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Starting from Paumanok (Lecture Series on American Literature and Culture)

Tracy K Smith

Tracy K. Smith
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
6:30 PM, Kumble Theater

Tracy K. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Duende (2007) won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award. The Body's Question (2003) was the winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith was the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers Award in 2004 and a Whiting Award in 2005.

After her undergraduate work at Harvard, Smith earned her MFA at Columbia before going on to be a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University, and has also taught at Columbia, City University of New York, and the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Brooklyn.

This event was made possible by grants from The Mellon Foundation and LIU's John P. McGrath Fund. Additional support from the English Department, the Creative Writing MFA program, the Africana Studies program, the Gender Studies program, and Voices of the Rainbow.

Starting from Paumanok, a series of annual lectures on American literature, was inaugurated by the English Department at Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus in 1983. By naming the series after Walt Whitman's great poem (which invokes the Algonkian name for Long Island), the English Department acknowledges Long Island University's geographic and cultural connection with one of Brooklyn's (and Long Island's) foremost literary figures.

Watch the English Department blog (The Longest Island) for announcements about this year's lecture.

The faculty of the English Department would like to thank the Office of the President of Long Island University, Provost Gale Haynes and Dean David Cohen, all of whom, with the support of the Mellon Foundation and Long Island University's John P. McGrath fund, have made a significant and ongoing commitment to the series. We are also grateful to the History Department, the Honor's Program, the English Department's Voices of the Rainbow Series, and the Gender Studies Program, which have also generously provided funding for the series over the years.

List of Past Lectures

Alison Bechdel

2012 (February 23)
Alison Bechdel

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. For twenty-five years, Alison Bechdel, internationally-acclaimed lesbian cartoonist, wrote and drew the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, a chronicle considered “one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period” (Ms.). She is also the author of the best-selling graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which won an Eisner Award and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. Time Magazine named Fun Home the number one Best Book of 2006, declaring, "The unlikeliest literary success of 2006 is a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay and b) he is too….This is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other."

Fun Home and Dykes to Watch Out For have been translated into many languages, and Bechdel, who lives in Vermont, has an ardent international following. She has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney’s, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta, and her work is widely anthologized.

This year’s event is funded by the John McGrath Fund and the Mellon Fund and is co-sponsored by the LIU Brooklyn English Department’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, the Voices of the Rainbow reading series (English Department), the LIU Brooklyn Gender Studies program, and Greenlight Bookstore.

 

Ha Jin
2011 (March 10)
Ha Jin

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Ha Jin, born in China, is a poet, fiction writer and essayist. He was a member of the People’s Liberation Army before coming to the United States in 1986. He is the author of A Good Fall (about the Chinese immigrant experience in America), Waiting (Winner of a Nation Book Award and based on his five-year service in the communist Chinese Army), and War Trash (winner of a PEN Faulkner Award). He is currently a Professor of English at Boston University.


Lynn Nottage 2010 (February 24)
Lynn Nottage

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined has also received an OBIE, the Lucille Lortel Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play (Manhattan Theatre Club, Goodman Theatre). Other plays include Intimate Apparel (New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play; Roundabout Theatre, CENTERSTAGE, South Coast Repertory); Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine (OBIE Award; Playwrights Horizons, London’s Tricycle Theatre); Crumbs from the Table of Joy; Las Meninas; Mud, River, Stone; Por’knockers and POOF!

Nottage is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2007 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” the National Black Theatre Festival’s August Wilson Playwriting Award, the 2004 PEN/Laura Pels Award for Drama, the 2005 Guggenheim Grant for Playwriting, as well as fellowships from the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Manhattan Theatre Club, New Dramatists and New York Foundation for the Arts.

Her most recent publications include: Ruined (TCG), Intimate Apparel and Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine: Two Plays (TCG) and Crumbs from the Table of Joy and Other Plays (TCG). She is a member of The Dramatists Guild, an alumna of New Dramatists and a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, where she is a visiting lecturer. www.lynnnottage.net.  

 

Walter Mosley2008 (October 2)
Walter Mosley

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Walter Mosely is the author of twenty-nine critically acclaimed books which have been translated into twenty-one languages. His popular mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins began with Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. Others in the series include A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, and A Little Yellow Dog (both of which were New York Times bestsellers). Recently, Easy Rawlins has returned in Bad Boy Brawly Brown, Six Easy Pieces, Little Scarlet and Cinnamon Kiss, a 2006 New York Times bestseller.

