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Pulitzer Prize winner explores human need to tell stories at ASU lecture

portrait of Stephen Greenblatt
March 04, 2014

Why do human beings tell stories? The phenomenon is so fundamental and so diverse that this question does not readily lend itself to a single answer.

Stephen Greenblatt, the Institute for Humanities Research 2014 Distinguished Lecturer, will explore this question in a free public lecture at 5:30 p.m., March 18 at Old Main’s Carson Ballroom on the Tempe campus.

In his talk, titled “’Tell My Story:’ The Human Compulsion to Narrate,” Greenblatt will start at the beginning with one of the greatest stories in the world – the story of Adam, Eve and the talking snake as the primordial instance of the human narration – moving on to one of the greatest storytellers, William Shakespeare, as the classical master of shaping lives into stories. Along the way, he may dip into evolutionary biology and the current use of "narrative" to interpret modern life.

Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a renowned literary critic and scholar with expertise in Renaissance and Shakespeare studies. His book, "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern," won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and the 2011 National Book Award.

As one of the founders of “new historicism,” Greenblatt contributes prominent scholarship that emphasizes a literary work’s original history and context while seeking connections to the present. He has published 12 books and is the editor of seven collections of criticism. He has won the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, two Guggenheim Fellowships, MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize and Harvard University’s Cabot Fellowship, among many others.

In addition to his critical acclaim, Greenblatt’s 2004 book on the life of William Shakespeare, "Will in the World," remained on the New York Times best-seller list for nine weeks. He has been a visiting professor across the world in Paris, Bologna, London, Beijing, Kyoto, Torino, Trieste and Florence.

A reception will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Old Main, to be directly followed by the Distinguished Lecture at 5:30 p.m. The ASU Bookstore will be offering Greenblatt’s "The Swerve" for sale, and the author will sign books after the lecture.

For more information on the 2014 Distinguished Lecture with Stephen Greenblatt, or to RSVP, visit:

The Institute for Humanities Research is a research unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.