David Henry Hwang

At the lecture: David Henry Hwang (with a little help from his mom) told us about his experiences growing up, how he became a writer, and his “search for authenticity more truthful than the images we see in the media.” He also talked about the importance of the unconscious mind, crossing cultural borders, and the fluidity of identity. He told our audience, “The artist creates art, but the art also recreates the artist.” In addition, he discussed his insights into ethnicity and transculturation and said that “stereotypes are bad writing.”

Obie- and Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang has been described by the New York Times as "a true original" and by Time magazine as the "first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller." Perhaps best known as the author of M. Butterfly (winner of a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award, it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) he is also America's most produced living opera librettist. Hwang's plays include Golden Child; Yellow Face; FOB; The Dance & the Railroad; and Family Devotions. His most recent play, Chinglish, a hit comedy about an American businessman in China, was named Best New American Play by Time magazine. Hwang has written four works with composer Philip Glass, including 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, while other of his libretti have been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Bavarian State Opera, and Lincoln Center. The Deutsche Grammofone recording of his libretto for Ainadamar won two Grammy Awards, after reaching the top of Billboard magazine’s classical music charts. Hwang's Broadway musicals include a new book for Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, which earned a Tony nomination. He co-wrote the book for the international hit, Disney's Aida, with music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice. That play won four Tony Awards and ran more than four years on Broadway. Currently, Hwang is writing The Forgotten Arm with singer/songwriter Aimee Mann and Paul Bryant, based on her album, for the Public Theatre. Hwang's screen work includes the screenplays for films including M. Butterfly; Golden Gate, directed by John Madden; The Lost Empire, and an NBC television miniseries. He co-authored the screen adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Possession, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for an article about David Henry Hwang in the New York Times

Colum McCann

At the lecture: Colum McCann talked about the art of writing, the art of living, and the art of peace. He regaled us with stories from his cross-country bike trip across the U.S. and told us that it was during that time he learned "the dignity of listening." He said stories shape us and that "listening and telling stories create social radical transformation."

Irish novelist Colum McCann, a dual citizen of the US and Ireland, is the winner of the National Book Award for the novel, Let the Great World Spin, which received unprecedented international recognition upon its release. His earlier works include Dancer, Zoli, and Everything in this Country Must. His next novel, TransAtlantic, will be published in summer, 2013.

McCann is a member of the Irish Academy, Aosdana, and was awarded a Chevalier des arts et lettres by the French government, making him one of an exclusive number of foreign artists recognized in France for their literary contributions: other recipients have included Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie and Julian Barnes. McCann’s fiction has been published in 30 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Bomb and other places. He has written for numerous publications including The New York Times, the Irish Times, Die Zeit, La Repubblica, Paris Match, the Guardian, The Times and The Independent.

The territory of McCann’s work is also international – his topics have ranged from homeless people in the subway tunnels of New York, to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, to the effects of 9/11, to a poetic examination of the life and culture of the Roma in Europe.

His many awards and honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Rooney Prize, the Hennessy Award for Irish Literature, the Irish Independent Hughes and Hughes/Sunday Independent Novel of the Year Award.

“I believe in the democracy of story-telling,” said McCann in an interview. “I love the fact that our stories can cross all sorts of borders and boundaries. I feel humbled by the notion that I’m even a small part of the literary experience. I grew up in a house, in a city, in a country shaped by books. I don’t know of a greater privilege than being allowed to tell a story, or to listen to a story. They’re the only thing we have that can trump life itself.”

Click here to listen to an interview with Colum McCann from NPR's Talk of the Nation

Lisa Scottoline

At the lecture: Lisa Scottoline told our audience that she grew up in an Italian home with lots of love, lots of meatballs, and one book…TV Guide. She talked about her father taking her to the library where she picked out Sherlock Holmes (who was illustrated on the cover with a “Scottoline nose”) and Nancy Drew (who is "a girl in the driver’s seat"). And she discussed how her mother and Nancy Drew are the strong female influences that inspire her to write her own strong female characters. Scottoline also told us that books bind us together and show us what’s true--that is why books matter.

Beloved best-selling novelist Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 20 novels, including her latest, Don't Go. Her novel Look Again was named one of the best novels of the year by The Washington Post. Scottoline is also the recipient of the Edgar Award, the Fun, Fearless, Fiction Award by Cosmopolitan magazine, and has been named a PW Innovator by Publisher's Weekly. Past president of the Mystery Writers of America, she has taught a course she developed called "Justice and Fiction," at The University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater.

