Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2024

Title:Nurturing creativity at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice

Author: Camille Scarborough
Date Published: April 1, 2024
a woman stands at a podium in front of a bookshelf
Sharron Lannan (C’90, G’91), daughter of the late J. Patrick Lannan Jr. (C’60), speaks during an event at Riggs Library. The Lannan Foundation’s ongoing philanthropy helped the university establish and grow a center dedicated to the literary arts. Photo: Lisa Helfert

An interdisciplinary program housed in the Office of the President, the Lannan Center is dedicated to literary art and the issues of our time, from human rights to environmental stewardship to social justice.

The Center’s programs have been serving and inspiring the university community since the early 1990s through grants bestowed by the Lannan Foundation, a family philanthropy that includes a number of Georgetown alumni, most notably the late J. Patrick Lannan Jr. (C’60), its founder and President. In 2006, the Lannan Center was established, and in 2014 it received an endowment from Lannan Foundation, which was increased substantially in 2022.

Since its founding, the Lannan Center has held events that are open to students, faculty, and staff throughout the university and the community. A popular event each spring is the Lannan Center Symposium: writers, journalists, poets, and other intellectuals from across the United States and abroad discuss social and cultural topics pertinent to present time.

After serving as director for nine years, Carolyn Forché—who has been instrumental in the center’s growth over the years—moved into a new role as director of the center’s Readings and Talks Series. These events, all free and open to the public, have featured such luminaries as Viet Thanh Nguyen, Margaret Atwood, Ilya Kaminsky, and Mark Strand.

“Through the visionary generosity of Patrick Lannan and the Lannan Foundation, we have been able to build a unique cultural institution at Georgetown University during the past 20 years, realizing the convergence of literary art, activism, and public intellectual life,” says Forché.

Award-winning author Aminatta Forna became the first endowed director of the Lannan Center last August. Forna has already been forming many cross-campus collaborations, including recent work with Georgetown’s Medical Humanities Initiative and Laboratory for Global Performance.

In partnership with the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Lannan Fellows Program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. During their one-year term, Fellows immerse themselves in the world of literary art by participating in informal seminars with published authors, a reading series, receptions, and more.

For Max Zhang (SFS’23), the fellowship experience during his junior year made a profound impact, especially given the post-pandemic timing.

“My time as a Lannan Fellow [2021–2022] was characterized by seismic impact. My creative work flowered; I found a new cadence and comfort as a poet; I grew closer to my own humanity,” shares Zhang, a Business and Global Affairs major in the School of Foreign Service, with minors in English and philosophy.

“Done in a year when I faced great personal turmoil, my Lannan Fellowship was a life-affirming hearth, a place where I had the time, mentorship, and community to nurture a portfolio of poetry written just for its own sake,” adds Zhang. 

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