Esther Freier Lecture

On left, head and upper torso of person with dark curled hair past shoulders, light brown skin, wearing black shirt; to right, yellow book cover with colored bee image and black text: Jesmyn Ward Let Us Descend
We look forward to seeing you at our next free event at the University of Minnesota campus, as the author series that began in 2001 continues to explore literature and the humanities.
 

Fall 2023 Freier Lecture

An Evening with Jesmyn Ward

Northrop Carlson Family Stage

Join the Department of English at 7:30 pm on October 26, 2023, as the Esther Freier Lecture Series presents the MacArthur Fellow and two-time National Book Award-winning author of Sing, Unburied, Sing and Salvage the Bones. Ward's new novel Let Us Descend (Scribner) will be published October 24. Ward will read from the new book and be in conversation with English Professor V. V. Ganeshananthan.

This in-person event is free and open to the public with registration. Get your free tickets via Northrop.

Live captioning and ASL provided. For further questions about accessibility services and the venue, please email sutt0063@umn.edu or call 612-626-1528.

Hailed as “the new Toni Morrison” by the American Booksellers Association, Ward is the youngest person to receive the Library of Congress’ Prize for American Fiction and the first woman and first person of color to win the National Book Award for Fiction twice—joining the ranks of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Philip Roth, and John Updike. Ward’s novels, primarily set on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, are deeply informed by the trauma of Hurricane Katrina. Ward’s first historical novel, Let Us Descend—out this October—tells the story of an enslaved teenage girl sold by her white father after being separated from her mother. Let Us Descend incorporates elements of Dante’s Inferno, magical realism, and slave narratives, exploring grief, resilience, imagination, and kinship.

Ward's critically acclaimed novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, won the 2017 National Book Award. “A searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed” (Celeste Ng), Sing was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Salvage the Bones, winner of the 2011 National Book Award, relates a tale of familial bonds set amid the chaos of the hurricane. Men We Reaped: A Memoir (2013) deals with the loss of five young men in Ward's life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that follows people who live in poverty. Ward edited the critically acclaimed anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, a New York Times bestseller. A professor of creative writing at Tulane University and contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Ward’s many honors include a Strauss Living Award.

Associate Professor Ganeshananthan is a fiction writer and journalist. She is the author of novels Brotherless Night (Random House, 2023) and Love Marriage. Her work has appeared in Granta, The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Columbia Journalism Review, and Ploughshares, among others.

Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan

Masks encouraged. Staff and visitors attending in-person events are asked to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms using the Stay Safe MN Health Screening Checklist. Staff and visitors are reminded to wash hands often, get tested, and stay home when ill or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

 
More author readings are offered through our creative writing program's Edelstein-Keller Visiting Writer Series.

About Esther Freier

The Esther Freier literature series hosts two free lectures each year featuring various prize-winning authors, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to David Mitchell, Maggie Nelson to Joy Harjo.

The literary legacy that Esther Freier envisioned began in 2001, when celebrated novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid inaugurated the Esther Freier Endowed Lecture in Literature series. A clinical laboratory chemist and professor, Freier had a deep and profound love for literature and the humanities. She wanted to leave a legacy that would benefit the public and inspire emerging authors. In her will, Freier created an endowment that would bring prize-winning national and international authors to campus for free, public lectures and informal visits with students.

Esther Freier was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1925. She moved to Minneapolis while still a child and spent her entire academic (BS ‘46, MS ‘56) and professional career of 45 years at the University of Minnesota. She co-authored the first paper dealing with quality control in clinical chemistry, winning several awards. When she retired in 1991, she held the only endowed professorship in medical technology in the nation. That year, Freier served as the first woman president of the Academy of Clinical and Laboratory Physicians and Scientists and was re-elected the following year.

Esther Freier was a teacher, friend, and mentor to many. The Department of English is deeply grateful for her generosity to us, the University, and the community.

Previous Freier Lecturers

  • April 18, 2023: N. K. Jemisin
  • October 19, 2022: Joy Harjo & Layli Long Soldier
  • April 13, 2022: Jennifer Egan
  • March 24, 2021: Helen Oyeyemi
  • October 7, 2020: Alison Bechdel
  • October 23, 2019: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • October 4, 2018: Frank Bidart & Maggie Nelson
  • April 4, 2018: Young People's Lit Panel with M. T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, David Barclay Moore, and Nicola Yoon
  • October 25, 2017: Edwidge Danticat
  • April 13, 2017: Andrew Solomon
  • October, 2016: Claudia Rankine & Marilynne Robinson
  • April, 2016: Abraham Verghese
  • October, 2015: Jeanette Winterson
  • February, 2015: Lynn Nottage
  • October, 2014: James McBride
  • April, 2014: David Mitchell
  • October, 2013: Katherine Boo
  • April, 2013: Colum McCann
  • October, 2012: Zadie Smith
  • April, 2012: Denis Johnson
  • October, 2011: Philip Gourevitch
  • April, 2011: Natasha Trethewey
  • October, 2010: James Salter
  • April, 2010: Richard Powers
  • September, 2009: Maxine Hong Kingston
  • March, 2009: Louise Glück
  • October, 2008: Junot Díaz
  • March, 2006: Suzan-Lori Parks
  • November, 2007: Paul Muldoon
  • April, 2007: E. L. Doctorow
  • November, 2006: Bharati Mukherjee
  • April, 2006: T. C. Boyle
  • October, 2005: Philip Levine
  • April, 2005: Anna Deavere Smith
  • November, 2004: Rita Dove
  • April, 2004: A. S. Byatt
  • October, 2003: Arnold Rampersad
  • February, 2003: Michael Chabon
  • November, 2002: Edmund White
  • March, 2002: Barry Lopez
  • March, 2001: W. S. Merwin
  • February, 2001: Jamaica Kincaid