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"Mystic River" Author Lehane to Speak at Emerson Commencement

Dennis Lehane. Photo/Gaby Gerster, Diogenes, Zuric

Award-winning novelist Dennis Lehane will address Emerson graduates at the College’s 137th Undergraduate Commencement ceremony, joining a civil rights lawyer, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, and a MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner in receiving honorary degrees.

Lehane, equality advocate Anita Hill, John Adams author David McCullough, and poet/playwright Claudia Rankine will be awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees at Boston University’s Agganis Arena on Sunday, May 14. Later that afternoon, Emerson Communication Studies Associate Professor Emeritus John Anderson will give the graduate address.

Roughly 975 undergraduates and 270 graduate students will receive degrees this year.

A native of Dorchester, Massachusetts, Lehane has published more than a dozen novels, starting with the Shamus Award–winning A Drink Before the War. All of them have become international bestsellers, and four—Gone, Baby, Gone; Mystic River; Shutter Island; and Live by Night—have been made into feature films. His next book, Since We Fell, is due out May 9.

Mystic River was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Winship Award and won four awards: the Anthony Award, the Barry Award for Best Novel, the Dilys Award from the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, and the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction. Live by Night received the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year.

Lehane was a staff writer on the critically acclaimed HBO series The Wire and a writer-producer on the fourth season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Currently, he is a writer and producer on the television adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes and has two dramatic series for DirecTV in development.

Anita Hill.

Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University, graduated from Yale Law School in 1980 and began her career in private practice in Washington, DC, where she also worked at the U.S. Education Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 1989, she became the first African American to be tenured at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law.

Currently, as counsel to Cohen Milstein, she advises on class action workplace discrimination cases. She is spearheading “The Gender/Race Imperative,” a project to revive awareness of the broad capacity of Title IX, and is teaming up with artist Mark Bradford on an exhibit for the 2017 Venice Biennale International Arts Festival, opening in May. The two are also collaborating on an exhibit inspired by the text of women civil rights activists and their contributions to the iconic 1963 March on the Mall and the Civil Rights Movement. 

David McCullough

David McCullough has been called a “master of the art of narrative history.” He has won two Pulitzer Prizes; two National Book Awards; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

His 1776 was deemed “a classic,” while John Adams, published in 2001, is now in its 46th printing and inspired a seven-part miniseries on HBO produced by Tom Hanks. His book The Wright Brothers was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and stayed on the list for nine months, while The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris hit #1 on the list. The American Spirit was just published on April 18.

Public television audiences might know him as host of Smithsonian World; The American Experience; and narrator of numerous documentaries, including Ken Burns’ The Civil War.

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine, Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University, is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric, which won the Forward Prize for Poetry, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, the NAACP Image Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. The book was also nominated in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be nominated in two categories, and is the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.

She is also the author of two plays, including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collections; and is the editor of several anthologies, including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. Included among her numerous awards and honors are the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundaiton, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. This semester, she was Fresh Sound artist-in-residence at ArtsEmerson.

Emerson Communication Studies Associate Professor Emeritus John Anderson

John Dennis Anderson, who retired from Emerson’s Communication Studies Department last August after 27 years on faculty, is a performance studies scholar who specializes in narrative theory and performance. He performs nationally in solo Chautauqua presentations as authors Henry James, William Faulkner, Washington Irving, Lynn Riggs, Robert Frost, and Louis Bromfield. He was co-recipient of the National Communication Association’s Leslie Irene Coger Award for Distinguished Performance in 2013.

Dr. Anderson is a former chair of the Performance Studies Division of the National Communication Association and recipient of its Distinguished Service Award. He was awarded a summer seminar fellowship from the National Endowment of the Humanities and has received various grants to present programs on early America, the Civil War, the 1930s, the Centennial of Oklahoma statehood, Hollywood’s impact on American culture, and World War I. At Emerson, he was director of the Honors Program for two terms and served as interim chair of the Communication Studies Department from 2012 to 2014.

The undergraduate ceremony begins at 10:00 am, followed by the graduate ceremony at 3:00 pm. Both will be streamed live at


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