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Skidmore College
Summer Writers Institute

2020 Visiting Writers


Russell Banks is the author of Cloudsplitter, Continental Drift, The Book of Jamaica, and many other works of fiction. Banks’s novels Affliction and The Sweet Hereafter (three Cannes Film Festival awards) have been made into successful feature films. His novel Rule of the Bone was praised by Cornel West as the work of “a great writer wrestling with the hidden secrets and explosive realities of this country.” The Darling is Banks’ political novel. (“Russell Banks’s twentieth-century Liberia is as hellish a place as Joseph Conrad’s nineteenth century Congo. The only creatures that behave with humanity are the apes. A dark and disturbing book,” writes Michael Ondaatje.) Banks’ 2011 novel is Lost Memory of Skin. Janet Maslin in The New York Times: “Destined to be a canonical novel of our time…delivers another of Banks’ wrenching, panoramic visions of American life.”

Frank Bidart was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in April 2018. He won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2014 for his book Metaphysical Dog and is the author of many books of poetry, including In The Western Night, Star Dust and Desire. His most recent book (2017) is Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016. Of Bidart’s work Robert Boyers wrote in The Nation (2013): “….journeys in which not less than everything is at stake and the pleasure entailed is the pleasure of submitting to an ordeal from which we emerge at last thrilled, exhausted and longing for more.”
Louise Glück has won The Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Award and other major prizes for her poetry, which has appeared in many volumes including Meadowlands, Descending Figure, Vita Nova, The Wild Iris, Firstborn, Ararat, and Poems 1962-2012. In recent years she has taught at Yale and at the MFA programs at Boston University and Stanford. Her most recent book is Faithful and Virtuous Night.
Mary Gordon is the Millicent C. McIntosh Professor in English and Writing, joining the faculty of Barnard in 1988. Professor Gordon is the author of seven bestselling novels. She has also published two collections of stories, a book of essays, two memoirs, a biography of Joan of Arc and Reading Jesus, a writer's encounter with the Gospels. Her latest books are The Love of My Youth (2011), a novel, and The Liar's Wife (2014), a collection of novellas. Professor Gordon has received a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader's Digest Writer's Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2007.

Tom Healy His first collection of poetry, What the Right Hand Knows (2009), was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry. Healy has been a leader in the arts, international affairs, and philanthropy throughout his career. Active in the New York City arts scene, Healy operated a gallery in Chelsea with Pat Hearn and Matthew Marks from 1994 until 2000. He has been executive director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He currently serves as chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, which oversees the Fulbright program worldwide. He was appointed to the Fulbright board by President Barack Obama. He has taught at the Pratt Institute, New York University, and the New School, as well as the New York State Writers Institute, the Port Townsend Writers Conference, and the John Ashbery School of Poetics. He has a regular column in the Huffington Post and is a contributing editor to BOMB MagazineCreative Time Reports, and

Margo Jefferson is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, previously served as book and arts critic for Newsweek and the New York Times. Her writing has appeared in, among other publications, VogueNew York MagazineThe Nation, and Guernica. Her memoir, Negroland, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. She is also the author of On Michael Jackson and is a professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts.

William Kennedy is the author of Ironweed (Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award), Quinn’s Book, Legs, The Ink Truck, Very Old Bones, Roscoe and The Flaming Corsage. Kennedy, who also wrote the film version of Ironweed (1987) and co-scripted The Cotton Club with Francis Ford Coppola (1986), is the winner of a MacArthur Award, a Brandeis Creative Arts Award, an a New York Arts Award. He is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute at SUNY Albany. His latest novel is Chango’s Beads And 2-Tone Shoes. The New York Times Book Review, front page: “Proves he can play with both hands and improvise on a theme without losing the beat…a masterwork.”

Jamaica Kincaid is the author of many books, including Mr. Potter (described by Robert Boyers as “a perfect, perfectly heartbreaking novel”), Lucy, At The Bottom of the River, Annie John, My Brother, A Small Place, Autobiography of My Mother, and other books. Her most recent novel is See Now Then. Kincaid is described as follows in The New York Times: “She has the gift of endowing common experience with a mythic ferocity... She is one of our most scouringly vivid writers.”

