN American Center. As an educator, writer, and citizen, he is deeply committed to grappling with issues of public importance, from the role of honor to the challenges of partisan identity in political life.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 as an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers, and writers. Early members include William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Julia Ward Howe, Henry James, Edward MacDowell, Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. The Academy’s 300 members are elected for life and pay no dues.
In addition to electing new members as vacancies occur, the Academy seeks to foster and sustain an interest in Literature, Music, and the Fine Arts by administering over 70 awards and prizes totaling more than $1 million, exhibiting art and manuscripts, funding performances of new works of musical theater, purchasing artwork for donation to museums across the country, and presenting concerts and talks.