Ross Gay

2020 DeMott Lecture

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.

The DeMott Lecture was established in 2005 by Alan P. Levenstein ’56 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 inequality.

DeMott was 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. He was also a frequent essayist for popular publications, including The Atlantic and Harper’s.

Previous DeMott Lectures

A photo of Min Jin Lee

DeMott Lecture 2019

The 2019 DeMott Lecture was given by distinguished author, National Book Award finalist, and writer-in-residence, Min Jin Lee.

Danielle Allen

DeMott Lecture 2018

Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University & Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, delivered the 2018 lecture. 

Rev. Phillip Jackson ’85

DeMott Lecture 2017

The Rev. Phillip Jackson ’85 inspires the class of 2021 through the story of one from the class of 1915—civil rights visionary Charles Hamilton Houston, mentor to Thurgood Marshall.

Paul Smith delivers the DeMott Lecture

DeMott Lecture 2016

Paul Smith ’76 has argued such landmark cases as Lawrence vs. Texas, but some of his greatest lessons on tolerance have come from the justices themselves.

Archive of DeMott Lectures

DeMott Lecture 2015: Naomi Klein
On September 30, 2015, author and activist Naomi Klein spoke to the incoming first-year class about her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism v. The Climate.

DeMott Lecture 2014: Claude Steele
On August 31, 2014, Claude Steele, a prominent social psychologist and provost at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke to the incoming first-year class about his book Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do.

DeMott Lecture 2013: Elizabeth Kolbert
On August 23, 2013, author Elizabeth Kolbert spoke to the incoming first-year class about her book Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change.

DeMott Lecture 2012: David Nevins '88
In the 2012 DeMott Lecture, David Nevins ’88, President of Entertainment at Showtime Networks, Inc., discussed the influences of an Amherst education on his career as an award-winning creative force in one of the world’s most exciting and influential industries.

DeMott Lecture 2011: Christopher Coons ’85
In the 2011 DeMott Lecture, U.S. Senator Christopher Coons noted that being a recently elected legislator and being a first-year are similar in many ways.

DeMott Lecture 2010: Harold Varmus ’61
A Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Varmus discusses what the lives of Romantic Age astronomers William and Caroline Herschel tell us about science: what it is, who does it, who pays for it, what it offers to society and how it is related to the arts and humanities.

DeMott Lecture 2009: Paul Rieckhoff ’98
Rieckhoff is executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-partisan non-profit with tens of thousands of members in all 50 U.S. states. Rieckhoff’s book, Chasing Ghosts, is a critically acclaimed account of his experiences in Iraq and activism afterward.

DeMott Lecture 2008: David Freudenthal ’73
“History is shaped by ordinary people doing ordinary things… So don’t be afraid to try and don’t be afraid to fail,” David Freudenthal, governor of the state of Wyoming and Amherst College alumnus, urged the members of the school’s Class of 2012.

DeMott Lecture 2007: Jeffrey Wright '87
Jeffrey Wright ’87 won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance in Angels in America and Golden Globe and Emmy awards for his supporting role in the HBO adaptation of that play. But when Wright delivered the annual DeMott Lecture, he talked little about his day job. Instead, he focused on Africa.

DeMott Lecture 2006: Ken Bacon '66
Kenneth Bacon ’66 and president of Refugees International addressed issues of genocide in Darfur in the first annual Benjamin DeMott Lecture.