Binnie Kirshenbaumis the author of six novels and one short story collection. She has twice won the Critic's Choice Award and the Discovery Award. She was one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists and one of Paper magazine's Beautiful People. Her books have been selected as Favorite Books of the Year by The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek Magazine, Vogue and National Public Radio. Her work has been translated into seven languages. She is a professor and Fiction Director at Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts.

John McWhorter has taught linguistics, American Studies, and classes in the Core Curriculum program at Columbia University, since 2008 where he is currently an Associate Professor in the English and Comparative Literature department. He was Contributing Editor at The New Republic from 2001 to 2014. From 2006 to 2008 he was a columnist for the New York Sun and he has written columns regularly for The RootThe New York Daily News, The Daily Beast, CNN and Time Ideas. He has published a number of books on linguistics and on race relations, of which the better known are Power of Babel: A Natural History of LanguageOur Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of EnglishDoing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why You Should, Like, Care, and Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. He makes regular public radio and television appearances on related subjects.

James Miller is the author of a controversial book about rock and roll, Flowers in the Dustbin (Simon & Schuster). His earlier books include two titles nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award: Democracy Is in the Streets (1987), a study of the American student left in the 1960s, and The Passion of Michel Foucault (1993), a critical biography of the contemporary French thinker. Director of the graduate program in liberal studies at the New School, and, until recently, editor of Daedalus (the magazine of the American Academy of Arts & Letters), Miller writes often for such publications as TheNew York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the New Republic. He has also written extensively about popular culture, reviewing for Rolling Stone and, for 12 years, serving as book and music critic for Newsweek. Of Miller’s best-selling book Democracy Is in the Streets, critics wrote, “brings the sixties alive in its passion, in its idealism, in its follies” (Ronald Steel); and “an outstanding work” (Hendrick Hertzberg). His latest book, entitled Examined Lives, received a rave review on the front page of The New York Times Book Review

Joyce Carol Oates is a National Book Award winning novelist, short-story writer, poet, and critic, who has produced more than 30 novels and many books of stories, among them Blonde, We Were the Mulvaneys, Zombie, Foxfire, American Appetites, Bellefleur, The Wheel of Love, and A Garden of Earthly Delights. Walter Clemons wrote of her in Newsweek, “Like the most important writers…she has an absolute identification with her material: the spirit of a society at a crucial point in its history.” Oates, who has had two national bestsellers (Blonde and We Were the Mulvaneys), now teaches creative writing at NYU after many years as the Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University. Her recent books include A Widow’s Story: A Memoir, Missing Mom and High Lonesome.

Michael Ondaatje is one of the world’s foremost writers – his artistry and aesthetic have influenced an entire generation of writers and readers. Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje’s work also encompasses poetry, memoir, and film, and reveals a passion for defying conventional form. His transcendent novel The English Patient, explores the stories of people history fails to reveal by intersecting four diverse lives at the end of World War II. This bestselling novel was later made into an Academy Award-winning film. In 2018 The English Patient was named the best winner of the Booker Prize of the last 50 years, by public vote. From the memoir of his childhood, Running in the Family, to his Governor-General’s Award-winning book of poetry, There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning To Do, to his classic novel, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje casts a spell over his readers. And having won the British Commonwealth’s highest honor, the Booker Prize, he has taken his rightful place as a contemporary literary treasure. He is the author of four collections of poetry including The Cinnamon Peeler and most recently, Handwriting. Ondaatje’s work of non-fiction is The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, which unites his love of literature and passion for the art of filmmaking. His works of fiction include In the Skin of the Lion, The English Patient, Anil's Ghost, Divisadero, and The Cat's TableHis novel Warlight is a New York Times bestseller. Ondaatje is also a filmmaker, creator of 3 documentary films in the 1970s. The Clinton Special: A Film about the Farm Show (1974) is about a group of actors who went into an Ontario farming community to build a play about what they saw and learned.  Sons of Captain Poetry (1970) is about the poet bpNichol.  Carry On Crime and Punishment (1970) is a whimsical docu-drama about crooked poets trying to kidnap a dog. He has garnered several literary prizes including The Booker Prize for Fiction, The Irish Times International Prize for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the Prix Medicis, the Governor-General’s Award, and the Giller Prize.

