Starting From Paumanok (English Department Lecture Series on American Literature & Culture)

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Starting from Paumanok, a series of annual lectures on American literature and culture, was inaugurated by the English Department at Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus in 1983. By naming the series after Walt Whitman's great poem (which invokes the Algonkian name for Long Island), the English Department acknowledges Long Island University's geographic and cultural connection with one of Brooklyn's (and Long Island's) foremost literary figures.

Watch The Longest Island for announcements about the next lecture. You will also find the Paumanok listed in the calendar on our LibraryThing venue page.

The faculty of the English Department would like to thank the Mellon Foundation and Long Island University's John P. McGrath fund, which have made a significant and ongoing commitment to the series. We are also grateful to the History Department, the Honors Program, the English Department's Voices of the Rainbow Series, and the Gender Studies Program, which have also generously provided funding for the series over the years.

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Claudia Rankine
March 7, 2017

Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; and numerous video collaborations. She is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the MindFor Citizen, Rankine won the Forward Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was also nominated in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be a double nominee), the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. A finalist for the National Book Award, Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in New York City and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

Sandra Cisneros
October 6, 2015

Sandra Cisneros is the author of the highly acclaimed novel The House on Mango Street, and the story collection, Woman Hollering Creek. In addition to other novels and short stories, she has published collections of poetry, essays, and, most recently, a memoir, A House of My Own.  She is the recipient of numerous awards, including National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the Lannan Literary Award, the American Book Award, the Thomas Wolfe Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages. Cisneros is the founder of the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral and Macondo Foundations, which serve creative writers.

Gary Shteyngart
February 9, 2015

Russian American writer Gary Shteyngart is the author of the highly praised and best selling works Little Failure (a memoir) and three novels Super Sad True Love Story, Absurdistan, and The Russian Debutante's Handbook. All  of these writings, poignantly and with an abundance of humor,  discuss the author's experiences as an immigrant learning his ways in America.

Edwidge Danticat
February 25, 2014

Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti and immigrated to Brooklyn when she was twelve. She has written numerous novels, short story collections, and non-fiction books. Her most recent novel is Claire of the Sea Light. She is the winner of many prizes including the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur Fellows Program Genius Grant. This event was co-funded by the John McGrath Fund, the Mellon Fund, LIU Brooklyn’s English Department, Voices of the Rainbow, Gender Studies Program, LACS, and the Africana Studies Program.

Tracy K. Smith
2013 (February 5)


This bio was current at the time of the event. Tracy K. Smith is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Duende (2007) won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award. The Body's Question (2003) was the winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith was the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers Award in 2004 and a Whiting Award in 2005. After her undergraduate work at Harvard, Smith earned her MFA at Columbia before going on to be a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. She currently teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University, and has also taught at Columbia, City University of New York, and the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Brooklyn.

Alison Bechdel 
2012 (February 23)


This bio was current at the time of the lecture. For twenty-five years, Alison Bechdel, internationally-acclaimed lesbian cartoonist, wrote and drew the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, a chronicle considered “one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period” (Ms.). She is also the author of the best-selling graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which won an Eisner Award and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. Time Magazine namedFun Home the number one Best Book of 2006, declaring, "The unlikeliest literary success of 2006 is a stunning memoir about a girl growing up in a small town with her cryptic, perfectionist dad and slowly realizing that a) she is gay and b) he is too….This is a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other." Fun Home and Dykes to Watch Out For have been translated into many languages, and Bechdel, who lives in Vermont, has an ardent international following. She has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney’s, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times Book Review, and Granta, and her work is widely anthologized.

2011 (March 10)
Ha Jin

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Ha Jin, born in China, is a poet, fiction writer and essayist. He was a member of the People’s Liberation Army before coming to the United States in 1986.

He is the author of A Good Fall (about the Chinese immigrant experience in America),Waiting (Winner of a Nation Book Award and based on his five-year service in the communist Chinese Army), and War Trash (winner of a PEN Faulkner Award). 

He is currently a Professor of English at Boston University.

2010 (February 24)
Lynn Nottage


This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning playRuined has also received an OBIE, the Lucille Lortel Award, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Play (Manhattan Theatre Club, Goodman Theatre). Other plays include Intimate Apparel (New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play; Roundabout Theatre, CENTERSTAGE, South Coast Repertory);Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine (OBIE Award; Playwrights Horizons, London’s Tricycle Theatre); Crumbs from the Table of Joy; Las Meninas; Mud, River, StonePor’knockers and POOF!

Nottage is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2007 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” the National Black Theatre Festival’s August Wilson Playwriting Award, the 2004 PEN/Laura Pels Award for Drama, the 2005 Guggenheim Grant for Playwriting, as well as fellowships from the Lucille Lortel Foundation, Manhattan Theatre Club, New Dramatists and New York Foundation for the Arts.

Her most recent publications include: Ruined (TCG), Intimate Apparel and Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine: Two Plays(TCG) and Crumbs from the Table of Joy and Other Plays (TCG). She is a member of The Dramatists Guild, an alumna of New Dramatists and a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, where she is a visiting lecturer.

