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The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy

Authority and Authoritarianism in Fiction and Politics

typerwriter and event title

Thursday, November 12, 2015
6:00 p.m.
Devlin Hall, Room 101

Part of The Arts and the Culture of Democracy Series


  • Edward Hirsch
  • Elizabeth Graver
  • Gish Jen
  • Adam Johnson

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about the event


Both the authoritative and the authoritarian in literature and law rely on narratives for their claims to legitimacy. Authority, as James Boyd White writes, is a way of talking and thinking, an activity of mind and imagination and art; it receives its fullest definition performatively, as the writer finds a way of using language that creates a community of discourse, and offers the reader a place from which to observe and judge the world itself. What stories are we telling in 21st century fiction and politics? What stories are not being told? This conversation seeks to engage such questions.



about the speakers

Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch is a celebrated poet and peerless advocate for poetry. He was born in Chicago in 1950—his accent makes it impossible for him to hide his origins—and educated at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in Folklore. His devotion to poetry is lifelong.

He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, the Prix de Rome, and an Academy of Arts and Letters Award. In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Edward Hirsch’s first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (1981), received the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University and the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (1986), won the National Book Critics Award.

Edward Hirsch taught for six years in the English Department at Wayne State University and seventeen years in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston. He is now president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Elizabeth Graver

Elizabeth Graver’s fourth novel, The End of the Point, was long-listed for the 2013 National Book Award in Fiction and selected as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.  Her other novels are Awake, The Honey Thief, and Unravelling. Her story collection, Have You Seen Me?, won the 1991 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories (1991, 2001); Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (1994, 1996, 2001), The Pushcart Prize Anthology (2001), and Best American Essays (1998). She teaches at Boston College and is at work on a new project that draws on the Sephardic Jewish history of her family.

Gish Jen

Gish Jen is the author of four novels, a collection of short stories and a volume of lectures, Jen has published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and dozens of other periodicals and anthologies, including The Best American Short Stories of 1988, 1995 and 2013, as well as The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike.


Nominated for a National Book Critics’ Circle Award and an International IMPAC Dublin Book Award, her work was also featured in a PBS American Masters’ special on the American novel, and is widely taught. Jen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study fellowship, and numerous other awards. In 2003, an American Academy of Arts and Letters jury comprised of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Don DeLillo, and Joyce Carol Oates granted her a five-year Mildred and Harold Strauss Living award; Jen also delivered the Massey lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University in 2012. Her most recent book, Tiger Writing: Art, Culture and the Interdependent Self is based on those lectures.

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson is Associate Professor of English with emphasis in creative writing at Stanford University, where he has been a professor since 1999. A Whiting Writers’ Award winner, his work has appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, Playboy, GQ, Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, The New York Times and Best American Short Stories. He is the author of Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us. His books have been translated into twenty-three languages. Johnson was a 2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. His novel The Orphan Master’s Son was published in 2012 by Random House and received the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. He was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2013-14.