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Richard Rodriguez speaks at Mercyhurst Sept. 29

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Richard Rodriguez, an elegant writer and master of the personal essay acclaimed as “one of the most eloquent and probing intellectuals in the country,” will lecture Thursday, Sept. 29, at Mercyhurst University. His talk – titled “Professing Faith in a Post-9/11 World” – is sponsored by the William C. Sennett Institute for Mercy and Catholic Studies at the university. The talk begins at 7 p.m. in the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center and is free and open to the public.

Rodriguez says he’ll explore the question “What is our faith as Catholics at a time when the death-crazed terrorist sings the name of God from the desert?” He’ll also discuss “some lessons I, a gay Catholic, take from my church.”

Rodriguez’s essays have been collected in four books, most recently “Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography,” published in 2013.

Emily Stokes of Harper’s Magazine writes that the book “was inspired by his bewilderment following the 9/11 attacks. It is an essay collection that ostensibly explores the Abrahamic ‘desert’ religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but that also draws us, in Rodriguez’s characteristically associative style, into his own history and in particular his relationship with women.”

He told Stokes, “I dedicate my book to the order of nuns that educated me, the Sisters of Mercy. Running schools and hospitals and orphanages in my youth, they were the first feminists I knew — though they would probably have shied from that term. By whatever term you want, they were able to move in the public world precisely because they didn’t belong to the conventional public world.”

Rodriguez first attracted widespread public attention with his 1982 autobiography “Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez.” More than 30 years later, it still remains controversial for its criticism of bilingual education and affirmative action.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Rodriguez spoke only Spanish until his entry into a Catholic elementary school prompted his family to adopt the English language. “Hunger of Memory” chronicled his struggles to learn English and assimilate into American society, which he says resulted in alienation from his parents and culture.

A decade later Rodriguez published “Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father,” an extended personal essay exploring the moral and cultural gap separating Protestant America and Catholic Mexico. The book was nominated for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.

“Brown: The Last Discovery of America” was a 2003 series of essays on art, culture and racial politics that uses the color "brown" as a metaphor for in-between states of being, arguing in particular that America's historical concept of race as limited to black and white is outdated and culturally damaging.

Rodriguez earned a B.A. from Stanford University in 1967 and an M.S. from Columbia University in 1969. He did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Warburg Institute in London, and received a Fulbright Fellowship (1972-1973) and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (1976-1977). He declined many offers of university teaching positions, convinced that he received the offers because he was part of an underrepresented ethnic group.

As a journalist, Rodriguez worked for more than 20 years for Pacific News Service in San Francisco and became a contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, and the Sunday “Opinion” section of the Los Angeles Times. His televised essays on American life for the PBS “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” earned him a prestigious George Peabody Award in 1997. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The American Scholar, Time, Mother Jones, The New Republic, and other publications.

For more information, contact Dr. Mary Hembrow Snyder, director of the William C. Sennett Institute for Mercy and Catholic Studies, at 814-824-3105 or msnyder@mercyhurst.edu.