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The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy

The Arts and the Culture of Democracy

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Thursday, September 11, 2014
6:00 p.m.
Devlin Hall, Room 101


  • Edward Hirsch
  • Fiona Smith (presenting on behalf of James Boyd White)
  • Lawrence Weschler
  • Carlo Rotella

Part of "The Arts and the Culture of Democracy" Series.

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about the event


There is a conversation between the arts and democracy that is vital but often invisible, and which sustains and contributes to that human flourishing we hope for from democratic society. What is the nature of that conversation? While there may be tension between any kind of explicit political agenda and great art, can we say that the arts give to democratic culture a picture of human thriving that reminds us we are not yet done with the question of what it is to pursue happiness?


about the speakers


Edward Hirsch, Poet. Photo by Julie Dermansky.

Edward Hirsch is an American poet and critic. He was born in Chicago in 1950 and was educated at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a Ph.D. in Folklore. 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. Since then, he has published six additional books of poems: The Night Parade (1989), Earthly Measures (1994), On Love (1998), Lay Back the Darkness (2003), Special Orders (2008), and The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2010), which brings together thirty-five years of poems. Hirsch is also the author of five prose books, including A Poet’s Glossary (2014), Poet’s Choice (2006), How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999), and is the editor of Theodore Roethke’s Selected Poems (2005) and co-editor of The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology (2008).

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 currently serves as the President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.


Professor Fiona Smith

Fiona Smith is a Professor of International Economic Law at the School of Law at the University of Warwick. She is a graduate of the University of Wales, where she received her LL.B., and the University of Leicester, where she obtained her LL.M. and Ph.D. Her research interests are in international economic law, particularly the law of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She has published widely on WTO law and is an expert on international agricultural trade, and has spoken widely about her research in the United States, Europe, and East Asia. As a consequence of her work, she was invited to become a member of the editorial board of the journal Jurisprudence and was also appointed as an expert on international economic law to the Research Foundation Flanders.

Smith was first introduced to James Boyd White’s work when she was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Minnesota in 2008. She was inspired to use White’s work as a methodology for her own work on international agricultural trade regulation, arguing that pro-environmental reforms were never fully incorporated into trade agreements due to differences in use of language between environmentalists and trade lawyers, and that this difference must be abridged. She has also edited a symposium on Law and Language published by Oxford University Press, and is currently working on a book on food security in international economic law, which also incorporates White’s ideas about the power of language and the use of speech.

Smith is the Founding and now Co-Director of the WTO Scholar’s Forum, an initiative designed to bring together experts on the law of the World Trade Organization to discuss topical issues. She recently completed a two-year project entitled Food Security, Foreign Direct Investment and Multilevel Governance in Weak States with support from a grant from the Swiss National Fund. Before joining the University of Warwick, Smith previously taught at the University College of London, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Leicester.

Professor Smith will be discussing the work of James Boyd White at this event.


James Boyd White

James Boyd White is an American law professor, literary critic, scholar, and philosopher who is credited for founding the “Law and Literature” movement. White is a graduate of Amherst College, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Graduate School, where he obtained an M.A. in English. After graduation from law school, White spent a year as a Sheldon Fellow in Europe and practiced law in Boston for two years. He began his teaching career at the University of Colorado Law School and also was a professor at both the Law School and College of the University of Chicago.

He has published numerous books: The Legal Imagination (1973), Constitutional Criminal Procedure (1976), When Words Lose Their Meaning: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character, and Community (1984), Heracles' Bow: Essays in the Rhetoric and Poetics of the Law (1985), Justice as Translation: An Essay in Cultural and Legal Criticism (1990), "This Book of Starres": Learning to Read George Herbert (1994), Acts of Hope: The Creation of Authority in Literature, Law, and Politics (1994), From Expectation to Experience: Essays on Law and Legal Education (2000), The Edge of Meaning (2001); and in 2006, both Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force and an edited volume, How Should We Talk About Religion?

White has served as a governor of the Chicago Council of Lawyers and is a member of the American Law Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 1997-98. He is currently a professor of English emeritus and the L. Hart Wright Collegiate Professor.


Lawrence Weschler, author.

Lawrence Weschler is an American author of works of creative nonfiction. He is a graduate of Cowell College of the University of California at Santa Cruz. He was a staff writer at The New Yorker for over twenty years and was a two-time recipient of the George Polk Award (for Cultural Reporting and Magazine Reporting) and a Lannan Literary Award.  He has taught previously at Princeton University, Columbia University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Bard College, Vassar College, Sarah Lawrence College, and New York University.

Weschler’s books of political reportage include The Passion of Poland (1984), A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers (1990), and Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas (1998). His “Passions and Wonders” series currently comprises Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin (1982), David Hockney’s Cameraworks (1984); Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder (1995), which was shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, A Wanderer in the Perfect City: Selected Passion Pieces (1998), Boggs: A Comedy of Values (1999), Robert Irwin: Getty Garden (2002), Vermeer in Bosnia (2004), Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences (2006), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism in 2007, and Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative (2011).

Weschler is currently the director emeritus of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, where he has been a fellow since 1991, and is the artistic director emeritus with the Chicago Humanities Festival. He is a contributing editor to McSweeney’s, the Threepenny Review, and The Virginina Quarterly Review and recently retired from his position as Chair of the Sundance Documentary Film Festival. He is currently a distinguished writer-in-residence at the Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.


Professor Carlo Rotella

Carlo Rotella is the Director of the American Studies Program and Director of the Lowell Humanities Series at Boston College. He received his B.A. at Wesleyan University and received his Ph.D. at Yale University. He regularly writes for The New York Times Magazine and the Washington Post Magazine, is a regular columnist for the Boston Globe, and is a commentator for WGBH FM. Rotella is also an editor of the "Chicago Visions and Revisions" series at the University of Chicago Press.

Rotella’s published works include October Cities (1998), Good With Their Hands; Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt (2002), and Cut Time: An Education at the Fights (2003), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Playing in Time: Essays, Profiles, and Other True Stories (2012). His articles and chapters have also appeared in The New Yorker, Critical Inquiry, American Quarterly, The American Scholar, Raritan, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, Transition, Harper's, DoubleTake, Boston, Slate, The Believer, TriQuarterly, and The Best American Essays.

Rotella has held Guggenheim, Howard, and Du Bois fellowships and received the Whiting Writers Award, the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award, and The American Scholar's prizes for Best Essay and Best Work by a Younger Writer. He has also received U.S. Speaker and Specialist Grants from the State Department to lecture in China and Bosnia and Herzegovina. At Boston College, Rotella specializes in American Studies, urban literature and culture, American literature, and creative nonfiction writing.


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