Distinguished Thinkers


Distinguished novelists, poets, writers, philosophers, artists, performers, and other humanists come to Wellesley to read, lecture, and share their work.

Programming for the Distinguished Thinkers will take place in the drawing room of the Susan and Donald Newhouse Center for the Humanities, unless otherwise announced, and are free and open to the public.


Recent Distinguished Thinkers


Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak - A Few Thoughts on Teaching Reading

Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 4:30 PM
Suzy Newhouse Center
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is University Professor, and a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. Her degrees and awards include B.A. English (First Class Honors), Presidency College, Calcutta, 1959.  Ph.D. Comparative Literature, Cornell University, 1967. D. Litt, University of Toronto, 1999; D. Litt, University of London, 2003; D. Hum, Oberlin College, 2008; D. Honoris Causa, Universitat Roveri I Virgili,  2011; D. Honoris Causa, Rabindra Bharati, 2012; Kyoto Prize in Thought and Ethics, 2012; Padma Bhushan 2013; D.Honoris Causa, Univeridad Nacional de San Martin, 2013; D. Litt, University of St. Andrews, 2014; D. Honoris Causa, Paris VIII, 2014; Presidency University, 2014; D. Hum, Yale University, 2015; D. Litt, University of Ghana-Legon, 2015; D. Honoris Causa, Universidad de Chile, 2016; Lifetime Scholarly Achievement from the Modern Language Association of America, 2018. Among her publications are Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993), An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (2012), and Readings (2014).



Angela Davis - Education and Gender Equality Symposium

Saturday, October 21st, 2017, at 2:00 PM


Angela Davis is an activist, writer, and Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice. She is the author of ten books, the most recent of which is entitled Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st century abolitionist movement.


Photo Credit: Sandi Sissel



Michael Ondaatje

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017 at 7:00 PM

Jewett Arts Center Auditorium

Ticket Registration - https://www.eventbrite.com/e/michael-ondaatje-tickets-37105197645

Michael Ondaatje is one of the world’s foremost writers – his artistry and aesthetic have influenced an entire generation of writers and readers. Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje’s work also encompasses poetry, memoir, and film, and reveals a passion for defying conventional form. His transcendent novel The English Patient explores the stories of people history fails to reveal by intersecting four diverse lives at the end of World War II. This best selling novel was later made into an Academy Award-winning film.

Ondaatje himself is an interesting intersection of cultures. Born in Sri Lanka, the former Ceylon, of Indian/Dutch ancestry, he went to school in England, and then moved to Canada. He is now a Canadian citizen. From the memoir of his childhood, Running in the Family, to his Governor-General’s Award-winning book of poetry, There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning To Do, to his classic novel, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje casts a spell over his readers. And having won the British Commonwealth’s highest honor, the Booker Prize, he has taken his rightful place as a contemporary literary treasure.

He is the author of four collections of poetry including The Cinnamon Peeler and most recently, Handwriting. His works of fiction include In the Skin of a LionThe English PatientAnil’s Ghost, Divisadero. and The Cat’s Table. Ondaatje’s work of non-fiction is The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, which unites his love of literature and passion for the art of filmmaking.

Ondaatje is also a filmmaker, creator of 3 documentary films in the 1970s. The Clinton Special: A Film about the Farm Show(1974) is about a group of actors who went into an Ontario farming community to build a play about what they saw and learned. Sons of Captain Poetry (1970) is about the poet bpNichol. Carry On Crime and Punishment (1970) is a whimsical docu-drama about crooked poets trying to kidnap a dog.

Michael Ondaatje has garnered several literary prizes including The Booker Prize for Fiction, The Irish Times International Prize for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the Prix Medicis, the Governor-General’s Award, and the Giller Prize.

Photo Credit: Rolex-Bart Michiels



An Evening with Margaret Atwood

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Alumnae Hall Auditorium


Margaret Atwood is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her novels include The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; and The Robber BrideCat’s Eye, and The Handmaid’s Tale – coming soon as a TV series with MGM and Hulu. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.











Photo Credit: Jean Malek


Mahmood Mamdani​

The Historical Significance of the Post-Apartheid Transition in South Africa

Thursday, April 20th, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Suzy Newhouse Center Lounge


Mahmood Mamdani is a Professor of Government at Columbia University and Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research. His work focuses on the intersection between politics and culture, colonialism, the history of civil war and genocide in Africa, and the history and theory of human rights.  He has previously taught at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, University of Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, and Makerere University in Uganda. He is the recipient of the Herskovits Prize of the African Studies Association and recognition from “Top 20 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect. His works include Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late ColonialismGood Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror, and Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror.










Stephen Greenblatt

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016, 7 PM

Stephen Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of thirteen books, including The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern; Shakespeare's Freedom; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Marvelous Possessions; and Renaissance Self-Fashioning. He is General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and of The Norton Shakespeare, has edited seven collections of criticism, and is a founding editor of the journal Representations. His honors include the 2016 Holberg Prize from the Norwegian Parliament, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the 2011 National Book Award for The Swerve, MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize (twice), Harvard University’s Cabot Fellowship, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, Yale’s Wilbur Cross Medal, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. Among his named lecture series are the Adorno Lectures in Frankfurt, the University Lectures at Princeton, and the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford, and he has held visiting professorships at universities in Beijing, Kyoto, London, Paris, Florence, Torino, Trieste, and Bologna, as well as the Renaissance residency at the American Academy in Rome. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and a long-term fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. He has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Philosophical Society, and the Italian literary academy Accademia degli Arcadi.



Dambisa Moyo

“Economics and Geopolitics of the Future: What’s It Going to Take to Be Successful?”

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 at 5 p.m.

Newhouse Center

Free and Open to the Public

Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian-born global economist and author, will discuss the issues surrounding economic growth and human progress. Addressing economic growth is as essential for improving living standards for millions of people across the globe as it is for solving other significant problems we face today: radicalized terrorism, refugees and migration, inadequate health care, and corruption. As global challenges to these problems continue to mount, a pragmatic approach that abandons ideological divides will be crucial to the long-term stability of the global economy. Moyo will provide critical insights on these matters and make suggestions for real-life solutions to obstacles that hinder human prosperity.



Sir Salman Rushdie

Image result for salman rushdie

Thursday, November 12th, 2015, 6:30PM

Sir Salman Rushdie is one of the most celebrated authors of our time—of any time. A brilliant provocateur, he’s penned a handful of classic novels, influenced a generation of writers, and received a Queen’s Knighthood for his “services to literature.” He stands as both a pop culture icon and one of the most thought-provoking proponents for free speech today.








Amitav Ghosh

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015, 4:30 PM

Amitav Ghosh was born in Calcutta and grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He studied in Delhi, Oxford and Alexandria and is the author of The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide, and the first two volumes of The Ibis Trilogy; Sea of Poppies, and River of Smoke.

The Circle of Reason was awarded France’s Prix Médicis in 1990, and The Shadow Lines won two prestigious Indian prizes the same year, the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar. The Calcutta Chromosome won the Arthur C. Clarke award for 1997 and The Glass Palace won the International e-Book Award at the Frankfurt book fair in 2001. In January 2005 The Hungry Tide was awarded the Crossword Book Prize, a major Indian award. His novel, Sea of Poppies (2008) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, 2008 and was awarded the Crossword Book Prize and the India Plaza Golden Quill Award.