Commencement Speakers

Winter 2015

Author of three novels and three collections of short stories, Amy Bloom has been a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards, and numerous anthologies here and abroad, including The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly,and Vogue, among many other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. Her most recent novel is Lucky Us, a New York Times bestseller published by Random House in 2014. Her previous novel, Away, was a New York Times bestseller and on the Chicago Tribune’s Best of 2007 List. Amy’s most recent collection of short stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, was published in 2010. She is also the author of a picture book for children, Little Sweet Potato. Having undergone training as a clinical social worker at the Smith College School for Social Work, Amy used her understanding of psychotherapy in creating the Lifetime Television network TV show “State of Mind,” which takes a look at the professional lives of psychotherapists. She is listed as creator, a co-executive producer, and head writer for the series. Amy lives in Connecticut and taught at Yale University for a decade.She is now Wesleyan University’s Distinguished University Writer in Residence.

Summer 2014

Born in California and raised in Michoacán, Mexico, Rigoberto González is the son and grandson of migrant farm workers and author of fifteen books of poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and bilingual children’s books. He is also editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships; and has been a winner of the American Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, The Shelley Memorial Award of The Poetry Society of America, and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. International artist Fellowships have earned him residencies Spain, Brazil, Costa Rica, Scotland, Switzerland, and Italy. From 2002 through 2012, he wrote a monthly Chicano/Latino book review column for the El Paso Times. He is also contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, an executive board member of the National Book Critics Circle, a contributing writer for Lambda Literary and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and a founding member of the Advisory Circle of Con Tinta, a collective of Chicano/Latino activist-writers. Respected by members of the literary community for his versatility with literary genres and for his advocacy of emerging writers, González has championed a number of efforts to give visibility to marginalized voices. He is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark/State University of New Jersey and resides in Queens, New York.

Winter 2014

One of our nation’s preeminent creative nonfiction writers, Mimi Schwartz’s most recent book is Good Neighbors, Bad Times, winner of the 2008 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Memoir. Her nine other books include Thoughts From a Queen-Sized Bed, a marriage memoir voted a 2002 book club favorite by JCC book clubs; and three books on writing, most recently Writing True, the Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction (with Sondra Perl), which is used by creative writing programs across the country and is now in its second edition. Her short work has appeared in such publications as The New York Times, The Missouri Review, Fourth Genre, Jewish Week, Agni, Creative Nonfiction, and The Writer’s Chronicle, and has been widely anthologized. Seven of her essays have been Notables in the annual Best American Essays. A veteran teacher and lecturer, she is Professor Emerita in Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. She is currently working on a new book, When History Gets Personal.

Summer 2013

Walter Dean Myers is the 2012-2013 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a position named by the Librarian of Congress to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people. Myers received this honor because he is a critically acclaimed author of books for young people. His award-winning body of work includes Sunrise Over Fallujah, Fallen Angels, Monster, Somewhere in the Darkness, Harlem, Scorpions, and Lockdown. Myers has received two Newbery Honor Awards, five Coretta Scott King Awards, and has been a National Book Award Finalist numerous times. He is the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in young adult literature, given by the American Library Association) as well as the first recipient of Kent State University's Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. He is considered one of the preeminent writers for young people, having written more than 115 books.

Winter 2013

Multi-genre author Nancy Willard is the author of two short story collections and three novels for adults, including Things Invisible to See, Sister Water, and The Doctrine of the Leather-Stocking Jesus: Collected Stories. Her myriad novels for young adults include Island of the Grass King and Firebrat; her dozen books of poetry include Water Walker, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Swimming Lessons: New and Selected Poems; In the Salt Marsh; and—most recently— The Sea at Truro. In addition to her graphic novels, she has written nearly 20 picture books including The Moon & Riddles Diner and the Sunnyside Café, Nightgown of the Sullen Moon, Sweep Dreams, The Well-Mannered Balloon, A Starlit Snowfall, and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers, which was awarded the Newbery Medal. Nancy lyrically adapted the traditional tale “East of the Sun & West of the Moon” into a play in 1989, which was published and illustrated in full color by Barry Moser. A documentary about Nancy and her work, “Uncommon Sense: The Art & Imagination of Nancy Willard,” was directed by Michael Mayhew and co-written with producer Ken Robinson in 2003. Awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in both fiction and poetry, her work has been widely anthologized. She teaches in the English department at Vassar College and lives in Poughkeepsie, New York, with her husband, the photographer Eric Lindbloom.

