2019 Speakers

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JILL ABRAMSON was the executive editor of the New York Times, the first woman to hold its most senior editorial position, between 2011 and 2014. During her 17 years at the paper, she was also the first woman to serve as its managing editor and as its Washington bureau chief. Before joining the Times, she spent 9 years on the Wall Street Journal. She is now a senior lecturer at Harvard University. 


NANA KWAME ADJEI-BRENYAH is from Spring Valley, New York. He was born in 1991 and is of Ghanaian-American descent. He graduated from SUNY Albany and went on to receive his MFA from Syracuse University, where George Saunders was his tutor and where he now teaches. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Guernica; Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing; Gravel and The Breakwater Review, where he was selected by ZZ Packer as the winner of the 2nd Annual Breakwater Review Fiction Contest. Friday Black is his first book. It was the winner of the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, a New York Times bestseller and one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018.


STUART BENNETT is an antiquarian bookseller and the founder of Stuart Bennett Rare Books. He was formerly a Christie’s (London) and Sotheby’s (New York) auctioneer and is the author of two novels and the Christie’s Collector’s Guide How to Buy Photographs (1987).


ANNE BLESSING is a former academic and teacher of American literature in various further educational institutions, including the College of Charleston and Tulane University. She was Secretary of the Board of the Charleston Library Society 2015-2019.

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DAVID W.BLIGHT is class of 1954 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehman Centre for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University.  He is the author and editor of a dozen books including American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era, and Race Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.


JUNG CHANG is the internationally bestselling author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China; Mao: The Unknown Story (with Jon Halliday); and The Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China.  Her books have been translated into over 40 languages and sold more than 15 million copies outside Mainland China, where they are still banned. She was born in China in 1952 and moved to Britain in 1978.


MATTHEW D’ANCONA is a British journalist and award-winning political columnist for the Guardian, London Evening Standard and International New York Times.  He was Deputy Editor of the Sunday Telegraph before becoming editor of The Spectator.  His books include  Post Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back.  He is now a Tortoise Media partner and editor.


DEBORAH EISENBERG is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow and the recipient of honors including the 2011 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a Whiting Writer’s Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Eisenberg has published four collections of stories: Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997), and Twilight of the Superheroes (2006). Her current collection is Your Duck Is My Duck. She is a professor of writing at Columbia University.


DEBORAH GAGE, Chair of the Charleston to Charleston Festival Board, is an art historian and dealer based in London. She is curator of the collection at Firle Place, Sussex and was one of the founders of the Charleston Trust.


FRYE GAILLARD is an award-winning journalist with over 30 published works on Southern history and culture. His most recent book, A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, Our Decade of Hope, Possibility, and Innocence Lost, was selected as one of NPR's Best Books of 2018. In 2019, Gaillard was awarded the Alabama Governor's Arts Award for his contributions to literature.


BELINDA GERGEL is the author of numerous works on South Carolina history. She is the former president of the Historic Columbia Foundation and the South Carolina Jewish Historical Society.


JUDGE RICHARD GERGEL is a United States District Judge in the United States District Court of South Carolina. Widely regarded for his sharp legal reasoning, Judge Richard Gergel has decided some of the Lowcountry’s most notables lawsuits.  After more than 30 years practicing law, Gergel was confirmed as United States District Judge by unanimous vote of the US Senate in 2010. He is the author of Unexampled Courage.


BILL GOLDSTEIN is the founding editor of the books site of The New York Times on the Web, and reviews books and interviews authors for NBC's "Weekend Today in New York." He is also curator of public programs at Roosevelt House, the public policy institute of New York's Hunter College. Bill is the author of The World Broke in Two which sheds light on the intertwined lives of Woolf, Eliot, Forster and Lawrence and their extraordinary literary achievements in 1922, which he regards as the birth year of Modernism.  He lives in New York.

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NIGEL HAMILTON was born in the UK and is an American citizen. He is a best-selling and award-winning biographer of President John F. Kennedy, General Montgomery and President Clinton, amongst other subjects. He is First President, Biographers International Organisation and a senior Fellow at the McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts, Boston.


GEOFFREY HARPHAM is a senior fellow of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University and former director of the National Humanities Centre. He is the author of nine books, including most recently The Humanities and the Dream of America and What Do You Think, Mr Ramirez?

