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Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Hundred-Year House

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The Hundred-Year House

by Rebecca Makkai

The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai X
The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2014, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
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Beyond the Book

This article relates to The Hundred-Year House

Print Review

Rebecca Makkai makes clear in her dedication that although nothing in The Hundred-Year House is based on her stay at Yaddo, a creative artists' retreat in Saratoga, New York, the book is indebted to the time and space they gave her to write it. Like Laurelfield, it was once a privately held estate.

Spencer Trask Yaddo was founded in 1900 by Spencer Trask and his wife, Katrina, a poet. Their four children died in childhood, so the couple bequeathed the estate to artists to be used as a place to "nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work without interruption in a supportive environment." When the Trasks purchased the property in 1881, they named it "Yaddo" at their young daughter's suggestion. Even before Yaddo was designated a retreat for creative artists, it hummed with creative energy. The mansion, completed in 1883, was the site of elaborate house parties that drew creative artists, politicians, and businessmen.

In its founding documents, the Trasks specified that the retreat serve "artists of promise." The residents at Yaddo have certainly fulfilled this mission. In total, its alumni have won 71 Pulitzer Prizes, 29 MacArthur Fellowships, 68 National Book Awards, 42 National Book Critics Circle Awards, 108 Rome Prizes, 52 Whiting Writer's Awards, and a Nobel Prize (for Saul Bellow). James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, John Cheever, and Truman Capote are just a few of the great writers who have worked there. With this type of creative excellence, it is no wonder that some believe Yaddo's land has mystical creative powers. Yaddo is founded on land that used to be a farm owned by a Revolutionary War veteran, who, in addition to his agricultural pursuits, also ran a tavern on his property.

Yaddo Today, Yaddo accommodates creative artists in choreography, film, literature, musical composition, painting, performance art, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and video. Except for the month of September, residences, which last two weeks to two months and provide room, board, and use of a studio, are offered year-round. Artists must apply to be residents, and applications are evaluated by a panel of experts. Only 200 are accepted per year.

In July 2014 Yaddo celebrated its designation as a National Historical Landmark, and now offers limited tours of the house. Proceeds from the tours will support Yaddo's artist residency program and repairs to structures in the Yaddo Gardens.

Picture of Spencer Trask from Yaddo
Picture of Yaddo mansion from Artist Residency

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This "beyond the book article" relates to The Hundred-Year House. It originally ran in July 2014 and has been updated for the May 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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