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Lectures
Lectures and Book Signings
The Light of the World

September 11 at 2:00
East Building Auditorium

Elizabeth Alexander is the author of six books of poetry, including American Sublime, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize; two collections of essays; and The Light of the World, her critically acclaimed memoir on love and loss. Her writing explores such subjects as race, gender, politics, art, and history. Among her acclaimed essays, “‘Can You Be BLACK and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s)” and “Meditations on ‘Mecca’: Gwendolyn Brooks and the Responsibilities of the Black Poet” have enlivened debate on the role of art and social justice and addressed issues of race, representation, violence, and the vulnerable black body. In 2009, she wrote and delivered the poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Alexander earned her BA in English from Yale University in 1984, her MA in English (Creative Writing) from Boston University in 1987, and her PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. She has received many awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees, among them grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She received the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry and is the inaugural recipient of the Jackson Poetry Prize. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Alexander has taught with distinction at the University of Chicago, where she won the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching; New York University, in the graduate creative writing program; and Smith College, where she was Grace Hazard Conkling Poet in Residence and director of the Poetry Center. She was on the faculty of Yale University for 15 years and served as chair of Yale’s African American studies department. Alexander was recently named the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

In 2015, Alexander joined the Ford Foundation as director of creativity and free expression. She shapes and directs Ford’s grant making in arts, media, and culture. She guides the foundation’s efforts to examine how cultural narratives affect and shape social movements and how media and the arts, including film and visual storytelling, can contribute to a fairer and more just society.

In The Light of the World, Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into rich, lucid prose, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband’s death, and the solace found in caring for her two sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning in the wake of loss. The Light of the World is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. It is also a lyrical celebration of a life well-lived and a paean to the enduring gift of human companionship.

A book signing of The Light of the World follows.

This program is generously supported by Darryl Atwell. 

Photo credit: Alpha Smoot

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