Rachel Corbett Wins $10,000 Marfield Prize for Arts Writing

Art journalist Rachel Corbett has won the 2016 Marfield Prize, aka the National Award for Arts Writing. Her prize-winning tome, You Must Change Your Life (published by W. W. Norton & Company) is a beautiful, historically rich look at the the relationship between German-language poet Rainer Maria Rilke and his mentor, the great French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

“I’m totally thrilled,” said Corbett in an email to artnet News. “Some of the other finalists were writers I’ve admired for years, like Jane Kamensky and Claudia Roth Pierpont, so it was an honor just being in their company.”

The Marfield Prize, established in 2006, is sponsored by the Arts Club of Washington. It is given annually to the author of an outstanding nonfiction book in the hope of promoting wider interest in the arts. The 2016 judges were TV and radio host Robert Aubry Davis, and authors W. Ralph Eubanks and Matthea Harvey.

You Must Change Your Life wondrously reveals a neglected relationship between two masters of their art forms, the elder reinventor of sculpture at the turn of the 20th century, Auguste Rodin, and the visionary German poet Rainer Maria Rilke,” said Davis in a statement. “Rachel Corbett has woven this tale of their lives, and the women who were crucial in this story, with all the rough-hewn muscularity of a Rodin masterpiece merged with the twilight grace of a Rilke poem.”

Rachel Corbett, <em>You Must Change Your Life</em> (2016). Meudon, France: 1900. The sculptor Auguste Rodin and the Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke, who was his secretary, in Meudon. Courtesy of Albert Harlingue/Roger-Viollet /The Image Works.

Rachel Corbett, You Must Change Your Life (2016). Meudon, France: 1900. The sculptor Auguste Rodin and the Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke, who was his secretary, in Meudon. Courtesy of Albert Harlingue/Roger-Viollet /The Image Works.

Currently the editor-in-chief at Modern Painters, Corbett was previously a correspondent for the Art Newspaper and a staff writer at artnet Magazine (the forerunner of artnet News).

The other award finalists were Jane Kamensky for A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (W. W. Norton & Company); Alexander Nemerov for Soulmaker: The Times of Lewis Hine (Princeton University Press); Claudia Roth Pierpont for American Rhapsody: Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars, and One Great Building (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); and Paul Youngquist for A Pure Solar World: Sun Ra and the Birth of Afrofuturism (University of Texas Press).

Corbett’s prize includes a brief residency in Washington, DC, in May, where she will speak with students at a local public high school, appear on Grace Cavalieri’s Library of Congress podcast “The Poet and the Poem,” and participate in a discussion at the Arts Club. The Marfield Award Dinner will take place on May 4.

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