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The Light of the World

Elizabeth Alexander, poet, essayist, playwright and scholar; chancellor, Academy of American Poets; director of creativity and free expression, Ford Foundation; and Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University. 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.  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. 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—which she shares in this presentation held on September 11, 2016, at the National Gallery of Art. This program is generously supported by Darryl Atwell.