Summer 2012

Stewart O'Nan was born and raised and lives in Pittsburgh. Tobias Wolff awarded his story collection, In the Walled City, the 1993 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His first novel, Snow Angels, was an international bestseller and was recently made into a film by David Gordon Green. Along with Jonathan Franzen, Lorrie Moore and others, he was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. In Faithful, he teamed with Stephen King to chronicle the 2004 Red Sox’ championship season. His thirteen novels include cult favorites The Speed Queen, The Night Country, and A Prayer for the Dying, as well as the bestsellers Wish You Were Here, Last Night at the Lobster, and Emily, Alone. His latest novel from Viking is The Odds, of which The Boston Globe called “a gorgeous fable, a stunning meditation, and a hope-filled Valentine about what is won in love, what falls away, and how truly, it is always, always worth the cost.”

Summer 2011

Cornelius Eady is the author of eight books of poetry, including Hardheaded Weather: New and Selected Poems (Putnam, April 2008). His second book, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, won the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1985; in 2001 Brutal Imagination was a finalist for the National Book Award. His work in theater includes the libretto for an opera, “Running Man,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1999. His play, “Brutal Imagination,” won Newsday’s Oppenheimer award in 2002.

In 1996, Cornelius founded, with writer Toi Derricotte, the Cave Canem summer workshop and retreat for African-American poets. More than a decade later, Cave Canem is a thriving national network of black poets, as well as an institution offering regional workshops, readings, a first book prize, and the summer retreat.

Cornelius has been a teacher for more than twenty years, and has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, The Writer’s Voice, The College of William and Mary, Sweet Briar College, and the University of Notre Dame. Formerly an associate professor of English and Director of the Poetry Center at State University of New York at Stony Brook and Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the City College of New York, Eady currently lives in New York City and Columbia, Missouri with his wife, novelist Sarah Micklem, and holds the Miller Family Chair in Writing and Literature at the University of Missouri.

Winter 2011

Jessica Hagedorn was born and raised in the Philippines and came to the United States in her early teens. Her novels include Dream Jungle, The Gangster Of Love, and Dogeaters, which was nominated for a National Book Award. She is also the author of Danger and Beauty, a collection of poetry and prose; and the editor of Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction and Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: At Home In The World. Her plays include Most Wanted, The Heaven Trilogy, and the stage adaptation of Dogeaters. She is the University Professor of Creative Writing in the MFA Program at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. Her new novel, Toxicology, will be published by Viking Penguin in 2011.

Summer 2010

Widely considered one of the foremost American essayists and a central figure in the recent revival of interest in memoir writing, Phillip Lopate is best known for his supple and surprising essays, which have been collected most recently in Getting Personal: Selected Writings. He is the author of three essay collections, Bachelorhood (winner of the Texas Institute of Letters Award), Against Joie de Vivre, and Portrait of My Body (a finalist for the PEN Best Essay Book of the Year Award). He has also published two novellas in the book titled Two Marriages; two novels, Confessions of Summer and The Rug Merchant; two poetry collections, The Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open and The Daily Round; and a memoir of his teaching experiences, Being With Children, awarded the Christopher Medal. He has also edited the anthologies The Art of the Personal Essay, Writing New York; Journal of a Living Experiment (recipient of a citation from the New York Society Library and honorable mention from the Municipal Art Society's Brendan Gill Award); and a series collecting the best essays of the year, The Anchor Essay Annual. His work has been included in The Best American Essays and The Pushcart Prize series. His most recent book of nonfiction prose is the urbanistic meditation Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan.

Phillip has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts grants. After working with children for twelve years as a writer in the schools, he taught creative writing and literature at Fordham, Cooper Union, University of Houston, and New York University. He currently holds the John Cranford Adams Chair at Hofstra University, and also teaches in the MFA graduate programs at Columbia, the New School University, and Bennington’s MFA Program.

