Chair holders



The Willson Center will welcome author Michael OndaatjeMichael Ondaatje to the University of Georgia as the 2019-2020 Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding. Ondaatje, whose 1992 novel The English Patient was awarded the “Golden Booker” prize in 2018 as the best English-language novel of the past 50 years, will visit UGA and Athens October 24-25 for a slate of public events and small-scale interactions with college and high school students.

Ondaatje’s main public event will be a reading and conversation at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24 in the UGA Chapel, followed by a meet-and-greet reception on the lawn outside the Chapel. On Friday, Oct. 25, Ondaatje will attend an 8 p.m. public reception and book signing at Ciné. Books will be offered for sale at the event by Avid Bookshop. Both events are free and open to the public. During his two-day visit, Ondaatje will also meet with students in classes at both UGA and Clarke Central High School.

Born in Sri Lanka, Ondaatje spent his late childhood in England and has lived in Canada since 1962. He is best known for his novels, including Coming Through Slaughter (1976), In the Skin of a Lion (1987), Anil’s Ghost (2000), Divisadero (2007), and most recently Warlight (2018), which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

The English Patient won the Man Booker, awarded each year for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom, then was chosen for the Golden Booker from among the first 50 years of winners of the prize. The book is a kaleidoscopic tale of four characters ensconced in a bombed-out Italian villa near the end of World War II, its perspective constantly shifting through their separate and shared pasts and present in a densely layered exploration of the subjectiveness of identity and the personal resonance of history. A 1996 film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella and starring Juliette Binoche, Ralph Fiennes, Willem Dafoe, Naveen Andrews, and Kristen Scott Thomas, won nine Academy Awards.

In addition to his novels, Ondaatje has published numerous acclaimed collections of poetry including There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning To Do, The Cinnamon Peeler, and Handwriting, as well as a memoir of his childhood, a book of interviews with the film editor Walter Murch, and a critical analysis of the prose and poetry of Leonard Cohen. He also directed a series of documentary films in the 1970s.





The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts welcomed RebeccaRebecca Rutstein Rutstein, an artist whose work spans painting, sculpture, installation, and public art and explores abstraction inspired by science, data and maps, to the University of Georgia as the third Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding.

Rutstein visited UGA twice during the 2018-19 academic year: in November as part of the national conference of the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru), and again in March. During each of her visits, Rutstein gave public presentations with the widely known oceanographer Samantha Joye, Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences in the department of marine sciences at UGA.

In addition to her public conversations with Joye and a public talk at Creature Comforts Brewing Co., Rutstein met with MFA and undergraduate classes in the Lamar Dodd School of Art as well as leading students from Clarke and Hillsman middle schools on a tour of her exhibition in the Georgia Museum of Art.

Between the two visits, Rutstein accompanied Joye on an expedition to Mexico’s Guaymas Basin in the Sea of Cortez that included a deep sea dive aboard Alvin, a submersible vessel able to withstand the crushing pressure of the extremes of the deep ocean. While scientists explored hydrothermal vents and carbon cycling processes in the basin, Rutstein set up her studio on the ship and created new works inspired by the data being collected in real time.

Rutstein created a 64-foot-long interactive sculptural installation with laser cut steel and LED lights, and a monumental four-part painting installation that were displayed at the Georgia Museum of Art. She also exhibited a mural-sized banner at the Lamar Dodd School of Art. The sculpture, with its hexagonal forms and reactive lighting, and the shapes present in the paintings were inspired by the hydrocarbon structures and bioluminescence present in Guaymas Basin.

In the process of creating works inspired by geology, microbiology and marine science, Rutstein has previously collaborated with scientists aboard research vessels sailing from the Galápagos Islands to California, Vietnam to Guam, and in the waters surrounding Tahiti. Prior to her expedition with Joye, in October 2018, she made her first descent in Alvin to the ocean floor off of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica with a team of scientists from Temple University.

Rutstein has exhibited widely in museums, institutions and galleries, and has received numerous awards including the prestigious Pew Fellowship in the Arts. She has held more than 25 solo exhibitions at venues across the United States.

Joye’s research examines the complex feedbacks that drive elemental cycling in coastal and open ocean environments, and the effects of climate change and anthropogenic disturbances on critical environmental processes to gain a better understanding of how future changes will affect ecosystem functioning. Her work in deep sea extreme environments explores how microbial processes interact with geological and physical processes.




The Jane and Harry Willson CenterColm Toibin for Humanities and Arts will welcome the internationally acclaimed Irish writer Colm Tóibín to the University of Georgia as the second annual Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding March 15-17, 2017.

Tóibín will hold public speaking events on and off the UGA campus, as well as participate in more personal interactions with students and faculty during his visit.

The Delta Visiting Chair, established by the Willson Center through the support of The Delta Air Lines Foundation, hosts outstanding global scholars, leading creative thinkers, artists and intellectuals who teach and perform research at UGA. Its first honoree was Alice Walker in 2015.

The chair is founded upon the legacy of the Delta Prize for Global Understanding, which from 1997-2011 was presented to individuals – including Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ted Turner, Desmond Tutu, and Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter – whose initiatives promoted world peace by advancing understanding and cooperation among cultures and nations.

A prize-winning novelist, short-story writer, dramatist and critic, Tóibín’s works have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is the author of the acclaimed novels The Master and Brooklyn, a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and a contributing editor at the London Review of Books.

“Colm Tóibín’s writing addresses our ideas of home, identity, love and belonging,” said Nicholas Allen, Franklin Professor of English and director of the Willson Center. “Tóibín is also an illuminating critic who brings his sharp intelligence to bear on literatures from the classics to the present. His reading and conversations will speak to the diversity of students across the campus. Ireland possesses one of the world’s great literary traditions and Tóibín is one its leading contemporary artists. Ireland shares deep connections with Georgia, which we will celebrate during Toibin’s visit in the week of St Patrick’s Day.”

