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Michael Chabon named chairman of MacDowell Colony board

December 7, 2010 | 12:29 pm

Chabon_dec2010On Monday night in New York, the MacDowell Colony threw a fundraising benefit and announced a changing of the guard. After 17 years, Robert McNeil stepped down as chairman of the board of directors and writer Michael Chabon stepped up to take his seat.

The MacDowell Colony started welcoming artists to stay on its 450-acre woodsy estate in Peterborough, N.H., in 1907, making it the oldest artist residency program in the nation. It and Yaddo, based in New York, are considered among the country's most preeminent residency programs.

Writers, composers, visual artists and other creative types apply to MacDowell for a stay of about a month (or more, or less) during which their only responsibilities are to work on their projects. Lunch is left by their studio/cabin doors; everyone gets together for dinner. While some programs charge for residencies, MacDowell is free for those who are accepted to attend.

There are many hopefuls who apply.

MacDowell writing alumni include James Baldwin, E.L. Doctorow, Thornton Wilder, John Berry, Stanley Crouch, Louise Erdrich, Nick Flynn, Alice Walker, Willa Cather, Nam Le, Walter Mosley, Daniel Handler, Stewart O'Nan, Alice Sebold and Steve Erickson. Jeffrey Eugenides wrote some of "Middlesex" there; Jonathan Franzen worked on "The Corrections" and Chabon and his wife, Ayelet Waldman have attended. Composers Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein are among the other luminaries to have spent time at MacDowell.

"I feel such a sense of obligation and debt to the place," Chabon told the Associated Press. "I'm far more productive there than anywhere else." At home in Northern California, the 47-year-old Chabon, who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," has his hands full with four children. At MacDowell, he says, "You've built up all this energy. It's like getting a hose unkinked. I don't think I ever had a stay at MacDowell that didn't include one breakthrough."

Outgoing board chair MacNeil was best known as a journalist and longtime co-host of PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Report. He accepted the National Medal of Arts on behalf of MacDowell at the White House when it received the award in 1997.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Michael Chabon in New York on Monday. Credit: Seth Wenig / Associated Press

RELATED: Michael Chabon Q&A: on fatherhood and writing at midnight