Winter 2010

Louise Meriwether was born in upstate New York and grew up in Harlem during the depression years. Shortly after graduating from New York University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked for a black newspaper, the Los Angeles Sentinel, was a story analyst at Universal Studios in Hollywood, and wrote book reviews for the Los Angeles Times. At that time, she also penned her first novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner, based on the Harlem community that she knew as a child. The book is still in print and now considered to be a modern classic. Always fascinated by black history, which she claimed was often lost or vilified, Louise has written several articles on the accomplishments of black people and three historical children’s books: Don’t Ride the Bus on Monday is the story of Rosa Parks who sparked the 1960’s civil rights revolt; Dr. Daniel Hale Williams: The Heart Man chronicles the first doctor to successfully operate on the heart; and The Freedom Ship of Robert Smalls records the heroics of a slave who hijacked a confederate gunboat. Freedom Ship is also the genesis for Louise’s epic Civil War novel, Fragments of the Ark, its battles and personal lives told from the viewpoint of the slaves themselves. Her latest novel, Shadow Dancing, is a contemporary story set in New York City. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies.

Louise taught creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College for several years as well as at the University of Houston in Texas. Ever an activist, she traveled south in the sixties to participate in the non-violent civil rights movement; was active in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa that successfully kept Muhamad Ali from fighting there when he was heavyweight champion of the world; and she is a dedicated peace activist against all wars. She is the recipient of literary grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Council for the Arts, the Rabinowitz Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. She resides in New York City.

Summer 2009

Walter Mosley is the author of thirty critically acclaimed books, including his latest, The Long Fall, and his work as been translated into twenty-one languages. His popular mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins began with Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990, followed by several more novels in the series, such as Black Betty, A Little Yellow Dog, and Cinnamon Kiss (all of which were New York Times bestsellers). Other novels by Walter Mosley include The Wave; RL's Dream (winner of the 1996 Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Literary Award and the NAACP Award in Fiction); Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned; Walkin' the Dog; The Man in My Basement; and Fortunate Son. His works of nonfiction include Workin’ on the Chain Gang; What Next; Life out of Context; and This Year You Write Your Novel. His nonfiction has also been published in The New York Times Magazine and The Nation, and he was an editor and contributor to the book Black Genius. He was also guest editor for The Best American Short Stories of 2003.

Walter’s numerous honors include the O’Henry Award and the Anisfield Wolf Award, an honor given to works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America. In 2002, he won a Grammy award for his liner notes accompanying “Richard Pryor: And It’s Deep, Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992)”. In 2005, he was honored by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute with a “Risktaker Award,” given to him for both his creative and activist efforts. Two movies have been made from his work, including the 1995 TriStar release of “Devil in A Blue Dress,” directed by Carl Franklin, and starring Denzel Washington and Jennifer Beals. “Always Outnumbered,” produced by HBO/NYC and Palomar Pictures films, was directed by Michael Apted and starred Laurence Fishburne, Natalie Cole, Cicely Tyson, and Bill Cobbs. He was also given an honorary doctorate by The City College of New York in 2005. With The City College, Walter founded a new publishing degree program aimed at young urban residents—the only such program in the country. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he now lives in New York City.

Winter 2009

Donald Hall is one of America’s most respected writers. He has published fifteen books of poetry, most recently White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946 – 2006. In addition to poetry, he has also written several collections of essays (among them Life Work and String Too Short to be Saved), children’s books (notably Ox-Cart Man, which won the Caldecott Medal), short stories, memoirs, biographies, textbooks, sports journalism, and a number of plays. He has also devoted time to editing: between 1983 and 1996 he oversaw publication of more than sixty titles for the University of Michigan Press alone. His many awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Robert Frost Medal, the Lamont Poetry Prize, inclusion on the Horn Book Honor List, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. A three-time National Book Award Finalist, he also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement. Donald Hall served asPoet Laureate of his home state of New Hampshire from 1984 to 1989, and in 2006 was named the 14th Poet Laureate of the United States, a position he held for one year.

Summer 2008

Nina Crews’ distinctive picture books for children draw inspiration from the people and neighborhoods of Brooklyn—her home for more than 25 years. Using photography and collage, her stories reflect the lives of today’s children. Her first book, One Hot Summer Day, was published in 1995 and is still in print today. Daughter of children’s book authors Donald Crews and Ann Jonas, Nina has received numerous honors. The Neighborhood Mother Gooose was selected as an ALA Notable Book for 2004, Kirkus and School Library Journals Best Books of 2004, and the New York Public Library's 100 Books for Reading and Sharing. Below was an ALA Notable Book for 2006 and Junior Library Guild Selection. Her most recent books are Sky-High Guy (2010), The Neighborhood Sing-Along (2011), and Jack and the Beanstalk (2011). Nina lives in Park Slope with her husband and son.