Occurring annually before the start of the fall semester,  the DeMott Lecture was established in 2005 by Alan P. Levenstein ’56 and other Amherst College alumni, friends, and family members in honor of Benjamin DeMott, a cultural critic and much-loved member of the Amherst English faculty from 1951 until his retirement in 1990. Inspired by his example, the DeMott Lecture seeks to expose incoming students to an engagement with the world marked by intellectual originality of thought and concern for issues of social and economic equity.

Professor DeMott was a frequent essayist for popular publications, including The Atlantic and Harper’s, and the author of more than a dozen books, including The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Class; The Trouble with Friendship: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Race; and Killer Woman Blues: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Gender and Power.

Recent DeMott Lectures

Alena Smith at Amherst College.

DeMott Lecture 2023

Alena Smith, playwright, TV writer, and creator, showrunner, and executive producer of the streaming series Dickinson, presented the 2023 DeMott lecture, claiming, “I believe the Emily Dickinsons of the 21st century are sitting in this room.”

Catherine Sanderson gestures as she speaks from behind a podium.

DeMott Lecture 2022

Psychology professor Catherine A. Sanderson offered advice, and the opportunity to make some noise, at the 2022 DeMott Lecture in Johnson Chapel. 

A photo of Professor Shelia Lawson speaking at a podium

DeMott Lecture 2021

Professor and author Shayla Lawson delivered the 2021 DeMott Lecture to new students with a talk focused on defining success, accepting failure and students learning to be their “complete, uninhibited selves.”

Ross Gay

DeMott Lecture 2020

The 2020 DeMott lecture was given by Ross Gay, the author of four books of poetry and winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Assistant Professor of English Shayla Lawson introduced the lecture.

DeMott Lecture Archive