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PHILIP K. HOWARD, a lawyer and civil leader, is the founder of Common Good, a nonprofit that advocates for simplifying government. His book The Rule of Nobody was a finalist for the Hayek Book Prize.  His current book is Try Common Sense. He lives in New York.


MELISSA HUGHES is a Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Biology at The College of Charleston.


is Chair of the Chinese Department at the College of Charleston. She is Assistant Professor of Chinese language, literature, and cinema at the Department of International and Intercultural Studies.


NATHANIEL KAHN is an American filmmaker. His documentaries My Architect (2003) — about his father, the famous architect Louis Kahn — and Two Hands (2006) were nominated for Academy Awards. Kahn is a graduate of Germantown Friends School and Yale University.


KAREN KUKIL curates literary manuscripts at Smith College including the papers of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. She edited the Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000) andWoolf in the Real World: Selected Papers from the Thirteenth International Conference on Virginia Woolf (2005) and co-edited the Letters of Sylvia Plath (2 vols.2017-2018). Kukil’s exhibitions include ‘No Other Appetite’: Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry (Grolier Club, 2005) and One Life: Sylvia Plath (National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2018).


ANGELA MACK is executive director and chief curator for the Gibbes Museum of Art. A contributor to several periodicals, she has written articles for The Magazine Antiques, Sculpture Magazine, American Art Review, and South Carolina Historical Society Magazine. She is chair of the Charleston Heritage Federation, a member of the Board of the Charleston Area Visitors and Convention Bureau, and serves on the Art and History Commission of the City of Charleston.

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REBECCA MAKKAI is the author of two novels and a collection of short stories. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Fantasy, Harper’s, Tin House, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, Indiana Review, Michigan Quarterly Review and New England Review, among others.  She lives outside Chicago.

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REGINA MARLER was chosen by the Estate of Vanessa Bell to edit the artist’s letters for publication. Selected Letters of Vanessa Bell was followed by a well-received study of the Bloomsbury industry, Bloomsbury Pie: The Making of the Bloomsbury Boom and the anthology Queer Beats: How the Beats Turned America on to Sex. Marler currently contributes to The New York Review of Books and The New York Times Book Review.


VIRGINIA NICHOLSON worked as a documentary researcher for the BBC. Her books include the acclaimed social histories Singled Out, Millions Like Us and Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes – all of which focus on British female experiences over a decade. Her first book, Among the Bohemians, drew on her personal recollections growing up as the grand-daughter of the Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell and great-niece of the writer Virginia Woolf.


WILLIAM NICHOLSON is a screenwriter, novelist, playwright and director. His new film, Hope Gap, will be premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2019.


JOYCE CAROL OATES: Since 1963, over forty of Oates’s books have been included on the New York Times list of notable books of the year. In 2009, Oates was given the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Critics Circle. In 2012, she was awarded both the Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement and the PEN Center USA Award for Lifetime Achievement. In March 2014 she was awarded the Poets & Writers Distinguished Lifetime Award, and in 2017 the Bilbao BBK Ja! Prize. In 2019 she was awarded The Jerusalem Prize, awarded biennially to a writer whose work best expresses and promotes the idea of “freedom of the individual in society.” Joyce Carol Oates is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and since 1978, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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JAMES M. SCOTT is the author of Target Tokyo, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The War Below; and The Attack on the Liberty, as well as Rampage. He lives in Charleston.


LIONEL SHRIVER is the author of twelve novels, including the New York Times bestsellers So Much for That and The Post-Birthday World.  Winner of the 2005 Orange prize, the international bestseller We Need to Talk About Kevin was adapted for a feature film. She won the BBC National Short Story award in 2014. Her fiction has explored the US healthcare system, obesity, high school shootings, human population growth, terrorism, economic collapse and property mania.

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JEFFREY C. STEWART is a professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning and National Book Award-winning The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, as well as Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen and 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History.

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BART VAN ES was born in the Netherlands and is bilingual in English and Dutch.  He is a Professor of English Literature in the University of Oxford, where he specializes in Shakespeare studies.


CARL ZIMMER is the Matter columnist for the New York Times and has frequently contributed to The Atlantic, National Geographic, Time and Scientific American, among others. He has won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science Journalism Award three times, among a host of other awards and fellowships.  He teaches science writing at Yale University. His previous books include Parasite Rex, Evolution and Microcosm.