Alumni News

Bennington College Hosts Colloquium on the Work and Life of Reginald Shepherd '88

Winston Foundation Grant funds 2024 Ben Belitt Colloquium on Arts and Literary Culture

Image of Reginald Shepherd

At 7:00 pm on Wednesday, May 15, the Literature faculty at Bennington College will host the second Ben Belitt Colloquium on Arts and Literary Culture in Tishman Auditorium. The event will be livestreamed and open to the public. The Colloquium is funded by a grant from the Winston Foundation. 

The 2024 Ben Belitt Colloquium assembles a panel of contemporary writers to discuss the work and life of Reginald Shepherd '88 (1963-2008), an underrecognized member of the Bennington group of writers from the 1980s. Queer, Black, controversial for both his poetics and his political stances, Shepherd was the author of four poetry volumes and two essay collections before his death in 2008.

The University of Pittsburgh Press is publishing a new collection of Shepherd's poems, The Selected Shepherd, edited by National Book Award winning poet Jericho Brown, in April. The 2024 Ben Belitt Colloquium on Shepherd’s work will bring Brown; the MacArthur Award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem ’86, a classmate of Shepherd's at Bennington; and celebrated poet Camille Rankine to talk about Shepherd's literary legacy and the renewal of interest in his polarizing work.

Reginald Shepherd was born in New York City and grew up in the Bronx. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Bennington College and studied at Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), won the Associated Writing Program’s Award in Poetry; his fourth, Otherhood (2003), was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and his last book, Fata Morgana (2007), won a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards. Shepherd’s work is known for its elegance, beauty, and critical acumen. As Ron Silliman wrote in a tribute to Shepherd, who died in 2008 in Pensacola, FL, “Shepherd took from all schools and created something entirely his own.” Shepherd was the author of a book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (2008), and the editor of two anthologies, The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries (2004) and Lyric Postmodernisms (2008). He was also an active blogger who helped to shape an emerging forum for poetics.

Jericho Brown is author of The Tradition (Copper Canyon 2019), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and he is the winner of the Whiting Award. Brown’s first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. His poems have appeared in The Bennington Review, Buzzfeed, Fence, jubilat, The New Republic, New York Times, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TIME, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry. He is the director of the Creative Writing Program and a professor at Emory University.

Jonathan Lethem '86’s works include nine novels, five short-story collections, six non-fiction books, and an array of essays published in such publications as Rolling Stone, Harper’s, and The New Yorker. His novel Motherless Brooklyn was named Novel of the Year by Esquire magazine and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Salon Book Award as well as the Macallan Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2005. He is currently the Roy Edward Disney '51 Professor of Creative Writing and Professor of English at Pomona College.

Camille Rankine earned a bachelor’s at Harvard University and an MFA at Columbia University. She is the author of the poetry collection Incorrect Merciful Impulses (Copper Canyon, 2015) and the chapbook Slow Dance with Trip Wire (2011), which was chosen by poet Cornelius Eady for the Poetry Society of America’s New York Chapbook Fellowship. Rankine’s honors include a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and an honorary Cave Canem Fellowship. She has served on the staff of the Cave Canem Foundation. She is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, serves as editorial director for the online literary journal The Manhattanville Review, and sings with the band Miru Mir.

The Winston Foundation grant also funds a reading by the Ben Belitt Distinguished Visiting Writer Jia Tolentino scheduled for 7:00 pm on Wednesday, March 27 at Tishman Lecture Hall on the Bennington College Campus, and a full-term, 4000-level course, Hearing Voices: A Master Class in Literary Journalism, taught by Tolentino this term. 

In addition, while at Bennington, Tolentino will also be judging the winners of the Winston Foundation-funded Ben Belitt Prize for Undergraduate Writing, which is new this year. The contest will award three prizes of $1,000 to the best work of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction or hybrid work written by a current undergraduate student at Bennington. Winners of the first Ben Belitt Prizes will be announced in May. 

The Winston Foundation is based in New York City and supports higher education, including medical education, as well as hospitals and cultural programs.

The programs are named in memory of Ben Belitt, an American poet and translator who was a professor of comparative literature at Bennington for nearly fifty years. Belitt published eight books of poems, two books of essays, and numerous translations, notably of the Spanish-language poets Jorge Luis Borges, Federico García Lorca, and Pablo Neruda. This Scribe, My Hand, his complete poems, was published in 1998. The visitorship serves to enhance instruction at the college through programming that embodies the spirit of Belitt’s legacy as a poet, a literary translator, and an educator. 

Image by Robert Giard / Courtesy of the Poetry Foundation