A few weeks ago Professor J.D. “Sandy” McClatchy GRD ’74 received a phone call and learned he was elected to serve as the next president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

“I couldn’t say no to a complete stranger,” he quipped, “so I said yes.”

As the President of an 111-year old institution, McClatchy said he hopes to make the Academy more active both nationally and internationally, reaching out to a broad range of artists. Though McClatchy is recognized for his poetry, more than half a dozen professors and students interviewed said his leadership roles here as the editor of the Yale Review and the Chair of the Writing Concentration have prepared him to run a national arts organization. And while the presently fragile state of arts funding will inevitably create challenges for the Academy, McClatchy has expressed his unwavering commitment to the arts.

“The arts are not only a great part of the country’s heritage but also a part of its future,” McClatchy said in an interview with the News.

While the Academy offers approximately a million dollars a year in prizes, as well as programs to help artists, McClatchy said he must remain conscious of the current financial climate and the threats it poses to the arts community.

He said he recently contacted the senate leadership, urging them to support initiatives for arts funding in the bill currently under review as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.

“They are trying to cut off the arts,” McClatchy said. “I tried to make a point to the leaders of the Senate that the arts generate tens of thousands of jobs in this country; 127 billion dollars worth of business and 30 billion dollars of revenue to the U.S. government”.

The proposed $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts has come under criticism as the Senate debates cuts to the $819 billion stimulus plan. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the third-ranking Republican in the House, called a grant for a $300,000 sculpture garden administered by the NEA last year an example of pork barrel spending, the Boston Globe reported Thursday.

After a rigorous nomination process, members of the Academy voted to elect McClatchy as the new president of their organization, Virginia Dajani, executive director of the Academy, said.

“There is a nominating committee which meets after quite a bit of discussion and comes up with a slate of officers,” said Dajani about the selection process. “Specifically in the presidency, they seek someone who is articulate, has leadership qualities and is capable of representing the academy to the world.”

McClatchy follows in the footsteps of another Yalie, Ezra Laderman, a professor of music, who held the position as president of the Academy for three years.

“We are all very pleased to have another excellent Yalie leading,” Dajani said. “But the presidency will tax him quite a bit during his three years in office.”

While McClatchy’s new position will inevitably take time out of his schedule, five professors and students interviewed said they are confident he will do an excellent job, just as he has working as chair of the writing concentration.

Anne Fadiman, an English professor, called McClatchy an “inspired choice,” as he will “lead the Academy with the same combination of intelligence, eloquence, with that he brings to Yale’s writing concentration.”

John Crowley, a lecturer in English, said McClatchy is the reason for the “expansion and rationalization” of the creative writing program. Sterling Professor John Hollander agreed that McClatchy has been an invaluable asset to the concentration.

Jordan Jacks ’09, a student in the writing concentration who took McClatchy’s course The Writing of Verse — “the most structured creative writing class” he’s taken at Yale — said he has been a “supportive and helpful” professor. McClatchy hired Jacks at the Yale Review and helped him find a summer job at the Academy.

While McClatchy will now be a mentor to the greater arts community, Langdon Hammer, a professor of English, said his leadership skills at Yale have prepared him for the job.

“When something needs to be done, and other people are wondering how, Sandy is already doing it,” Hammer said. “His blood is Yale blue.”

His Yale blue blood runs back more than 40 years, when McClatchy came to New Haven as a graduate student. It was there that his literary career began to take form.

“While I was a grad student at Yale I began to ask much harder questions about what poems are and what they can do,” McClatchy said. “And it’s from that time that my career as a writer began.”

McClatchy is working on the libretto of the opera version of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and his new poetry book “Mercury Dressing” will be released Feb. 10.