(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.) – Simultaneous lectures by New Yorker writers Elizabeth Kolbert and Alex Ross will pose a dilemma for those wanting to hear both at Williams College on Friday, March 11, at 4:15pm. Kolbert’s talk takes place in Wege Auditorium; Ross’s is in Presser Choral Hall of Bernhard Music Center. Both talks are free and open to the public.
Kolbert’s lecture will be based on “The Sixth Extinction,” her brilliant work which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015. Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. In her book, Kolbert describes how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before.
Kolbert is a staff writer for the New Yorker. She is also the author of “Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change,” and editor of “The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009.” Her series on global warming, “The Climate of Man,” won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s magazine writing award and a National Academies communications award. She is a two-time National Magazine Award winner, and has received a Heinz Award and Guggenheim Fellowship. Kolbert is the Class of 1946 Environmental Fellow-in-Residence at the college’s Center for Environmental Studies. She teaches a course on writing about science and nature.
Alex Ross, music columnist for the New Yorker, gives a lecture titled “Brünnhilde’s Rock: Gender, Sexuality, and Wagnerism,” in Presser Choral Hall of Bernhard Music Center. In his latter days, Wagner was thoroughly feminini generis,” Nietzsche wrote —”of the feminine gender.” In recent decades, debate has raged around the question of Wagner’s representations of women, with authors such as Catherine Clément and Eva Rieger emphasizing the composer’s misogyny and Carolyn Abbate and Nila Parly proposing a more affirmative understanding of his female characters.
In his talk, Ross will link that debate with late-nineteenth-century and fin-de-siècle responses to Wagner among feminists, suffragists, and independent-minded women, notably Willa Cather. He will also touch on the intersection of Wagner and gay desire, indicating the almost vertiginous complexity of gender and sexuality issues in the composer’s wake.
Alex Ross has been contributing to the New Yorker since 1993, and he became the magazine’s music critic in 1996. He writes about classical music, covering the field from the Metropolitan Opera to the downtown avant-garde, and has also contributed essays on pop music, literature, twentieth-century history, and gay life.
His first book, “The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,” a cultural history of music since 1900, won a National Book Critics Circle award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2013, the Southbank Centre, in London, mounted a yearlong festival inspired by “The Rest Is Noise,” involving more than a hundred concerts. His second book is the essay collection “Listen to This.” He is now at work on a third book, called “Wagnerism,” describing the composer’s vast cultural impact. In 2008, he was named a MacArthur Fellow; he has also received an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Belmont Prize in Germany.