Institutional News

Poet and Memoirist Safiya Sinclair ’10 to Deliver 2024 Commencement Address

Bennington College is pleased to announce that poet and memoirist Safiya Sinclair ’10 will address the class of 2024 at Commencement.

Image of Safiya Sinclair

In addition, the faculty speaker will be choreographer, dancer, and visual artist Dana Reitz, and the senior student speaker will be Gaurav Aung ’24.

“Returning to Bennington as this year’s commencement speaker truly ranks as one of my proudest moments yet,” said Sinclair. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Bennington College quite literally changed the course of my life. Without Bennington, I would not be the writer and poet I am today, and it’s an honor to be invited back to the place where my creative self was molded, where lifelong friendships were formed, and where my professors lit a fire in me that still burns fiercely.”

Sinclair will address the 89th graduating class at the conferring of degrees at 10:00 am Saturday, June 1. The student speaker will address the class at a senior dinner on Friday, May 31, and the faculty speaker will address the community at both events. The Friday evening addresses and the Saturday Commencement ceremony will be livestreamed from a link on

Sinclair was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. She is the author of the memoir How to Say Babylon, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Kirkus Prize, and longlisted for the Women’s Prize in Nonfiction. How to Say Babylon was named one of the 100 Notable Books of the year by the New York Times, a Top 10 Book of 2023 by the Washington Post, one of The Atlantic’s 10 Best Books of 2023, a TIME Magazine Top 10 Nonfiction Book of 2023, a Read with Jenna/TODAY Show Book Club pick, and one of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2023. How to Say Babylon was also named a Best Book of the Year by The New Yorker, NPR, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Vulture, Harper’s Bazaar, and Barnes & Noble, among others, and was an ALA Notable Book of the Year. The audiobook of How to Say Babylon was named a Best Audiobook of the Year by Audible and AudioFile magazine.

We are thrilled that Safiya will return to Bennington to give the commencement speech this June,” said Bennington College President Laura Walker. “Her life and literary career are an inspiration to the students, faculty, staff, and families who will be celebrating the graduation of the class of 2024.”

Sinclair is also the author of the poetry collection Cannibal, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Metcalf Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, the Phillis Wheatley Book Award, and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry. Cannibal was selected as one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books of the Year, was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Seamus Heaney First Book Award in the UK, and was longlisted for the PEN Open Book Award and the Dylan Thomas Prize. 

Sinclair’s other honors include a Pushcart Prize, fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, MacDowell, Yaddo, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, The Nation, Poetry, Kenyon Review, the Oxford American, and elsewhere. She is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

It’s always been a dream of mine to return to pay tribute to the place that opened the door for a young Jamaican girl and her dreams. I am forever grateful,” Sinclair said. “I can’t wait to see you all at the End of the World in June.”

Choreographer, dancer, and visual artist Dana Reitz will be this year’s faculty speaker. Reitz often uses silence as a means to reveal the musical nuance of movement itself. On her own and in her collaborations with lighting artists, she has pioneered the use of light as a physical partner. Her woven movement and light scores—essential, spare and fleeting—create a continually shifting perception of time and space.

Reitz has toured, as a performer and mentor, throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and the US. Since 1973, she has been commissioned/produced by multiple venues internationally including The Festival d’Automne (Paris), The Hebbel Theater (Berlin), The Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal), The Dance Umbrella (London), BAM’s Next Wave Festival, and the Lincoln Center White Light Festival (New York).

In October 2023, she created and performed a new solo work, current, at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. Reitz and her projects have received numerous awards, including two Bessies (the New York Dance and Performance Award), a Guggenheim Fellowship, support from the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, Inc., and multiple awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, one as part of American Masterpieces, sponsored by the Flynn Center (Vermont).

Gaurav Aung '24 is a student of Literature and Society, Culture & Thought and will be this year’s senior speaker. Aung is from Myanmar and has spent much of his time at Bennington attempting to figure out how his country, despite its wealth of natural resources, has ended up so destitute and politically frail.