Mosley has written five works of literary fiction: RL's Dream; Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned; Walkin' the Dog; The Man in My Basement and Fortunate Son; three works of science fiction, Blue Light, Futureland and The Wave; and four works of nonfiction, Workin' on the Chain Gang, What Next, Life out of Context, and This Year You Write Your Novel. Two movies have been made from his work: Devil in A Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington and Always Outnumbered, starring Laurence Fishburne.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Grammy Award, the O'Henry Award, the Sundance Institute Risktaker Award for his creative and activist efforts, and the Anisfield Wolf Award, an honor given to works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America.

Mosley created, along with The City College, a new Publishing Degree Program aimed at young urban residents. It is the only such program in the country. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he now lives in Brooklyn.

2008 (April 15)
Yvonne Seon

"The Importance of Africana Studies Programs"

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Dr. Yvonne Seon is a renowned and respected innovator and administrator of Africana studies programs. She earned a B.A. degree from Allegheny University and an M.A. degree in American government and politics as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at American University. After living and working in the Congo shortly after its independence in 1961, Dr. Seon continued her studies at Union Institute, where she earned perhaps the first doctorate in African and African-American studies, a program she helped design. Dr. Seon is the founding director of the Bolinga Black Cultural Resources Center at Wright State University, where she returned in 2005 to serve as Distinguished Visiting Director. She was again appointed to direct the program in 2006, the same year she retired as Professor of African-American Studies in the History Department at Prince George’s Community College, Largo, Maryland. Dr. Seon has also taught black studies at University of Maryland at College Park, Wilberforce University, and Howard University. While raising three children, she earned an M.Div. from Howard University Divinity School and was the first African-American woman ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister. Deeply committed to others, Dr. Seon is on the Board of Directors of Africare, a private voluntary organization specializing in African development. She recently wrote Totem Games, a poetic exploration of her search for African identity.

2007
Colson Whitehead
"Becoming a New York Writer"

The following bio was current at the time of the lecture. Colson Whitehead's first novel The Intuitionist won the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway. The book concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors in a major metropolis. John Henry Days, an investigation of the legendary folk hero, came out in 2001 and won the Young Lions Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The Colossus of New York is a collection of impressionistic essays about the city. The question was, "What makes this place tick?" It was published in 2003. Whitehead's writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Granta, Harper's and Salon. He has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and a Whiting Award. The novel Apex Hides the Hurt concerns identity, history, and the adhesive bandage industry.

2006
Tom Kerr
"Prison U: How the Late Tookie Williams and Other Incarcerated Writers are Teaching Us"

The following bio was current at the time of Tom Kerr's lecture. Formerly Director of Writing at L.I.U.'s Brooklyn Campus, Tom Kerr is an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College. He was active in the media campaign to win clemency for Tookie Williams and is currently shopping Steve Champion's San Quentin death row memoir, One Day Deep: Meditations on Death Row, which he and a former student have edited over the last three years. Tom believes America's incarcerated writers, published and unpublished, have much to teach us. His commentaries have appeared in the online edition of Counterpunch, the Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter, and various newspapers.

2005
Andrew Ross
"Mental Labor, Mental Property"

2004
Ed Bullins
"The Work of a Black Playwright"

2003
Barbara Foley
"The Radical Origins of the Harlem Renaissance"

2002
Nellie McKay
"African American Women Writers: Legacy & Influence on American Literature"

2001
Edward Said
"American Humanism"

2000
Paul Lauter
"Civil Rights and Literary Study"

1999
Nell Irvin Painter
"Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol"

1998
Deborah McDowell
"Viewing the Remains: Black Funerals/Black Families in Contemporary Photojournalism"

1996
Ann Douglas
"Finding Mongrel Manhattan of the 1920s"

1995
bell hooks
"Ending Racism: Building Community"

1992
Arnold Rampersad
"Black Writers and the Religions of India"

1991
Houston A. Baker, Jr.
"Hybridity, the Rap Race, and Pedagogy for the 1990s"

1990
Carole Boyce Davies
"The Voices of Others: Black Women's Writing, Third World Politics, and Feminist Discourses"

1989
Alfred Kazin
"A Creative Town: Foreign Artists and Writers in New York"

1988
Vivian Gornick
"Willa Cather and the American Vision"

1987
Elizabeth Hardwick
[Lecturing on Gertrude Stein]

1985
Denis Donoghue
"America in Theory"

1984
Irving Howe
"Work in American Literature"

1983
Justin Kaplan
". . . And from Hannibal: Whitman and Mark Twain"