Terry Teachout

Terry Teachout

Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: Biography

Competition: US & Canada

Terry Teachout is the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, the critic-at-large of Commentary, and the author of “Sightings,” a biweekly column for the Friday Journal about the arts in America. He also writes about the arts on his blog, “About Last Night.” He is currently at work on Mood Indigo: A Life of Duke Ellington, a biography of the most important jazz composer of the twentieth century, and his Guggenheim Fellowship will support its completion.


In 2006 Mr. Teachout began writing for the stage. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, was premiered in September 2011 in Orlando, Florida. It will be performed in August  2012 by Shakespeare & Company of Lenox, Massachusetts, in a production starring John Douglas Thompson and directed by Gordon Edelstein. He has written the libretti for two operas by the Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Paul Moravec, The Letter (an operatic version of Somerset Maugham’s play, commissioned and premiered by the Santa Fe Opera in 2009) and Danse Russe (commissioned and premiered by Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater in 2011).

A trained musician who majored in music journalism at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, Mr. Teachout played bass professionally in Kansas City before becoming a full-time writer. “I never wanted to be pigeonholed—my interests ranged too widely, even as a boy—and I was always afraid of being bored,” he says. “So I decided from the start of my career to write about all of the arts, not just one. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.”

Mr. Teachout’s previous books include Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (2009), All in the Dances: A Brief Life of George Balanchine (2004), The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken (2002), and City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy (1991). In the course of his research for The Skeptic, he discovered and later edited for publication the hitherto-unknown manuscript of A Second Mencken Chrestomathy (1995). He has edited a self-anthology, A Terry Teachout Reader (2004), and two other anthologies, Beyond the Boom: New Voices on American Life, Culture and Politics (1990, introduction by Tom Wolfe) and Ghosts on the Roof: Selected Journalism of Whittaker Chambers, 1931–1959 (1989). His work appears in Robert Gottlieb’s Reading Dance, the twelfth edition of The Norton Reader, and The Oxford Companion to Jazz, and he has contributed to many magazines and newspapers, among them National Review, The New Criterion, the New York Times Book Review, Opera News, Partisan Review, Time, and the Washington Post. He has contributed introductions to William Bailey on Canvas, Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado, Gene Lees’ Waiting for Dizzy, Paul Taylor’s Private Domain: An Autobiography, and Richard Stark’s Flashfire and Firebreak. He has also written liner notes for albums by such artists and ensembles as Karrin Allyson, Gene Bertoncini, Chanticleer, Roger Kellaway, Diana Krall, Marian McPartland, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, Nickel Creek, Kendra Shank, Luciana Souza, and Trio Solisti, as well as contributing notes on Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, and Oscar Peterson to Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology.

Mr. Teachout sat on the National Book Award nonfiction judging panel in 2003 and was a member of the National Council on the Arts from 2004 to 2010. In 2005 he delivered a Duncan Phillips Lecture at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., at which he displayed and discussed works by Milton Avery, Jane Freilicher, John Marin, Fairfield Porter, and Neil Welliver drawn from his collection of modern American prints. For the past three years, he has been a scholar in residence at Rollins College’s Winter Park Institute, where he wrote the first draft of Satchmo at the Waldorf and began work on Mood Indigo. The oldest son of Evelyn Teachout of Sikeston, Missouri, he lives with his wife, Hilary, in New York City.

Profile photograph by Ken Howard.

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