Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series

2020-2021 Dean's Distinguished Lecture in the Humanities

“In Pursuit of Justice and Grace: reflections on African American life and art”

Farah Jasmine Griffin, PhD
Farah Jasmine Griffin, PhD
presented by

Farah Jasmine Griffin, PhD

William B. Ransford Professor of English & Comparative Literature

Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies





Farah Jasmine Griffin, PhD, is the William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and was the inaugural chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department at Columbia University. Professor Griffin received her BA from Harvard and her PhD in American Studies from Yale.   

Professor Griffin is the author of “Who Set You Flowin?: The African American Migration Narrative”(Oxford, 1995), “Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Rebecca Primus of Royal Oak, Maryland, and Addie Brown of Hartford Connecticut, 1854-1868” (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), and “If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday” (Free Press, 2001). She is co-author, with Salim Washington, of “Clawing At the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever” (Thomas Dunne, 2008). She also is the author of “Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II,” published by Basic Books in 2013. Professor Griffin collaborated with composer and pianist Geri Allen and director and actor S. Epatha Merkerson on two theatrical projects for which she wrote the books. The first, “Geri Allen and Friends Celebrate the Great Jazz Women of the Apollo,” with Lizz Wright, Dianne Reeves, Teri Lyne Carrington, and others, premiered on the main stage of the Apollo Theater in May 2013. The second, “A Conversation with Mary Lou,” featuring vocalist Carmen Lundy, premiered at Harlem Stage in March 2014 and was performed at the Kennedy Center in May 2016.  

Her forthcoming book, “Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature,” will be published by W.W. Norton in September 2021.  

Past Distinguished Lecturers in the Humanities

2020–21 – Farah Jasmine Griffin

2018–19 – Randi Hutter Epstein

2017–18 – Kellie Jones

2016–17 – Rita Charon

2015–16 – Amale Andraos

2014–15 – Brian Greene

2013–14 – Pamela H. Smith

2012–13 – Mark C. Taylor

2011–12 – Sylvia Nasar

2007–08 – David Freedberg

2005–06 – Andrew Delbanco

2003–04 – Jonathan Cole

2002–03 – Jeffrey Sachs

2001–02 – Eric Foner

2000–01 – Edward W. Said

1999–2000 – Robert E. Pollack

1998–99 – Kenneth Jackson

1997–98 – Jack Greenberg

1996–97 – George Rupp

1995–96 – David N. Cannadine

1994–95 – Simon A. Schama

1993–94 – James H. Beck

1992–93 – Osborn Elliott

1991–92 – Henry F. Graf

1990–91 – Fred Friendly

1989–90 – Howard Shanet

1988–89 – Zbigniew Brzezinski

1987–88 – Louis Henkin

1986–87 – Barbara Aronstein Black

1985–86 – Robert Merton

1984–85 – Edith Porada

1983–84 – David Rothman

1982–83 – Harriet Zuckerman

1981–82 – Fritz Stern