Guest Speakers

Joe_WebMeet Guest Performer Joe Goodkin

This summer at Amherst, we had the pleasure of presenting Joe Goodkin, musician, composer and Classics-enthusiast from Chicago. Joe captivated our students with a performance of various stories from The Odyssey, and we are thrilled to have him perform for our Chicago-area families on November 6th. Joe Goodkin has been performing Homer’s The Odyssey since 2002 and has done several hundred performances for a audiences nation-wide. We asked Joe about his art and his love for the classics:


GBSP: Your presentation of Homer’s The Odyssey is a unique one. Why perform it musically?

JG: Though we read The Odyssey in text form today, it was originally performed and created out of the oral tradition of the ancient Greek bard in which a poet would accompany himself on a stringed instrument called a lyre while singing the mythic tales of the Greek heroes, families, and civilization.  My composition is an attempt to recreate the performance experience and use it as a springboard to examine the universal themes of the story as well as the particulars of its creation.

GBSP: When did you first gain an appreciation for this particular text?

JG: My appreciation for The Odyssey has grown (and continues to grow) with each encounter.  I first read it in high school, then studied it more closely (in English and ancient Greek) as a Classics major at University of Wisconsin, then most personally as I dug in to write my version of it.  It’s a work of art that has something to offer each and every reader at each stage of life.

GBSP: What do you hope to instill in your listeners?

JG: I hope my performance creates a sense of intellectual curiosity and emotional resonance in the audience.  For those who are new to or find The Odyssey challenging, I hope my approach can provide a window in and a way to connect.  For those who are familiar with The Odyssey, I hope my version will spark a new appreciation.

For more information on Joe’s upcoming performance on November 6th in Chicago, contact Program Coordinator, Melody Kasulis:



Guest Speakers of Great Books Past

We have had the great fortune of welcoming so many award-winning authors, filmmakers, comedy-writers and more to our programs at Stanford, Amherst and Oxford. How? They simply love our program, our students and what we do. Our students get to Q&A with Pulitzer-prize winners, the director of the first and second Harry Potter movies, world-renown historians and publishing agents. Here is a list of guest speakers of our past summers:

  • James Blaylock, one of the pioneers of the Steampunk movement and two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award.  His novel Homunculus received the Phillip K. Dick Memorial Award for his Steampunk novel Homunculus.  Blaylock’s other award-winning fiction includes Paper Dragons and Thirteen Phantasms.
  • Jamie Byng, publisher and managing director of Canongate Books.  Byng is also the founder and Chair of the international book event, World Book Night.
  • Da Chen, New York Times bestselling author of Colors of the Mountain, Brothers, and, most recently, My Last Empress.
  • Andre Dubus III, New York Times bestselling author of The House of Sand and Fog and Townie.  Dubus won the National Magazine Award for Fiction, The Pushcart Prize,  the 2012 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  His new book, Dirty Love, is out in October.
  • Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation and the forthcoming Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, out in June.
  • J. Todd Harris, is a producer of stage and screen.  Of the nearly 40 movies Harris has produced, highlights include Golden Globe-winning and Academy Award-nominated The Kids Are All Right, Bottle Shock, Crooked Arrows, Jeepers Creepers, and Piranha 3D.  He is currently developing a stage production of Heathers The Musical, to open later in 2013.
  • Dr. Ronald Heifetz, the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and founder of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  Heifetz is the author of the recent book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing your Organization and the World, which was coauthored with Mark Linsky and Alexander Grashow.
  • Joanna Hershon, author of four novels: Swimming, The Outside of August, The German Bride, and A Dual Inheritance, which is out this month and has been compared to the work of Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugnides, Anne Tyler and Tom Wolfe.
  • Yiyun Li, was named one of the best American novelists under 35 by Granta Magazine.  Li is the recipient of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Guardian First Book Award  She is the author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers , The Vagrants, and Gold Boy, Emerald Girl.
  • Sterling Lord, literary agent to such writers as Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Jimmy Breslin, Rocky Graziano, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dick Francis, four US cabinet members and Stan and Jan Berenstain (whose Berenstain Bears books have sold 290 million (and counting) copies in the US and Canada alone).  Lord’s memoir Lord of Publishing came out earlier this year.
  • Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of 20 novels, including My Sister’s Keeper and her most recent book, The Storyteller, which came out in February. 
  • Elizabeth Sheinkman, literary agent of Booker-shortlisted Steve Toltz, National Book Award-finalist Marcel Theroux, Kim Edwards, Elif Shafak , Tim Butcher, New Yorker cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto, and many others.
  • Jane Smiley, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres and the O. Henry Award winning short story “Lily.” Smiley is the recipient of the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature.  The fifth book in her The Horses of Oak Valley Ranch series for young readers, Gee Whiz, will be out this fall.
  • Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of the young adult novels Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink and Confederates Don’t Wear Couture, which is being published on June 4th 2013.
  • Samantha van Leer, co-author of the New York Times bestselling young adult book Between the Lines with her mother, bestselling writer, Jodi Picoult. 
  • Laura Zigman, New York Times bestselling author of Animal Husbandry, co-host of the radio show “Hash Hags,” Xtranormal filmmaker, journalist, and now the Editorial/PR lead for the Boston-based happiness company,
  • Chris Columbus, director of such films as “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Home Alone,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Stepmom,” and “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”
  • Laura Dave, the author of three novels, including her most recent The First Husband.  In 2008, Cosmopolitan Magazine named Laura a “Fun and Fearless Phenom of the Year”, calling her “an inspiration” to young women.
  • Anita Diamant, former columnist for The Boston Globe and New York Times bestselling author of The Red Tent and Day After Night
  • Barry Eisler, former covert operative with the CIA and New York Times bestselling and Gumshoe Award winning thrillers.  He launched his John Rain series with Rain Fall.
  • Timothy Ferris, New York Times bestselling author of The Science of Liberty, and Coming of Age in the Milky Way. Ferris has made three documentary films, “The Creation of the Universe,” “Life Beyond Earth,” and “Seeing in the Dark.” Ferris has received the American Institute of Physics prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship
  • Robin Hessman, Peabody Award winning documentary filmmaker and producer of “My Perestroika,” which was an Official Selection at The Sundance Film Festival.
  • Garrison Keillor, creator of the weekly radio show “Prairie Home Companion,” based on his New York Times bestselling book, which also inspired a movie of the same name directed by Robert Altman
  • Aaron Lansky, founder of the National Yiddish Book Center, which has drawn on its holdings to establish or strengthen Yiddish collections at most of the world’s major libraries.   With help from Steven Spielberg, the Center digitized most of the books in its collection and, in 2009, posted them online.
  • Dennis Lehane, New York Times bestselling author of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island
  • Jacob Lewis, former managing editor for The New Yorker and co-founder of Figment, a mobile publishing site devoted to young adult readers and writers
  • Cammie McGovern, former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and recipient of numerous prizes for her short fiction, author of three novels, including Eye Contact and The Art of Seeing, and one of the founders of Whole Children, a resource center that runs after-school classes and programs for children with special needs.
  • Peter Straub, winner of the British Fantasy Award, six Bram Stoker Awards, two International Horror Guild Awards, and two World Fantasy Awards, Straub is also a New York Times bestselling author of seventeen novels, including two with Stephen King.
  • Susan Straub, is the founder of the READ TO ME Program which encourages teen parents to read books with their babies.  The program has been awarded many honors, including: New Yorker of the Week by New York 1; Champion for Children, Child Care; Reach Out and Read of Greater New York’s Literacy Champion Award; Honored by Literacy, Inc.
  • Alan Zweibel , an original “Saturday Night Live” writer who has won multiple Emmy, Writers Guild of America, and TV Critics awards for his work in television, he has also won the Thurber Prize for his novel The Other Shulman

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