Elizabeth Alexander is a prize-winning and New York Times bestselling author, renowned poet, educator, scholar, and cultural advocate. Her most recent book, The Trayvon Generation, is a galvanizing meditation on the power of art and culture to illuminate America’s unresolved problem with race and the challenges facing young Black America. Among the fifteen books she has authored or co-authored, her memoir, The Light of the World, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2015 and her poetry collection American Sublime was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2006.
Notably, Dr. Alexander composed and recited “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Over the course of an esteemed career in education, she has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and Yale University, where she taught for fifteen years and chaired the African American Studies Department. Dr. Alexander is currently president of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in the arts, culture, and humanities.
Farah Jasmine Griffin the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, where she also served as the inaugural Chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies. Professor Griffin received her B.A. in History & Literature from Harvard and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale. She is the author or editor of eight books including Who Set You Flowin?: The African American Migration Narrative(Oxford, 1995, If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001), and Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II (Basic Books, 2013). Griffin collaborated with composer, pianist, Geri Allen and director, actor S. Epatha Merkerson on two theatrical projects, for which she wrote the book: The first, “Geri Allen and Friends Celebrate the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo,” with LizzWright, Dianne Reeves, Teri Lyne Carrington and others, premiered on the main stage of the Apollo Theater in May of 2013. The second, “A Conversation with Mary Lou” featuring vocalist Carmen Lundy, premiered at Harlem Stage in March 2014 and was performed at The John F. Kennedy Center in May of 2016. Her most book, Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature was published by W.W. Norton in September, 2021. Griffin is a 2021-22 Guggenheim Fellow and Mellon Foundation Fellow in Residence.