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Columnist to make a case with the humanities

January 29, 2010

Patricia Williams, who writes the provocative monthly column “Diary of a Mad Law Professor” for the Nation, brings her style of bridging American politics and popular culture to Arizona State University Feb. 4 for the annual Institute for Humanities Research Distinguished Lecture.

Williams, the James. L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University, will reflect on her use of interdisciplinarity as a form of advocacy in her talk, titled “The Humanities as Power: Law, Poetry, Jazz and Civic Engagement.” The lecture will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Old Main, Carson Ballroom, on the ASU Tempe campus. The event is free and open to the public. A pre-lecture reception will be held at 4:30 p.m. For information or to RSVP, contact 480-965-3000 or

“All of her writings, both academic and journalistic, are informed by her legal training and experience, her love of poetry and jazz, and her deep belief in the importance of civic engagement,” says Sally Kitch, director of the Institute for Humanities Research and the Dean’s Distinguished Humanities Professor in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“On radio and TV, and in documentary films and print, Patricia has consistently delivered moving and insightful commentary,” Kitch says. “We can expect not just a lecture but a performance, as she reflects on her collaborations with poets and musicians, such as Oliver Lake, in discussing the art of ‘making a case’ with the humanities.”

Williams is a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Law School. She has served on faculties of the University of Wisconsin School of Law, Harvard University’s Women’s Studies Program, and the City University of New York Law School at Queen’s College.

As a law professor, she has testified before congress, acted as a consultant and coordinator for a variety of public interest lawsuits, and served on the boards of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Society of American Law Teachers, and National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Before entering academia, Williams practiced law as a consumer advocate and deputy city attorney in Los Angeles, and as a staff attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

In 2000, Williams received a MacArthur Fellowship — the “genius” grant given to individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future.

In addition to her monthly columns in the Nation, in which she examines contemporary legal, political, moral and cultural issues, Williams has authored numerous articles for scholarly journals and popular magazines and newspaper. Her book, “The Alchemy of Race and Rights,” was named one of the 25 best books of 1991 by the Voice Literary Supplement and one of the “feminist classics of the last 20 years” that “literally changed women’s lives,” by Ms. magazine’s 20th anniversary edition.

She is also author of “The Rooster’s Egg” (1995), “Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race” (1998), and “Open House: Of Family, Food, Friends, Piano Lessons and The Search for a Room of My Own” (2004).

Williams has appeared on a variety of radio and television shows, and in several documentary films, including “That Rush!” (1995), which she wrote and narrated. It was featured as part of an installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London.

The Institute for Humanities Research Distinguished Lecture is an annual signature university and community event that features a national or international scholar focusing o the importance of the humanities to the compelling issues of our times. More information about the institute and the lecture is online at