The first public event of Tóibín’s visit will be a March 15 screening of the 2015 film adaptation of his 2009 novel Brooklyn at Ciné, 234 W. Hancock Ave. in downtown Athens. A public reception and book signing event with Avid Bookshop will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the CinéLab, followed by the screening at 7:30, which is free and open to the public but with extremely limited seating available. Tóibín will take part in an audience Q&A session after the film.

On March 16 at 3:30 p.m., Tóibín will give a reading and talk in the University of Georgia Chapel titled “Staying Home, Leaving Home: Ireland and America,” followed by a book signing event at Avid Bookshop on Prince Ave. at 6 p.m. On March 17 at 7 p.m., Tóibín will have a public conversation in the Seney-Stovall Chapel with the Irish writer and editor Fintan O’Toole, followed by a special St. Patrick’s Day performance by the singer Iarla Ó Lionáird.

O’Toole is a columnist, literary editor and drama critic for the Irish Times and one of Ireland’s leading public intellectuals. Ó Lionáird is one of Ireland’s most renowned singers. He is a member of The Gloaming and performed “Casadh an tSúgáin (Twisting the Rope)” in Brooklyn.

From March 15-25 in the Barrow Hall Gallery, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences will host “1950s Fashion Inspired by Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn,” an exhibit from the college’s historic clothing collection curated by Monica Sklar, assistant professor of textiles, merchandising, and interiors.

Tóibín has been shortlisted three times for the Man Booker Prize, for his novels The Blackwater Lightship (1999), The Master (2004), and The Testament of Mary (2012). The Master won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and was named Novel of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. Brooklyn won the Costa Novel Award, and the film, adapted by screenwriter Nick Hornby, directed by John Crowley, and starring Saoirse Ronan, was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

“The Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding is an opportunity to showcase the excellence and diversity of research in the humanities and arts at the University of Georgia,” said Vice President for Research David Lee. “It involves students, faculty and the community in culture and creativity and I invite you to share in these readings and conversations about the relationship between Ireland and America in the literature and film of Colm Tóibín.”




Alice Walker The Willson Center for Humanities and Arts will welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker to the University of Georgia as the inaugural Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding October 14-15, 2015.

Walker will hold public speaking events on and off the UGA campus, as well as participate in more personal interactions with students and faculty during her visit.

A native of Eatonton, Ga., Walker will speak at the UGA Chapel on October 14 and at the Morton Theatre in downtown Athens on October 15. Details on these and other events taking place during her visit will be announced in the coming months.

“Alice Walker is one of the most gifted and inspirational writers of our time,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “It only is fitting that someone with such a profound influence on the literary world would serve as the inaugural Delta Chair. We are grateful to the Delta Air Lines Foundation for sponsoring this exciting global initiative, and we look forward to welcoming Alice back to campus in the fall.”

Walker is the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, for her 1982 novel “The Color Purple,” which also earned a National Book Award. She has written six other novels, four collections of short stories, four children’s books, and volumes of essays and poetry. Her first collection of poetry, “Once,” was published in 1968, followed by her first novel, “The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” in 1970. Throughout her public life, she has been an international activist for civil and human rights and a forceful advocate for women and girls.

Walker offered a personal message to the UGA and Athens communities:

“This gathering at the historic University of Georgia offers a unique and splendid opportunity for the Southern community from which I come to gather for a time of introduction, contemplation, and learning.

“It has been half a century since I lived in Georgia, yet my roots here remain, as does my interest in, and concern for, all the people of this region. As a writer, my early work is drenched in the ambiance of the South; those who have read my poetry, or short stories, particularly the ones in ‘In Love and Trouble,’ ‘Stories of Black Women,’ or my early novels: ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland,’ ‘Meridian,’ and ‘The Color Purple’ will find more than a trace of my absorbed attention to the lives of Southerners in this area. As for Athens, Georgia, I once stayed here briefly with an aunt and uncle when I was two. I will be pleased to tell more of this story after I arrive!

“That my visit to the campus is made possible by Delta Airlines is both amusing and comforting. I have flown on Delta since I was a student at Spelman College in Atlanta in the early sixties, and, in fact, was one of the students selected to meet the plane (also Delta) of Andy Young and other civil rights associates when they first came to this state to work with Martin Luther King.

“I am pleased that Delta has instituted this program that will be, I believe, beneficial to all who attend. At least that is my wish.”

“Alice Walker’s work has uplifted so many of us worldwide, and we are proud to play a role in bringing her to Georgia so she can continue to inspire students and the community as a whole as a major figure in world literature,” said Delta CEO Richard Anderson. “As a global airline that is committed to the diversity of our customers and employees, it is a great honor to have someone as distinguished as Ms. Walker as the inaugural Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding at the University of Georgia.”

The Willson Center will partner with school districts in Athens-Clarke County and Putnam County, where Walker was born and raised, to involve high school students in events and related academic activities before and during Walker’s visit.

“The University of Georgia is a global public research university and we are honored to welcome one of the major figures of modern literature to the campus to connect with our community of students, faculty and citizens of all ages,” said Nicholas Allen, Franklin Professor of English and director of the Willson Center. “Alice Walker transformed the cultural imagination of Georgia and made its stories part of a world conversation about belonging, memory and the power of the human imagination to persevere and flourish.

“Our mission at the Wilson Center is to bring Georgia to the world and the world to Georgia. Alice Walker will be the first of a distinguished group of writers, thinkers and artists we will bring to Athens in the coming years thanks to the support of the Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding.”