LIU Brooklyn to Host MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ Winner John Keene at This Years’ Paumanok Lecture


Acclaimed fiction writer and 2018 MacArthur Fellow John Keene will deliver this year’s prestigious “Starting from Paumanok” lecture at the LIU Brooklyn’s Kumble Theater on April 10, starting at 7 p.m.

This year’s annual event, which takes its name from a poem by Walt Whitman, comes a month before the 200thanniversary of his birth on May 31, 1819. The lecture’s title invokes the Native American word for Long Island and acknowledges the University’s geographic and cultural connection to one of Brooklyn’s—and Long Island’s—foremost literary figures. Among those who’ve previously appeared here are the novelists Sandra Cisneros, Gary Shteyngart and Edwidge Danticat; the poets Claudia Rankine and Tracy K. Smith; and the playwright Lynn Nottage.

Winner of the American Book Award and the Windham Campbell Prize in Fiction, John Keene received an A.B. from Harvard University and an M.F.A. from New York University. Currently he is a professor and chair of the Department of African American and African Studies and a professor in the Department of English at Rutgers University-Newark.

Keene was a member of the Dark Room Collective and a graduate fellow of Cave Canem. He is the author of the novel “Annotations”; the poetry collection “Seismosis,” an art-text collaboration with artist Christopher Stackhouse; and the short-fiction collection, “Counternarratives.” His writing has appeared in TriQuarterly, the Kenyon Reviewand Ploughshares, among other journals. He translated Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s novel, “Letters from a Seducer,” from Portuguese.

Following the talk by John Keene, Parsons Family University Professor of Creative Writing Erica Hunt will join him on stage for a short interview before taking questions from the audience. Afterwards, he will sign books in the Kumble Theater lobby, thanks to a partnership with Greenlight Books in Brooklyn. The lecture is free and open to the public.

“John Keene just got a MacArthur as well as the Windham Campbell award—these are the two big prizes in literature outside of the Nobel. It’s really quite something,” said Professor Hunt, who knows Keene well. “He’s a modest guy. But this is the chance to see an individual whose mark on literature is at the level of a Toni Morrison, a James Baldwin or a William Styron.”

She sung his praises for his latest book, “Counternarratives.”

“If history is written by the victors, what he’s done is re-center the story and question whether the victors really had command over the story,” she explained. “He helps us see old stories anew. In a way, he has transformed what is possible in literature. We get a sense of the lives that were lived and perhaps lost, but he has recovered them for us. We see them fresh and bracing, and in them, he provides a script for ourselves about how we might depart from the dead end of the present time.”

The Paumanok Lecture is presented by the Department of English, Philosophy and Languages at LIU Brooklyn, with ongoing support from the Mellon Foundation Fund and LIU’s John P. McGrath Fund.

“Walt Whitman set out to be a poet of American democracy, and insisted in all of his works on the goodness of Americans and our nation’s capacity to embrace people of all walks of life,”said Leah Dilworth, Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English, Philosophy, and Languages at LIU Brooklyn. “He saw himself as almost literally embodying every aspect of American life and as a medium who sang the ‘varied carols’ of all Americans. Now, more than ever, we need a voice like Whitman’s, and I for one am comforted by his words to future Americans at the end of his epic poem ‘Song of Myself’: ‘Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,/ Missing me one place search another,/ I stop somewhere waiting for you.’

“In this spirit,” Dilworth continued, “every year the Paumanok Lecture celebrates poets and writers and thinkers who, like Whitman, sing America.”

Time: 7:00-8:30 p.m.

Date: Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Place: Kumble Theater, LIU Brooklyn,  1 University Plaza, Brooklyn

For more information on the Paumanok lecture series, contact Leah Dilworth, Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English, Philosophy, and Languages at LIU Brooklyn, 718-488-1050;

For more information on Paumanok Lecture speakers, click here.  (with bios and dates of lecture)