Featured Speakers


Plenary Session: Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni is a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. Over the past 30 years, the outspoken nature of her writing and speaking has brought the eyes of the world upon her. One of the most widely read American poets, she prides herself on being "a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English." The Academy of American Poets voted Giovanni #1 poet for the spring of 2007.

Giovanni remains as determined and committed as ever to the fight for civil rights and equality. Always insisting on presenting the truth as she sees it, she has maintained a prominent place as a strong voice of the black community. Her focus is on the individual—specifically, the power one has to make a difference in oneself and in the lives of others.

Giovanni has written more than two dozen books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and three collections of essays. Her book Racism 101 includes bold, controversial essays about the situation of Americans on all sides of various race issues. She has received 21 honorary doctorates and a host of other awards, including Woman of the Year titles from three different magazines and the Governors’ Awards in the Arts from both Tennessee and Virginia. Rosa, her biography of legendary civil rights activist Rosa Parks, won Caldecott Honors and the Coretta Scott King Medal for best illustrated book. Other books include the collection of adult poetry Acolytes and the novel On My Journey Now: Looking at African American History Through the Spirituals. Three of her volumes of poetry—Love Poems, Blues: For All the Changes, and Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea—were winners of the NAACP Image Award in 1998, 2000, and 2003. Her newly released collection, Bicycles: Love Poems, has been called one of her “most powerful offerings to date” by Essence magazine.

Since 1987, Nikki Giovanni has taught writing and literature at Virginia Tech, where she is a distinguished professor. As a devoted and passionate writer, teacher, and speaker, she inspires not only her students but also readers and audiences nationwide. Her album Truth Is on Its Way, in which she reads her poetry against a background of gospel music, was a top 100 album and was named Best Spoken Word Album by the National Association of Radio and Television Announcers. The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection, a spoken-word CD, was a finalist for the 2003 Grammy Award in the category of spoken word.



Opening Keynote: Rachael Cobb

Rachael Cobb is a political scientist whose research focuses on U.S. elections, election administration, electoral politics, civic engagement, and political participation. Her work has focused on how voters are treated by election officials when they show up to vote. At Suffolk University, Cobb runs the University Pollworkers Project, a nonpartisan program designed to recruit college students to serve as poll workers in partnership with the City of Boston’s Election Department. Cobb serves on the Board of MassVOTE based in Boston, an organization dedicated to promoting political participation of historically underrepresented communities in Massachusetts.

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Workshop Facilitator: James Lang

James M. Lang is a professor of English and the Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA, where he teaches courses in British literature and in creative nonfiction writing. The author of five books and more than a hundred reviews or essays, on topics ranging from higher education to British literature, Lang writes a monthly column for The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as contributing regularly to America and Notre Dame Magazine. He edits a series of books on teaching and learning in higher education for the University of West Virginia Press. He has delivered public lectures and faculty workshops at more than a hundred colleges or universities in the United States and abroad. In the fall of 2016, he received a Fulbright Specialist grant to work with three universities in Colombia on the creation of a MOOC on teaching and learning in higher education in Spanish-speaking countries.

Lang will be leading the post-conference Teaching & Learning Workshop on Sunday: Small Teaching for Talented Students.

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Story Slam Emcee: Andre Dubus III

Andre Dubus III is the author of six books, including the New York Times’ bestsellers House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days, and his memoir, Townie. His most recent book, Dirty Love, published in the fall of 2013, was a New York Times “Notable Book” selection, a New York Times “Editors’ Choice”, a 2013 “Notable Fiction” choice from The Washington Post, and a Kirkus “Starred Best Book of 2013”.

Mr. Dubus has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Magazine Award for Fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, and is a 2012 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. His books are published in over twenty-five languages, and he teaches full-time at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Fontaine, a modern dancer, and their three children.

Mr. Dubus will emcee NCHC's first Story Slam: an interactive storytelling competition modeled after The Moth Radio Hour.

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