Elizabeth Alexander

Director, Creativity and Free Expression

Elizabeth Alexander shapes and directs Ford’s grant making in arts, media, and culture, a cornerstone of our work in the US and around the world. She guides the foundation’s efforts to examine how cultural narratives affect and shape social movements and how media and the arts, including film and visual storytelling, can contribute to a fairer and more just society.

Elizabeth joined the foundation in 2015. She is the author of six books of poetry, including American Sublime, a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize; two collections of essays; and The Light of the World, her critically acclaimed memoir on love and loss. Her writing explores such subjects as race, gender, politics, art, and history. Among her acclaimed essays, “‘Can You Be BLACK and Look at This?’: Reading the Rodney King Video(s)” and “Meditations on ‘Mecca’: Gwendolyn Brooks and the Responsibilities of the Black Poet” have enlivened debate on the role of art and social justice and addressed issues of race, representation, violence, and the vulnerable black body. In 2009, she wrote and delivered her poem “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Elizabeth has taught with distinction at the University of Chicago, where she won the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching; New York University, in the graduate creative writing program; and Smith College, where she was Grace Hazard Conkling Poet in Residence and director of the Poetry Center. She was on the faculty of Yale University for 15 years and served as chair of Yale’s African American Studies Department. Elizabeth was recently named the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.

Elizabeth has received many awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees, among them grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. She received the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry and is the inaugural recipient of the Jackson Poetry Prize. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Elizabeth earned a PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree from Boston University, and a bachelor’s degree from Yale University.

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  • Creativity and Free Expression

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