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Elizabeth Alexander
Inaugural Poet 
 Professor, Columbia
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Elizabeth Alexander
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Author of The Light of the World, Columbia University Professor, and poet Elizabeth Alexander made history when she composed and delivered a poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. She’s one of five poets to have his or her work elevated by the honor, but according to Publisher’s Weekly, Crave Radiance, her first retrospective volume, will “cement Alexander's status as much more than the inaugural poet.”

Her New York Times bestselling memoir, The Light of the World, tells the story of a life well-lived tragically cut short. Through her poetic and lucid prose, Alexander recounts her idyllic marriage and shares how she found the strength to keep on living after the sudden death of her husband. Joyce Carol Oates said, “The Light of the World, is as its title suggests, a bittersweet testament to love and the memory of love, one of the most compelling memoirs of loss that I have ever read.” First Lady Michelle Obama named it her favorite book of 2015.
An advocate of the arts as a critical element of civic dialogue, Alexander has been contributing to ongoing conversations about race, immigration, and social justice throughout her career. She once remarked, “Poetry is not meant to cheer; rather, poetry challenges, and moves us towards transformation.” In 2015, she conducted workshop for National Poetry Month at the White House.

The former Chair of Yale University’s Department of African American Studies, Alexander serves as the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the first Alphonse Fletcher St. Fellowship. The director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, she was recently appointed to the Pulitzer Prize Board. 

She chaired the National Book Awards for poetry and delivered Princeton University’s Toni Morrison Lectures. Her other works include 2010’s Crave Radiance, The Black Interior,, and Pulitzer Prize-finalist American Sublime. Featured on the PBS 4-part series, Faces of America, Alexander has also appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, PBS NewsHour, and The Colbert Report.

She is currently at work on a Library of America anthology covering 300 years of African American poetry.

Full Bio >
  • NewsHour Interview: Elizabeth Alexander discusses her memoir,

  • Alexander reads at the White House with President Obama and Michelle Obama 
  • Elizabeth Alexander on The Colbert Report 
  • Elizabeth Alexander is interviewed for PBS new series Faces of America (Part 4) 
  • How Hip-Hop Has Become a Gateway to Black Poetry
  • African American Poetry as the Sacred Word
  • Elizabeth Alexander attends the Aspen Ideas Festival
  • Elizabeth Alexander's Inaugural Poem
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Speaking Topics
Light of the World: Love, Loss, and Change
Creating a Creative Life
Why Poetry Matters
Hearing America Singing: Multi-Vocal Cultures in America

American culture has never been monolithic. We have always been a nation of immigrants, and American voices have always sung in varied registers. The age of Obama has not moved us “beyond race” but rather to a place where — if our Kenyan-Kansas African-American President raised in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and in Asia is at the center of who we are as Americans — then it is time to think about the possibilities of a more nuanced civic conversation about race and culture. Alexander discusses the rich and surprising overlaps in American cultures from varied traditions, all of which comprise the American tradition, in sometimes divergent, exciting conversation.

Read More >
The New Renaissance in African-American Arts
Girls to Women: A Lifetime of Living
A Poetry Reading and Conversation with Elizabeth Alexander
Books & Other Works
  • The Light of the World: A Memoir
  • Praise Song for the Day: A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration
  • Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems, 1990-2010
  • She Walks in Beauty: A Women's Journey Through Poems Selected by Caroline Kennedy
  • Praise Song for the Day - Children's Book
  • Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color
  • Power and Possibility: Essays, Reviews, and Interviews
  • The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (American Poets Project)
  • American Sublime
  • The Venus Hottentot: Poems
  • The Black Interior
  • Antebellum Dream Book
  • Body of Life: A Collection of Poems
  • American Blue: Selected Poems
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“She was amazing! We could not have asked for a warmer or more inspiring speaker. It was a wonderful program and gift to the kids!”
Eli's House
“Quite extraordinary! Elizabeth was wonderful with her remarks. Everyone LOVED her, from the classics Dean to the Chair of the board to the students.”
Simmons College
“Elizabeth Alexander was one of the VERY BEST speakers that we have ever had, and I'd be happy to tell anyone that. She was engaging, eloquent, wonderful with the Q&A and truly inspirational.”
Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures
“Elizabeth Alexander has written a brave and beautiful book about love and loss — the deep pain that comes with such a loss, and the redemptive realization that such pain is a small price to pay for such a love.”
Jeannette Walls on "The Light of the World"
“Elizabeth's lecture was pitched perfectly. The Students who attended the public lecture were very excited and engaged and asked lots of meaningful questions. There was also about twenty minutes or so of informal conversation during which Elizabeth took pictures with students and signed copies of her books”
Boston College
“Elizabeth Alexander was wonderful in every way. Her remarks at both the panel and the reading were fascinating. She is extraordinarily articulate-even for a poet!-and that, together with an immensely likable personality, is a heady brew. Her presence is magnetic, and she was very generous with her time and attention”
University of Kentucky
“She was wonderful.... Warm, inviting.... Nothing but accolades.”
The Links, Incorporated - Milford, CT Chapter
“This is a beautifully written, heartrendingly candid account of the abrupt loss of her husband by the distinguished poet Elizabeth Alexander. It is a vivid, intensely rendered elegy of a remarkable man—husband, father, artist, chef. Both a memoir and a portrait of marriage, "The Light of the World," is as its title suggests, a bittersweet testament to love and the memory of love, one of the most compelling memoirs of loss that I have ever read.”
Joyce Carol Oates on "The Light of the World"
“Dr. Alexander gave a thought-provoking and dynamic talk, and I continued to receive enthusiastic feedback for weeks after. Her visit is already generating lots of excitement and energy, and we're looking forward to her return.”
Penn State University
“Elizabeth Alexander brought a new level of sophistication to our celebratory event for the James Baldwin Scholars Program. She delivered a thoughtful and moving talk on James Baldwin's legacy and its impact on a new generation of students, writers, and intellectuals. It was very special.”
Hampshire College
“This stellar poet, one whose poems choreograph narratives that clearly demonstrate a rare imagination and sureness, presented a workshop and reading to a public community. Her poems and the reading of her work was an experience that her audience saw as being real and revelatory.”
University of South Carolina
“Elizabeth makes immediate and deep connections with audiences diverse in knowledge and background. They come away wanting to know more about her, her own work, her subject matter. She is a brilliant yet warm and accessible poet, speaker and interpreter of poetry--hers and others.”
Poets House, New York City
“Her reading was stunning, marked by her easy wit, her intense sense of history and place, her clear pleasure in language and the art of presenting poetry, and her sheer brilliance as a poet and thinker. . . [She] was a beacon of good humor and joy during the entire festival. . . Calabash has a policy of re-inviting guests only after four years have passed since their last visit. We have been sorely tested on that rule by Elizabeth Alexander. I fear we may have break our rule and have her back before 2011!”
Calabash International Literary Festival
African-American Culture
American Dream
Civic Engagement
Colleges & Universities
Commencement Speakers
Common Read
Cultural Identity
First Year Experience
Liberal Arts
Social Justice
Writer's Life