National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
Washington Square

Washington Square

by Henry James

We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.


Henry James, 1880 (Library of Congress)

Actress Annette Bening has received Academy Award nominations for her performances in The Grifters (1990), American Beauty (1999), and Being Julia (2004). A lifelong arts advocate, Bening accepted a four-year appointment to the California Arts Council from 2004-2008.

Dana Gioia, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, is an acclaimed poet, critic, and literary anthologist. His third collection of poetry, Interrogations at Noon (2001), won the American Book Award. He has also written collections of essays, including Can Poetry Matter?: Essays on Poetry and American Culture (1992; 2002) and Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (2004).

A 2008 recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, Olivia de Havilland is a legend of American cinema. A two-time Academy Award winner for Best Actress and a five-time nominee, her films include such classics as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Gone with the Wind (1939). She won an Oscar for her portrayal of Catherine Sloper in The Heiress (1949), a film adaptation of Henry James's Washington Square.

Musician Colin Meloy is both a solo artist and the leader of The Decemberists, a folk-rock band founded in 2000, whose CDs include The Tain (2004) and The Crane Wife (2006). As a songwriter, Meloy is known for his literary and historical references. His debut solo album is Colin Meloy Sings Live! (2008).

The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, writer Cynthia Ozick was born and raised in New York. She has published several novels, short stories, and essay collections, including The Big Read selection The Shawl (1989), The Puttermesser Papers (1997), and Dictation: A Quartet (2008), a collection of four stories, one in which Henry James is a featured character. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

A museum professional, art and architecture historian, and arts administrator, Anne-Imelda M. Radice was the Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) from 2006-2010. IMLS is an independent United States government agency that supports our nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums and was the NEA's founding federal partner for The Big Read.

Novelist and journalist Colm Tóibín comes form Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. After serving as editor of Magill, an Irish current affairs magazine, from 1982 to 1985, Tóibín turned to fiction. He published his first novel, The South, in 1990. He has continued writing acclaimed fiction and non-fiction including 2004's The Master, a novel featuring Henry James as a protagonist.

Gore Vidal was a best-selling novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and playwright whose writing career has spanned more than six decades, with works including The City and the Pillar (1948), Myra Breckenridge (1968), and Duluth (1983). A provocative commentator on American history and politics, Vidal's collected essays, United States (1993), won the National Book Award for non-fiction. He died in Los Angeles on July 31, 2012 at age 86.

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