I am deeply honored to introduce inaugural poet Elizabeth Alexander’s lecture, “Hearing America Singing: Multi-Vocal Cultures in America,” at the University of Washington on Tuesday, April 26th from 6:30-8 p.m.
As Yale’s African American Studies Chair and a Pulitzer finalist, Alexander inspires me to finish my novel in plain, honest language while underpinning its plot with meticulous scholarship.
The lecture will be held in Room 130 of Kane Hall, on Red Square next to Suzzallo Library at UW. It is free and open to the public as part of the Mangels Endowed Lecture series, which is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Graduate Opportunities & Minority Achievement Program. As a GO-MAP Scholar, I am honored to ask you to RSVP here.
Alexander’s work speaks for itself, but keep reading for a synopsis of her life’s achievements with some hyperlinks.
Elizabeth Alexander made history as the fourth poet to compose and deliver a poem at a Presidential Inauguration, joining the ranks of Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and Miller Williams. Alexander voiced her poem “Praise Song for the Day” just moments after President Barack Obama gave his inaugural address. She said it plain to millions of viewers and listeners worldwide. She challenged us all to consider whether the mightiest word is love.
Alexander has published six books of poetry. Her newest collection, “Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems from 1990 to 2010,” was just released by Graywolf Press. Her previous works include The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellem Dream Book and American Sublime, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.
Her first young adult book, Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color, was co-authored with Marilyn Nelson. It won a 2008 Connecticut Book Award. Alexander has written two collections of essays, The Black Interior and Power and Possibility. Her verse play, “Diva Studies,” was staged at the Yale School of Drama.
Alexander was born in Harlem and raised in Washington, D.C. Her work draws on common language as a cultural unifier. She’s become a pivotal figure in contemporary American poetry. But her reach is global. Her poems have been translated into Spanish, Arabic, Bengali, German and Italian.
In September, The Cleveland Foundation gave her the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. Alexander was a Mildred Londa Weisman Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She was the first winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize given by Poets & Writers. And she was named an Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellow for her contributions to improving race relations in American society. Her other honors include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, the George Kent Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Her most important contributions to society may yet be made by the countless students she’s inspired as a professor, scholar and mentor for more than twenty years.
Alexander is Chair of African American Studies at Yale University, where she is a professor. She was first director of the Poetry Center at Smith College and a Grace Hazard Conkling Poet-in-Residence there. She taught at the University of Chicago, which gave her the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. And she is a founding faculty member of Cave Canem, a home for black poetry.
Her creativity and commitment are self-evident. I’m so grateful for the chance to meet her.