2018 Keynote Presenters

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The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II

“Dismantling American Racism: Past & Present” (with Taylor Branch)

Location: Campion Ballroom

Time: Afternoon Keynote: 4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

Themes: Cross-Cultural and Global Understanding, Social Justice

Description of Presentation

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II Book Cover

The afternoon keynoters represent a one-of-a-kind conversation between a celebrated academic and a dynamic social activist about the challenge of racism and inclusion in society at this tumultuous time. Taylor Branch, the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his history of the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., will co-present and dialogue with The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, founder of the social movement Repairers of the Breach, and one of the most identifiable civil rights activists in the spirit of MLK in the nation.

Author Biography

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II is the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement that gained national acclaim with its Moral Monday protests at the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. These weekly actions drew tens of thousands of North Carolinians and other moral witnesses to the state legislature. More than 1,050 peaceful protesters were arrested, handcuffed, and jailed.

A highly sought after speaker, Barber has keynoted hundreds of national and state conferences, including the 2016 Democratic National Convention. He has spoken to a wide variety of audiences, including national unions, fraternities and sororities, motorcycle organizations, drug dealer conferences, women’s groups, economic policy, voting rights, and LGBTQ groups, environmental and criminal justice groups, small organizing committees of domestic workers, fast food workers, Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, and others.

Barber has served as president of the North Carolina NAACP, the largest state conference in the South, since 2006 and sits on the National NAACP Board of Directors. A former Mel King Fellow at MIT, he is currently Visiting Professor of Public Theology and Activism at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and is a senior fellow at Auburn Seminary. Barber is regularly featured in media outlets, such as MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Nation, among others. He is the 2015 recipient of the Puffin Award and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award. Barber’s two most recent books include Forward Together (2014) and The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear (2016).  

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Taylor Branch

“Dismantling American Racism: Past & Present” (with William Barber)

Location: Campion Ballroom

Time: Afternoon Keynote: 4:30 p.m.-5:45 p.m.

Themes: Cross-Cultural and Global Understanding, History, Social Justice

Description of Presentation

Taylor Branch Taylor Branch Book Cover

The afternoon keynoters represent a one-of-a-kind conversation between a celebrated academic and a dynamic social activist about the challenge of racism and inclusion in society at this tumultuous time. Taylor Branch, the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his history of the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr., will co-present and dialogue with The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, founder of the social movement Repairers of the Breach, and one of the most identifiable civil rights activists in the spirit of MLK in the nation.

Author Biography

Over the course of his storied career, author and historian Taylor Branch has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Lifetime Achievement Award, and a National Humanities Medal.

Branch’s landmark narrative history of the Civil Rights Era, America in the King Years, has been compared with other epic histories such as Shelby Foote’s The Civil War and Robert Caro’s multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. The King-era trilogy required more than 24 years of intensive research as Branch sought to illuminate not only the life of the man, but also the times in which he lived.

The trilogy’s first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (1988), was hailed in Time as a “major accomplishment in biography as social history,” and as “a paradigm of the new American history at its best” by Newsweek’s Jim Miller. It was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Christopher Award.

Two successive volumes also gained critical and popular success: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65 (1998), and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968 (2006). Of Pillar of Fire, a Sojourners contributor commented that “the drama of the times comes through in gripping fashion.” Anthony Lewis, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called At Canaan’s Edge “A thrilling book, marvelous in both its breadth and its detail. There is drama in every paragraph.”

Branch’s most recent book returns to civil rights history. The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement (2013) presents eighteen key episodes across the full span of the era, selected and linked by language from the trilogy, with new introductions for each of the chapters. The result is a compact, 190-page primer for readers interested in this transformative period in American history.

