Gail Kern Paster

Gail Kern Paster
Doctor of Letters

Gail Kern Paster has been director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., since 2002 and will retire from the position on July 1, 2011. The Folger is an important research center that houses the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials, as well as collections of other rare Renaissance books, manuscripts and artworks.

Paster’s major goals as director have been to make the Folger’s materials more accessible to the public, to strengthen its educational mission, to modernize its physical infrastructure and to build upon its development and financial management efforts—and she has succeeded tremendously on all of these fronts. In her first weeks on the job, a leak occurred in the Folger’s rare-book vault, and she supervised the emergency relocation of thousands of priceless volumes, in addition to a major excavation and re-waterproofing. Under her leadership, the library has created a new division devoted to K–12 education and launched its first seminar program for undergraduates. It has opened a television production facility and a conservation laboratory, both state-of-the-art. It has digitized images of more than 35,000 collection items and put them online, along with video and audio podcasts. It has made more than 14,000 new acquisitions, seen a 25 percent increase in attendance of its public performances and raised a record $28 million.

With a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a doctorate from Yale, Paster is an accomplished scholar. She is author of numerous articles and three books—most recently Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage—and co-editor of several other volumes. She taught English at The George Washington University from 1974 to 2002, served as president of the Shakespeare Association of America in 2003 and edited the Shakespeare Quarterly until 2009. Her work has won her fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson, Andrew W. Mellon and John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundations and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Henry Clay Folger, Class of 1879, founded the Folger Shakespeare Library with his wife, Emily Jordan Folger, in 1932. It is operated by a Board of Governors under the auspices of Amherst College.

audioListen to Conversations with Honored Guests, talks by honorary degree recipients.