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Percival Everett and David St. John elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

USC Dornsife scholars named fellows of one of the world’s most prestigious societies, bringing the school’s overall number to 23

Percival Everett
Percival Everett (in tie) and David St. John (Photos by Steve Cohn and Peter Zhaoyu Zhou)
David St. John
David St. John (Photo/Peter Zhaoyu Zhou)

David St. John, University Professor of English and Comparative Literature and chair of English, and Percival Everett, Distinguished Professor of English, have been named fellows of the 236-year-old American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS), one of the world’s most prestigious honorary societies.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences scholars are among 213 national and international scholars newly elected to the academy. They include some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, business and philanthropic leaders. Among them are 37 foreign honorary members from 17 countries, including Botswana, China, Cuba, Israel, Russia and South Africa.

St. John and Everett bring the number of USC Dornsife’s academy fellows to 23.

“We are deeply proud that Professors Everett and St. John have been named fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences,” said Dani Byrd, interim dean of USC Dornsife. “Professor Everett is a prolific author whose works weave together setting, history and imagination. Professor St. John is lauded for writing poetry that is captivating and brutally honest. The academy’s fellowship distinction is a worthy recognition of the impactful role these two artists have played in our country’s humanistic arts.”

Steeped in history

Based in Cambridge, Mass., and founded in 1780 during the American Revolution by John Adams, James Bowdoin and John Hancock, the academy is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to nationwide and global challenges and opportunities.

The academy honors “scholar-patriots” who have brought the arts and sciences “into constructive interplay with leaders of both the public and private sectors.” Since its founding, the academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th century, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th century. The current membership of more than 4,600 fellows and 600 foreign honorary members includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

‘Startlingly good news’

Members contribute to academy publications and studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, and the humanities, arts and education.

“There’s always a flash of disbelief when startlingly good news arrives,” St. John said, “but in this case that shock was followed by the great pleasure of realizing how many women and men I so deeply admire have been — or are now — part of this distinguished academy.”

Over the course of his career, St. John has been honored with many of the most significant prizes for poets, including both the Rome Fellowship and the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the O.B. Hardison Prize (a career award for teaching and poetic achievement) from The Folger Shakespeare Library and the George Drury Smith Lifetime Achievement Award from Beyond Baroque.

He is the author of 11 collections of poetry, including Study for the World’s Body (Perennial, 1994), nominated for The National Book Award in Poetry, most recently the collections, The Auroras (Harper, 2012) and The Window (Arctos Press, 2014), as well as a volume of essays, interviews and reviews titled Where the Angels Come Toward Us (White Pine Press, 1995). He is also the co-editor of American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry.

St. John is among a handful of USC faculty members to hold the title of University Professor, a designation denoting faculty who make significant accomplishments in several disciplines. In addition to his appointments in English and comparative literature, St. John is also a scholar of cinema and teaches a cinema and poetry course.

He has written libretti for the choral symphony, “The Shore” and for the opera, The Face, based on his 2004 novella in verse of the same title. At USC Dornsife, St. John teaches “Writer & Composer,” a course that allows collaboration between graduate level poets and composers.

St. John earned his bachelor’s degree in creative writing from California State University, Fresno and his MFA in creative writing from the University of Iowa.

“It’s also a special pleasure to have been elected into the AAAS the same year as Percival Everett, my friend and colleague, whose fiction just becomes more and more dazzling with each book,” St. John said.

‘A place in American intellectual life’

Everett described being inducted into the AAAS as “a fine honor.”

Awards are always nice, but this one acknowledges a place in American intellectual life.

Percival Everett

“It is made even more special by being recognized with my colleague David St. John,” he said. “Awards are always nice, but this one acknowledges a place in American intellectual life. I am really thrilled by it.”

Award-winning writer Everett has earned acclaim for lyrical prose and for balancing a sharp satirical eye and hyper-literate sensibility with deeply felt exploration of character and a fearless approach to controversial issues related to race, class and sexuality. Since publishing his first novel in 1983, he has worked in a number of genres, including the American western, metafiction, children’s literature and reimagining the Greek myth.

Born in Columbia, S.C., Everett earned his bachelor’s in philosophy from the University of Miami, Fla., and his master’s degree from the Graduate Writing Program at Brown University, R.I. He joined USC Dornsife in 1999 after stints at the University of Kentucky, Notre Dame and the University of California, Riverside. He is a former chair of the Department of English at USC Dornsife.

Everett has published 25 books with Graywolf Press, including Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (2013), Assumption: A Novel (2011), I Am Not Sidney Poitier (2009), The Water Cure (2007), American Desert (2006) and Wounded (2005), for which he received the PEN USA 2006 Literary Award. For his book Erasure (2001), he earned the Academy Award for Literature of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. He won the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature for the story collection Big Picture (1996) and a New American Writing Award for Zulus (Permanent Press, 1990). In 2005, he released a collection of poetry entitled re: f (gesture) (Red Hen Press). His most recent publication is a book of poetry titled Trout’s Lie (Red Hen Press, 2015).

In 2014, Everett was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts (creative writing fellowship — one of 38 authors to be selected from more than 1,300 applicants. He used the grant to research his next fiction project based on true events: the story of the French World War II submarine Casabianca.

In good company

St. John and Everett join the 236th class of members, which also includes novelist Colm Tóibín, La Opinión publisher and CEO Monica Lozano, jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter, former Botswanan President Festus Mogae, Jacqueline Hewitt, the astrophysicist who discovered Einstein rings, Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation co-founder and philanthropist Edythe Broad and autism author and spokesperson Temple Grandin.

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 8 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge.

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Percival Everett and David St. John elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

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