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A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967
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A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  108 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
“They met in ordinary ways,” writes Rachel Cohen in her introduction, “a careful arrangement after long admiration, a friend’s casual introduction, or because they both just happened to be standing near the drinks. . . . They talked to each other for a few hours or for forty years, and later it seemed to them impossible that they could have missed each other.”

Each chapter
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 9th 2004 by Random House (first published 2004)
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Mar 17, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it
I admit, I skipped around. Still I've read most of it and the writing is so elegant, the encounters so well-told that I feel confident assigning four stars. Encounters between James Baldwin and Richard Avedon; Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten; Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell; Willa Cather and Sarah Orne Jewett, and many other American artists and writers.

Here is Rachel Cohen on Bishop and Lowell:
"Lowell was someone who consumed, who had no boundaries at all, who made epics, who put everyt
Dan Poblocki
Apr 15, 2010 Dan Poblocki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
A book about random encounters betweens American artists and writers during the past 150 years... Strangely, I met the author of this book while traveling on the Bolt bus between Boston and New York. We talked the entire ride about our experiences as writers, teachers, humans... Haven't seen Ms. Cohen since, but her book is certainly captivating from the very first chapter. Looking forward to this one.
Mar 30, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is what I'd call speculative non-fiction. Rachel Cohen researched many of the literary and artistic luminaries and their encounters with each other. She then writes short vignettes of what those encounters might have been like. For instance, Willa Cather meeting Mark Twain or James Baldwin meeting Norman Mailer. It's cool.
Dec 10, 2008 Litlove rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant collection of intertwined vignettes of the lives of artists and writers, from the Civil War to the mid 20th century. Highly recommended for anyone interested in cultural history
Charles Matthews
Dec 17, 2009 Charles Matthews rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

Mosaic. Collage. Tapestry. Snapshots in an album. . . . I suspect that I'm not the only reader who'll be tempted to search for a metaphor to sum up what Rachel Cohen is doing in this remarkable book. But none of those quite captures her achievement: a portrait of American artistic and literary culture from the mid-19th century to the late-middle 20th.

Not a complete portrait, of course. All sorts of important figures -- Emily Dickinso
Aleathia Drehmer
This book spans from 1854 to 1967 and studies the intermingling of writers and artists across time. Included are 30 people from Henry and William James, Mark Twain, Willa Cather and Katherine Anne Porter to James Baldwin, Beauford Delaney, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. There are so many wonderful artists in here, some of whose work I am familiar, but many who I am not. It inspires me to want to reach further into their lives and sample the work.

The point that seemed recurrent to me in this book
What a cool book! Each of the 36 short chapters in this book tells, in an addictively readable way, of a meeting between two or three American writers and artists. Some of the pairings are unsurprising, like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston or Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz, while others are unexpected. Willa Cather and Mark Twain?! Hart Crane and Charlie Chaplin?! James Baldwin and Norman Mailer?! The author highlights the quirks and character of each person and includes lots of jui ...more
Sep 18, 2007 Genna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was really interesting to read as a sort of behind the scenes look at the writers who write what we love to read, as well as the photographers, artists, musicians, etc. who played a role in their lives. It grounds each writer/artist as having a beginning where he/she struggled with the craft and hoped to get noticed. Each chapter creates a link between two or more familiar names as peers who critiqued each other's work, drinking partners, lovers, or artsy friends who just hung out. Coh ...more
I've read this book in fits and starts because of personal stuff, but I really recommend reading it straight through in order to be able to mentally maintain all the connections between the people. It was truly fascinating, and there are connections I never would have guessed at. The interconnectedness of this group of people is astonishing. It is all about the interconnectedness of artists of various sorts and writers specifically, from 1854 to 1967. Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain, Henry James, Walt ...more
Sep 19, 2007 Amy rated it liked it
I love books like this, that include mini bios of writers and artists. And this one has its fair share of fun details about writers' and artists' lives and how they crossed. Ultimately, though, a lot of people made brief appearances, and multiple appearances, and thinking back about it now, it's hard to remember which details apply to whom. I prefer the organization of Francine Prose's The Lives of Muses, which was seven (or nine?) short bios of women who inspired artists, told one after another ...more
Mar 19, 2007 Kamili rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got this for $6.98 dollars at Barnes and Noble yesterday. I read three chapters in the store. It was like looking a puppy in a pet shop. It was so cute and cheap I had to take it home. As a bonus, there is really funny copy of a daguerrotype of Walt Whitman, who apparently loved to have his picture taken (that's in the book).
May 31, 2016 Claire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A beautiful blending of documented historical fact and conjecture, A Chance Meeting follows the clashes and collaborations of some of the United States' premier writers and artists. At times amusing, at times deeply sad, I found myself wanting to go back and have a few meetings myself with the personalities she captures so effortlessly.
Mar 09, 2010 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cohen recreates actual meetings between famous artists -- Henry James and Matthew Brady, Willa Cather and Mark Twain, Hart Crane and Charlie Chapman, etc. You'll learn a lot about American history and culture and Cohen's style is artful, articulate and very enjoyable.
Grainne Sweeney
Feb 13, 2013 Grainne Sweeney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. Just lent to someone again, and worried I won't get it back. It's always one that I think to reread but not done so yet - hence the worry. I marvelled at the research whilst at the same time was lost in the lives. A really, really good read.
May 06, 2007 corinne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: faves
And it's not just because she's a great teacher, and offered me a bite of her apple during Conference.
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“Baldwin told the story again and again of standing on Broadway and being told by Delaney to look down. Delaney asked him what he saw, and Baldwin said a puddle. Delaney said, 'Look again,' and then Baldwin saw the reflections of the buildings, distorted and radiant in the oil on the puddle. He taught me to see, Baldwin said, and that 'what one cannot or will not see, says something about you.” 2 likes
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