Mary Ann Caws is an Officer of the Palmes Académiques (awarded by the French Minister of Education) and a former trustee of the French Institute of Washington. She was born and grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, and earned her B.A. (cum laude) at Bryn Mawr, her M.A. at Yale University, and her doctorate from the University of Kansas. In the more than thirty books she authored over fifty years, she covered a wide swath of contemporary literature and the arts. Their titles include Surrealism and the Literary Imagination (1966); André Breton (1974); The Eye in the Text: Essays on Perception, Mannerist to Modern (1981); Reading Frames in Modern Fiction (1986); Robert Motherwell: What Art Holds (1995); The Surrealist Look: An Erotics of Encounter (1997); Bloomsbury and France: Art and Friends (1999), with Sarah Bird Wright; Marcel Proust: Illustrated Life (2003); Surprised in Translation (2006); Provençal Cooking (2008); and The Modern Art Cookbook (2013).
Caws has also served as editor on more than twenty books in French and English. A well-known translator from French, she has published translations of Tristan Tzara, René Char, Stéphane Mallarmé, Pierre Reverdy, Jacques Derrida, and Louis-René des Forêts, among others. Caws served as codirector of the Graduate Center’s Henri Peyre French Institute from 1980 to 2002 and holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Union College. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was president of the Modern Language Association, the American Comparative Literature Association, the Association for the Study of Dada and Surrealism, and the Association of American Scholars.