Photo credit: J. Brough Schamp

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The Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor

“Redeeming Darkness: A Spirituality for the Night Times”

Location: Campion Ballroom

Time: Morning Keynote: 10:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Themes: Religion, Faith and Ethics, Spirituality and Wellness

Description of Presentation

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor The Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor Book Cover

Every life has its share of dark and light. This is what we call “the human condition.” Yet many of our inherited teachings glorify the light, leaving us so fearful of the dark and so well defended against it that we stand in grave danger of living only half a life. In her keynote presentation, The Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor will explore what it means to search for meaning in the places we least want to go, proposing a spirituality for the night times that allows darkness to teach us what we most need to know.

Author Biography

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, teacher, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church (2006), won an Author of the Year Award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her last book, Learning to Walk in the Dark (2014), was featured on the cover of Time magazine.

Taylor has served on the faculties of Piedmont College, Columbia Theological Seminary, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, and the Certificate in Theological Studies program at Arrendale State Prison for Women in Alto, Georgia.

In 2014, Time included Taylor on its annual list of Most Influential People; in 2015, she was named Georgia Woman of the Year; in 2016, she received The President's Medal at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Mercer University and is working on her fourteenth book, Holy Envy, forthcoming from HarperOne in August 2018.

Photo credit: Kenny Simmons

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Ruth Ozeki

"A Tale for the Time Being"

Location: Pigott Auditorium 104

Time: Morning Keynote: 10:45 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Themes: Arts, Cross-Cultural and Global Understanding

Description of Presentation

Ruth Ozeki Ruth Ozeki Book Cover

“Ruth Ozeki’s wonderfully clever and vast-hearted A Tale for the Time Being is a turbulent story of two parts, told in counterpoint.... It manages to be at once tender and refined, comic and grave, hopeful and desperate. We loved its spirit, in several senses, and we are all Hello Kitty fans now.” — Robert Macfarlane, Chair of judges, 2013 Man Booker Prize

“Ozeki is one of my favorite novelists and here she is at her absolute best - bewitching, intelligent, hilarious, and heartbreaking, often on the same page.” — Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Ruth Ozeki’s most recent novel, A Tale for the Time Being (2013), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and is the winner of the LA Times Book Prize and the Medici Book Club Prize, among others. Published in over thirty countries, it tells the story of a mysterious diary, which washes up on a beach on the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada in the wake of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The diary, written by a troubled schoolgirl in Tokyo, is discovered by a novelist named Ruth, who becomes obsessed with discovering the fate of the girl. The New York Times described it as an “intricate parable of a novel” which leads the reader “to contemplate the porous membrane that separates fact from fiction, self from circumstance, past from present.” In a starred review, Kirkus called it, “A masterpiece, pure and simple.”

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Author Biography

Ruth Ozeki is a filmmaker, novelist, and Zen Buddhist priest. Her first novel, My Year of Meats (1998), was translated into eleven languages and published in fourteen countries. It won the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Award, the Imus/Barnes and Noble American Book Award, and a Special Jury Prize of the World Cookbook Awards in Versailles. Her second novel, All Over Creation (2003), was a New York Times Notable Book and the recipient of a 2004 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, as well as the Willa Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction.

Ozeki studied English and Asian Studies at Smith College and traveled extensively in Asia. She received a Japanese Ministry of Education Fellowship to do graduate work in classical Japanese literature at Nara University. In 1985, Ozeki returned to New York and began a film career as an art director. Later, she switched to television production, and after several years, started making her own films. Body of Correspondence (1994) won the New Visions Award at the San Francisco Film Festival and was aired on PBS. Halving the Bones (1995), an award-winning autobiographical film, has been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, the Montreal World Film Festival, and the Margaret Mead Film Festival, among others.

Ozeki is the Elizabeth Drew Professor of Creative Writing at Smith College, where she received an honorary doctorate in 2006. She serves on the Creative Advisory Council of Hedgebrook, a women’s writing retreat center on Whidbey Island, Washington, and on the Advisory Editorial Board of The Asian American Literary Review.

A long-time meditator, Ozeki was ordained as a Soto Zen priest in 2010 and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation. She divides her time between New York City and British Columbia, where she lives with her husband, Oliver Kellhammer.

For more information on this speaker, please visit www.prhspeakers.com.

Photo credit: Kris Krug

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