Yaddo, Saratoga Springs’ famed artists’ retreat, will be awarding acclaimed short story writer Amy Hempel—best known for her widely anthologized story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”—the 2018 Yaddo Artist Medal this evening (November 7). The medal will be presented to Hempel by fellow author Rick Moody (The Ice Storm, Garden State) at the annual Yaddo Artist Reunion from 6-9pm at The Gatehouse at Harlem Stage in New York City. The medal ceremony comes on the eve of the publication of Hempel’s first collection in over a decade, Sing to It (Scribner), out in March 2019.
“In this year of reinvigoration at Yaddo, when we have been buoyed by our community to realize our strategic goals of restoring our mansion and launching new initiatives, it’s fitting that [we’re presenting] the Artist Medal to a writer as astonishingly talented and beloved by our community as Amy Hempel,” says Yaddo President Elaina Richardson. Yaddo, which sits on 400 acres just south of Saratoga Race Course, is one of the most successful and prestigious artists’ retreats in the country. Unlike its seasonal neighbor, only a small portion of Yaddo’s acreage is open to the public (the massive Victorian mansion where most of the artists stay is strictly off limits).
Originally part of the country estate of Spencer and Katrina Trask, the property first opened to artists in 1926. Since then, Yaddo has hosted an astounding number of awarding-winning writers, painters, photographers, sculptors, composers, choreographers and filmmakers, including 74 Pulitzer Prize winners, 68 National Book Award winners, 29 MacArthur Fellows and one Nobel Prize winner. Artistic icons such as Leonard Bernstein, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote and James Baldwin have all been temporary residents at Yaddo.
Hempel has been a frequent guest at the artists’ retreat herself, going back to her first residency in 1995. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in 2000 and won a Rea Award for the Short Story in 2008, as well as a PEN/Malamud Award the following year. “Each time I’ve gone to Yaddo, something good has happened,” says Hempel. “I finished a book there, I started and finished stories there. I love the place, and though I can’t spend a long time there, the time is charged and feels unlike time anywhere else.” Hempel’s no stranger to Saratoga either. Before she did her first residency at Yaddo’s sprawling and exclusive mansion, she was one of the first teaching faculty at the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College in 1987. She still regularly teaches at the Summer Writers Institute in addition to the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College in Vermont, where Hempel has been an instructor for many years.
The Yaddo Artist Medal that Hempel will receive honors the artistic achievements of those who’ve participated in Yaddo’s residency program and reinforced its mission of creating a strong artistic community. Recent recipients have included Pulitzer Prize-winner Phillip Roth, composer David Del Tredici and multimedia artist Laurie Anderson.