This fall, American University’s Creative Writing MFA Program is bringing three award-winning writers to campus for readings, discussions, and book signings as part of its annual Visiting Writers Series. The events are free and open to the public (no RSVP necessary), giving students, faculty, and AU community members an opportunity to hear from some of the most gifted and politically engaged writers of our times.
- September 20
Masha Gessen is the author of eleven books, including Surviving Autocracy and The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award in 2017.
- October 16
Leila Aboulela’s work has received critical recognition for its depiction of the lives of Muslim women. She is the author of six novels including The Translator, a New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year.
- November 15
Valzhyna Mort is the author of three poetry collections, mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected, named one of the best poetry books of 2020 by The New York Times and NPR.
“Engaging with a writer who is active in the world today, and by active, I mean artistically and politically, is one of the most important foundational elements of our creative writing program,” says AU’s Rachel Louise Snyder, an award-winning journalist and writer who most recently published Women We Buried, Women We Burned: A Memoir. “We are teaching the literary citizens of tomorrow, those who will be at the forefront of making sense of an increasingly chaotic world. To see how others grapple with that chaos today, right now, and to discuss how art emerges from any given struggle is perhaps the most meaningful part of anyone’s education. It’s certainly the part that I hope burrows in the heart of our students for a lifetime.”
The Visiting Writers Series was established more than 40 years ago with the goal of bringing writers to campus who can speak about the craft of writing, but also about some of the most pressing issues facing the world. “So the hope is that there is something for everyone in these events,” says Snyder. “When I look back on my own experience as a student, I am so grateful I got to hear from people who are no longer with us. I didn’t know I was being handed a torch back then, but I hope I’ve done them proud.”
September 20, 8 p.m., SIS Founder's Room
Masha Gessen is the author of eleven books, including Surviving Autocracy and The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award in 2017. They have written about Russia, Ukraine, autocracy, LGBT rights, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump, among other subjects, for the New York Review of Books and New York Times. On a parallel track, they have been a science journalist, writing about AIDS, medical genetics, and mathematics; famously, they were dismissed as the editor of the Russian popular-science magazine Vokrug sveta for refusing to send a reporter to observe Putin hang-gliding with Siberian cranes. They are a Distinguished Professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, a Nieman Fellowship, the John Chancellor Award, the Hitchens Prize, and the Overseas Press Club Award for Best Commentary. In 2017, they became a staff writer at the New Yorker. After more than twenty years as a journalist and editor in Moscow, Gessen now lives in New York.
Image credit: Lena Di.
October 16, 7 p.m., SIS Founder's Room
Leila Aboulela is a Sudanese writer whose work has received critical recognition and a high profile for its depiction of the interior lives of Muslim women and its distinctive exploration of identity, migration, and Islamic spirituality. She is the author of six novels: River Spirit,Bird Summons; Minaret,The Translator, a New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year; The Kindness of Enemies; and Lyrics Alley, Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards. Aboulela was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and her latest story collection, Elsewhere, Home, won the Saltire Fiction Book of the Year Award. Her work has been translated into fifteen languages and she was long listed three times for the Orange Prize, (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction). Aboulela grew up in Khartoum and moved in her mid-twenties to Aberdeen.
Image credit: Rania Rustom.
November 15, 7 p.m., SIS Founder's Room
Valzhyna Mort is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of three poetry collections, Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2011) and, mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020), named one of the best poetry book of 2020 by The New York Times and NPR, and the winner of the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize and the 2022 UNT Rilke Prize. Mort is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, the Lannan Foundation, and the Amy Clampitt Foundation. Mort teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian.
Image credit: Valzhyna Mort.