Caryl Phillips teaches at Yale University and is the author of many books of fiction and non-fiction. Dancing In The Dark (2005) was a finalist for the National Book Award (“a devastating novel,” wrote Donna Seaman in a starred review for Booklist: ”Given the drama and beauty of his writing and the freshness of his insights into both personal and social conundrums regarding race and identity, Phillips is in a league with Toni Morrison and V.S. Naipaul”). Winner of the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Phillips is the author of such works as Cambridge, The Nature of Blood, The Final Passage, A Distant Shore, and The Atlantic Sound.

Robert Pinsky was the Poet-Laureate of the US and is the author of many books of poetry and prose. His books of poetry include The Figured Wheel, Jersey Rain, The Want Bone, Gulf Music and (2016) At The Foundling Hospital. Louise Gluck writes of his work: “Robert Pinsky has what I think Shakespeare must have had: dexterity combined with worldliness, the magician’s dazzling quickness fused with subtle intelligence….Like the Elizabethans, he is in his practice a tinkerer: restless, endlessly curious; these qualities have produced an art whose scope and complexity and grandeur are rarely equaled by any of his contemporaries.

Katha Pollitt is the author of the poetry collections The Mind-Body Problem (2009) and Antarctic Traveller (1981), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her poems have been featured in several anthologies, including The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006) and Best American Poetry 2011. Pollitt’s columns for The Nation, the New York Times, and the New Yorker are compiled in Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism (1995), which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Subject to Debate: Sense and Dissents on Women, Politics, and Culture (2001); and Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (2006). The title piece of her personal essay collection Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (2007) was anthologized in Best American Essays (2003). A Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, Pollitt has also received a Whiting Foundation Writing Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has taught poetry at Princeton University, Barnard College, and the 92nd Street Y. She lives in Berlin, Germany.

Francine Prose is the author of many acclaimed works of fiction, including Guided Tours of Hell, Primitive People, and Bigfoot Dreams. Her novel, Blue Angel, was hailed in Publishers Weekly as “a peerlessly accomplished performance…timelessly funny,” and in Mademoiselle as a “funny yet devastating novel that will rock literary and academic worlds alike.” Prose is a contributing editor of Harper’s and writes for The New Yorker, Gentleman’s Quarterly, and Atlantic Monthly. Recent books include The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women& The Artists They Inspired, Caravaggio, and A Changed Man. Other recent titles include the novels Goldengrove and Lovers At The Chameleon Club. Her recent non-fiction books include Reading Like A Writer, and Anne Frank.

Victoria Redelis the author of the novels Loverboy and The Border of Truth, as well as two books of short stories and two volumes of poems. Loverboy was made into a successful feature film directed by Kevin Bacon and starring Kyra Sedgwick, and the book was named a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. “Lyrical and chillingly realistic,” wrote the reviewer for Elle. In Publishers Weekly, The Border of Truth was described as “colorful, endearing…Redel offers a welcome and fresh perspective on the subject of the holocaust.” Of her latest book of stories, Make Me Do Things (2013) William Kennedy writes: “The stories here zing along with great fluency and wit and relentless surprise…a wonderfully talented writer.” Redel teaches in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence.

James Woodhas been a staff writer and book critic at The New Yorker since 2007. In 2009, he won the National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism. He was the chief literary critic at the Guardian, in London, from 1992 to 1995, and a senior editor at The New Republic from 1995 to 2007. His critical essays are collected in The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief; The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays. He is also the author of the novel The Book Against God and a study of technique in the novel, How Fiction Works. His latest novel, Upstate, was published in June, 2018. He is a professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University.


 Joanna Scott signs book for student – photo by Jim McLaughlin
 Joanna Scott signs book for student  – photo by Jim McLaughlin