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Elizabeth Alexander
Elizabeth Alexander
Inaugural Poet 
 Arts Advocate
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Elizabeth Alexander
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Acclaimed Poet, Author, and Social Justice Arts Advocate Elizabeth Alexander made history when she composed and delivered her poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, making her only one of five poets to have his or her work elevated by the honor. But according to Publisher’s Weekly, Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems will “cement Alexander’s status as much more than the inaugural poet.”     

Until 2017 Alexander served as the director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation, a role in which she directed and guided grant-making in the arts, media and culture. In her two years at Ford, Alexander worked to blend the expertise of grant making teams from different disciplines into a coherent effort to challenge inequality. Elizabeth created a global strategy, using the lens of African diaspora, to link cultural work that disrupts race-based inequality. Some of her initiatives include Art for Change and Art for Justice.

Her New York Times bestselling memoir and Pulitzer finalist, The Light of the World, tells the story of Alexander’s idyllic marriage and the unbearable grief she faced after the sudden death of her husband, an ordeal she discussed with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg in “Love, Loss and What Comes Next.” First Lady Michelle Obama named it her favorite book of 2015 and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, wrote, “This beautiful and sensitively told true love story will stay with me forever.”

She is the author of six books of poetry, including American Sublime, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, two collections of essays, including The Black Interior, and the acclaimed essay “‘Can You Be BLACK and Look at This’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s).” Her writings explore such subjects as race, gender, politics, art, and history.

Alexander is the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University and former Chair of Yale University’s Department of African American Studies. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the first Alphonse Fletcher St. Fellowship, and was appointed to the Pulitzer Prize Board

Alexander chaired the National Book Awards for poetry and delivered Princeton University’s Toni Morrison Lectures. She has interviewed Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Madonna, and Michelle Obama. Alexander frequently writes on pop culture – particularly focusing on artists engaged in social justice, philanthropy, and global thinking. A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Alexander was featured on the PBS 4-part seriesFaces of America, and has appeared on CBS Sunday MorningThe Colbert Report, and PBS NewsHour

Full Bio >
Videos
  • Elizabeth Alexander on The Colbert Report (2009)
  • NewsHour Interview: Elizabeth Alexander discusses her memoir,

 (2015)
  • Alexander reads at the White House with President Obama and Michelle Obama 
(2015)
  • Elizabeth Alexander is interviewed for PBS new series Faces of America (Part 4) 
(2010)
  • 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
We Need Poetry: Reading & Conversation with Elizabeth Alexander
Art & Activism: Pathways to Social Justice
Light of the World: Love, Loss, & Moving Forward
Seen and Unseen History: From Memories to Monuments
The African Diaspora: A New Renaissance
Philanthropy: Opportunities to Create
Beyond Inequality: The Power of Creativity & Free Expression
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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Testimonials
“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
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Keywords
African American History
African Diaspora
African-American Culture
American Dream
Art
Author
Black History
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Creativity
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Identity
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Inspirational
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