Scottoline's novels are richly emotional page-turners popular for their down-to-earth characters, which resonate with readers and reviewers long after they have finished the books. They include The Vendetta Offense, Lady Killer, Devil's Corner, and several books of essays, including Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog and Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim.

Click here for an article about Lisa Scottoline in USA Today

Carl Zimmer

At the lecture: Carl Zimmer took our audience on a journey to the center of the brain from medieval medicine to today's cutting edge technology. We learned that Aristotle thought of the brain as the body's air conditioner and that we all have a "Jennifer Aniston neuron." "The world is not an obvious place," Zimmer said, "and the brain, in particular, is not an obvious place."

Science writer Carl Zimmer's books include Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, (called “as fine a book as one will find on the subject” by Scientific American); Soul Made Flesh, A History of Neuroscience named one of the top 100 books of the year by The New York Times Book Review; At the Water’s Edge; and Parasite Rex, which the Los Angeles Times hailed as “a book capable of changing how we see the world.” His 2008 book, Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, was hailed as “quietly revolutionary” by The Boston Globe and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize. Zimmer is also the author of the ground-breaking textbook about evolution, The Tangled Bank, which Edward O. Wilson praised “the best written and best illustrated introduction to evolution of the Darwin centennial decade, and also the most conversant with ongoing research.” Zimmer writes regularly for National Geographic, The New York Times, and Discover. His work has appeared in The Best American Science series as well as The Best American Science and Nature Writing series. Along with the National Academies of Science Prize, he has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He is a lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches science writing. Click here for an article by Carl Zimmer in Discover

Judy Collins

At the lecture: Judy Collins began by singing “Both Sides Now” to a standing ovation. After that she invited the audience to sing along with her to “Gypsy Rover” and we all ended the evening with Judy Collins leading us in a verse of “Amazing Grace.” Collins also spoke candidly about growing up in a musical family, her efforts in the peace movement, the folk scene in the ‘60s, and mental health issues.

Judy Collins has thrilled audiences worldwide with her unique blend of interpretative folksongs and contemporary themes in an impressive career spanning more than 50 years. She released her first album, A Maid of Constant Sorrow, at the age of 22 and began a thirty-five year association with Jac Holzman and Elektra Records. She interpreted the songs of fellow artists, particularly the social poets of the time such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. Collins was instrumental in bringing other singer-songwriters to a wider audience including poet/musician Leonard Cohen⎯and musicians Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman.

She is also noted for her rendition of Joni Mitchell's “Both Sides Now” on her 1967 album, Wildflowers which has since been entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Winning "Song of the Year” at the 1975 Grammy Awards was Judy's version of “Send in the Clowns,” a ballad written by Stephen Sondheim for the Broadway musical A Little Night Music. Judy has continued an impressive musical career with an extensive catalog from every decade throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and up to the present.

Judy has authored several books, including the inspirational memoir Sanity & Grace, focusing on the death of her only son, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes devoted to her life in music. In 1999, Judy founded her own record label, Wildflower Records - a grass roots artist driven label committed to nurturing fresh talent.

Click here for a review of Judy Collin's Sweet Judy Blue Eyes in the New York Times

Simon Rich

Humorist Simon Rich was a recent graduate of Harvard when he became one of the youngest writers ever to be hired by Saturday Night Live. He went on to write for the show for four seasons. His work is frequently seen in the "Shouts and Murmurs" column of The New Yorker. His first book, Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations, received a nomination for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. Elliot Allagash, his first novel, was a Pygmalion-esque tale set in an American high school. He followed with the sharply comedic novel, What in God’s Name, which sets forth the premise that the creator is a distracted CEO running the universe as a corporation, while angels do the hard work of programming earthly miracles via computers.

"Simon Rich’s first novel, the prep-school sendup Elliot Allagash, drew comparisons to Evelyn Waugh and P. G. Wodehouse," says The New York Times. "His new novel, What in God’s Name, evokes another titan of English comedy: Douglas Adams. Like Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Rich drags heaven down to Earth." His most recent work, The Last Girlfriend on Earth, is a collection of very funny short stories about love.

Click here for an interview with Simon Rich on NPR's Weekend Edition