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Humanities Series Resumes in February

Billy Collins

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 19, 2012

Appearances by a slate of literary luminaries — among them Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz and US Poet Laureate emeritus Billy Collins — highlight this semester’s Lowell Humanities Series.

Other speakers include a celebrated young fiction writer, an historian talking about religion and disability, and a literary biographer discussing Boston writers on the brink of the Civil War, notes Professor of English and series director Carlo Rotella, who heads the American Studies Program.

The annual Candlemas Lecture on Feb 8. will kick off the series with Fordham University Theology Professor James T. Fisher presenting “A ‘Fallen-Away’ Catholic’s Monastic Vocation in Autismland.” An autism advocate and organizer of Fordham’s recent Autism and Advocacy conference, Fisher pursues research in the cultural history of religion and ethnicity in the US as well as American Catholic studies. His most recent book, On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie, and the Soul of the Port of New York, offers a fresh reading of the famous Elia Kazan film.

A look at other Lowell Humanities Series events this semester:

Feb. 15: Fiction Days presents Junot Diaz, author of the 2008 Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (other honors included the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award). His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, African Voices, Best American Short Stories, Pushcart Prize XXII and The O. Henry Prize Stories.

March 1: Poetry days presents Billy Collins, whose combination of high critical acclaim and broad popular appeal recalls Robert Frost, according to event organizers. A former US Poet Laureate and New York State Poet Laureate, Collins is a Guggenheim fellow and a New York Public Library “Literary Lion” whose work has appeared in periodicals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review and The American Scholar. He is a distinguished professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York, and a senior distinguished fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College.

March 21: In collaboration with the McMullen Museum spring semester exhibition, “Rural Ireland: the Inside Story,” Irish art historian Claudia Kinmonth will speak about her groundbreaking scholarship in Irish Rural Interiors in Art, which helped inspire the exhibition. Her research reveals that — contrary to earlier assumptions — artists working in Ireland turned to the lives of the country’s rural poor for subject matter. Her discovery of previously unknown works, including some depicting an impoverished peasantry, constitute an insufficiently recognized tradition of Irish genre painting warranting further investigation, organizers say.

March 28: Téa Obreht’s fiction debut, the New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist The Tiger’s Wife, was excerpted in The New Yorker and selected for the 2010 Best American Nonrequired Reading. Her short story “The Laugh” was published in The Atlantic and appears in the 2010 Best American Short Stories. The youngest writer to be selected for The New Yorker’s “Best 20 Writers Under 40,” Obreht also was named one of the “Best 5 Writers Under 35” by the National Book Foundation.

April 11: Brenda Wineapple’s most recent book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, a winner of the Washington Arts Club National Award for arts writing, a New York Times “Notable Book,” and ranked among the best nonfiction of the year by numerous publications. She is also the author of Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner; Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein; and the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life. Her talk, “On the Brink of War: Literary Boston in 1860,” is presented in conjunction with the Forgotten Chapters project, led by Professor of English Paul Lewis.

April 25: Award-winning science writer Rebecca Skloot has made a career of probing the intersections between hard science and human experience. Her bestselling 2010 book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, tells the story of a young black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 and left behind an inexplicably immortal line of cells —harvested without her knowledge or consent — that contributed to various scientific advancements. Part detective story, part scientific odyssey and part family saga, Skloot’s book raises questions about race, class and bioethics in America. This event is presented in partnership with the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics.

Complete series details, including event times and locations, are available online here. The series is sponsored by the Lowell Institute, the Boston College Institute for the Liberal Arts and the Provost’s Office.