Wendy Lesser Receives $10,000 Marfield Prize for Arts Writing


The Arts Club of Washington is pleased to announce that Wendy Lesser is the recipient of the twelfth annual Marfield Prize, the National Award for Arts Writing, for her book You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Lesser is the founder and editor of the Threepenny Review and the author of a novel and several previous books of nonfiction, including Why I Read (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). She has written for the New York Times Book Review, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. To complete this biography, she was awarded one of the first National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar awards, the only one given to a Californian in 2015.

“This book, the biography of a great architect, is envisioned and engineered as though it were in fact a building,” says Robert Wrigley, one of this year’s panel of judges. “You will be intrigued and surprised, for example, by the way you enter it; you will note its structure and the way the book both contains and is held up by Louis Kahn’s buildings; and you will have the sense, when you finish, that you have walked through an edifice of magnitude and imagination. Louis Kahn was a complex genius. If his best measure, as an architect, is what he built, the best measure of his life is this extraordinary book.”

Lesser travels to Washington in May for a brief residency that includes a presentation to students at a local public high school and an interview with Grace Cavalieri, host of the Library of Congress’ podcast, “The Poet and the Poem.”

On Wednesday, May 2, at 6:30 p.m., she takes part in a free public discussion of her book at the club, located in a historic Federal-era mansion that was the home of President James Monroe. The club honors Lesser at the Marfield Award Dinner on Thursday, May 3, at 6:30 p.m., an event for members and their guests.

This year’s award judges are W. Ralph Eubanks, visiting professor of English and Southern studies at the University of Mississippi, and author of Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past and The House at the End of the Road: The Story of Three Generations of an Interracial Family in the American South; Carolyn Parkhurst, the New York Times bestselling author of four novels, including The Dogs of Babel and Harmony, as well as a children’s book, Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly; and Robert Wrigley, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Idaho and author of 10 books of poetry, including Box and Anatomy of Melancholy.

Lesser’s book was selected from a field of finalists that include:

Edwidge Danticat, The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story (Graywolf Press)

Jon Else, True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement (Viking)

Steven Lubar, Inside the Lost Museum: Curating, Past and Present (Harvard University Press)

Cullen Murphy, Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


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