2008 (October 2)
Walter Mosley


This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Walter Mosely is the author of twenty-nine critically acclaimed books which have been translated into twenty-one languages. His popular mysteries featuring Easy Rawlins began with Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990. Others in the series include A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, and A Little Yellow Dog (both of which were New York Times bestsellers). Recently, Easy Rawlins has returned in Bad Boy Brawly Brown, Six Easy Pieces, Little Scarlet and Cinnamon Kiss, a 2006 New York Timesbestseller.

Mosley has written five works of literary fiction: RL's Dream; Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned; Walkin' the Dog; The Man in My Basement and Fortunate Son; three works of science fiction, Blue Light, Futureland and The Wave; and four works of nonfiction, Workin' on the Chain Gang, What Next, Life out of Context, and This Year You Write Your Novel. Two movies have been made from his work: Devil in A Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington and Always Outnumbered, starring Laurence Fishburne.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Grammy Award, the O'Henry Award, the Sundance Institute Risktaker Award for his creative and activist efforts, and the Anisfield Wolf Award, an honor given to works that increase the appreciation and understanding of race in America. 
Mosley created, along with The City College, a new Publishing Degree Program aimed at young urban residents. It is the only such program in the country. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he now lives in Brooklyn.

2008 (April 15)
Yvonne Seon

"The Importance of Africana Studies Programs"

This bio was current at the time of the lecture. Dr. Yvonne Seon is a renowned and respected innovator and administrator of Africana studies programs. She earned a B.A. degree from Allegheny University and an M.A. degree in American government and politics as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at American University. After living and working in the Congo shortly after its independence in 1961, Dr. Seon continued her studies at Union Institute, where she earned perhaps the first doctorate in African and African-American studies, a program she helped design. Dr. Seon is the founding director of the Bolinga Black Cultural Resources Center at Wright State University, where she returned in 2005 to serve as Distinguished Visiting Director. She was again appointed to direct the program in 2006, the same year she retired as Professor of African-American Studies in the History Department at Prince George’s Community College, Largo, Maryland. Dr. Seon has also taught black studies at University of Maryland at College Park, Wilberforce University, and Howard University. While raising three children, she earned an M.Div. from Howard University Divinity School and was the first African-American woman ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister. Deeply committed to others, Dr. Seon is on the Board of Directors of Africare, a private voluntary organization specializing in African development. She recently wroteTotem Games, a poetic exploration of her search for African identity.

Colson Whitehead
"Becoming a New York Writer"

The following bio was current at the time of the lecture. Colson Whitehead's first novel The Intuitionist won the Quality Paperback Book Club's New Voices Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway. The book concerned intrigue in the Department of Elevator Inspectors in a major metropolis. John Henry Days, an investigation of the legendary folk hero, came out in 2001 and won the Young Lions Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The Colossus of New York is a collection of impressionistic essays about the city. The question was, "What makes this place tick?" It was published in 2003. Whitehead's writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Granta, Harper's and Salon. He has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and a Whiting Award. The novel Apex Hides the Hurt concerns identity, history, and the adhesive bandage industry.

Tom Kerr
"Prison U: How the Late Tookie Williams and Other Incarcerated Writers are Teaching Us"

The following bio was current at the time of Tom Kerr's lecture. Formerly Director of Writing at L.I.U.'s Brooklyn Campus, Tom Kerr is an Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College. He was active in the media campaign to win clemency for Tookie Williams and is currently shopping Steve Champion's San Quentin death row memoir, One Day Deep: Meditations on Death Row, which he and a former student have edited over the last three years. Tom believes America's incarcerated writers, published and unpublished, have much to teach us. His commentaries have appeared in the online edition ofCounterpunch, the Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter, and various newspapers.

Andrew Ross
"Mental Labor, Mental Property"

Ed Bullins
"The Work of a Black Playwright"

Barbara Foley
"The Radical Origins of the Harlem Renaissance"

Nellie McKay
"African American Women Writers: Legacy & Influence on American Literature"

Edward Said
"American Humanism"

Paul Lauter
"Civil Rights and Literary Study"

Nell Irvin Painter
"Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol"

Deborah McDowell
"Viewing the Remains: Black Funerals/Black Families in Contemporary Photojournalism"

Ann Douglas
"Finding Mongrel Manhattan of the 1920s"

bell hooks
"Ending Racism: Building Community"

Arnold Rampersad
"Black Writers and the Religions of India"

Houston A. Baker, Jr.
"Hybridity, the Rap Race, and Pedagogy for the 1990s"

Carole Boyce Davies
"The Voices of Others: Black Women's Writing, Third World Politics, and Feminist Discourses"

Alfred Kazin
"A Creative Town: Foreign Artists and Writers in New York"

Vivian Gornick
"Willa Cather and the American Vision"

Elizabeth Hardwick
[Lecturing on Gertrude Stein]

Denis Donoghue
"America in Theory"

Irving Howe
"Work in American Literature"

Justin Kaplan
“…And from Hannibal: Whitman and Mark Twain”


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