May 31, 2023

Great Lives Begins Eighth Season

The spring 2011 semester marks the eighth annual offering of the Chappell Lecture Series, “Great Lives: Biographical Approaches to History.” From Martin Luther to Mickey Mantle, from Abigail Adams to Oprah Winfrey, this year the popular series includes some of history’s most fascinating figures, discussed by some of today’s foremost biographers.

As in the past, the program features recently published works by acclaimed authors. These include biographies of George Washington (2010) by Ron Chernow, whose previous studies of Alexander Hamilton and John D. Rockefeller won widespread praise; Cornelius Vanderbilt by J.T. Stiles, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer in biography; Abigail Adams by Woody Holton, winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 2010; Ayn Rand (2009) by University of Virginia professor Jennifer Burns; George Custer and Sitting Bull (2010) by Nathaniel Philbrick; and Mickey Mantle (2010) by award-winning sportswriter Jane Leavy.

This year’s series also includes a number of nationally renowned biographers, among them religious scholar Martin Marty (on Martin Luther); British historian Jeremy Black (the fictional James Bond); Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (John Paul Jones); jazz critic Gary Giddins (Louis Armstrong); and James McGrath Morris (Joseph Pulitzer).

Noted humor historian Thomas Inge of Randolph-Macon College will analyze the life and work of “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz.  Discussing Amelia Earhart will be Susan Butler, whose biography of the famed aviator served as a basis for the popular 2009 Hilary Swank movie.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides, which were led by James Farmer, University of South Florida professor Raymond Arsenault will deliver a presentation on the Freedom Riders. His talk will be in conjunction with a special showing on campus of a new documentary on that important aspect of the civil rights movement. Noted Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley will discuss another iconic figure of the movement, Rosa Parks.

Also timed to highlight a milestone anniversary is Charles J. Shields’s presentation on Harper Lee, whose enduring novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published 50 years ago.

Among other speakers will be two with UMW affiliations: former political science professor Steven Farnsworth (now at George Mason University) on Lyndon Johnson and current English professor Mara Scanlon on Walt Whitman.

The series will conclude with a presentation on Oprah Winfrey by America’s best-known (and frequently controversial) celebrity biographer, Kitty Kelley.

Books by the speakers will be available for purchase and for signing by the authors in Dodd Auditorium following the lectures.

See below for a descriptive schedule of the lectures.  For additional information, contact Abbie McGhee at 540/654-1065 or


Tuesday, Jan.18 Ayn Rand, by Jennifer Burns

Burns is a professor of history at the University of Virginia.  Her book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009) is an intellectual biography of the controversial novelist and philosopher.  Based on exclusive access to Rand’s personal papers, Goddess of the Market is the only biography to draw upon her unedited letters and journals.


Thursday, Jan. 20 Martin Luther, by Martin E. Marty

Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, is perhaps America’s foremost religious scholar, having taught for 35 years at Chicago’s Divinity School.  He has written more than 5,000 articles and numerous books, including Martin Luther: A Life, and has also served as a Lutheran pastor.


Tuesday, Jan. 25 Charles Schulz, by M. Thomas Inge

Inge, who is professor of humanities at Randolph-Macon College, has lectured and written widely (over 50 books) on language and humor, and is the editor of My Life with Charlie Brown (2010). He  alsohas written the definitive three-volume Handbook of American Popular Culture.


Thursday, Jan. 27 Abigail Adams,  by Woody Holton

Holton, author of Abigail Adams, is a professor of history at the University of Richmond. Having been a National Book Award finalist in 2007 for his book Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, he has received wide acclaim for his Adams biography, including the prestigious Bancroft prize and the Library of Virginia’s 2010 award for non-fiction.


Tuesday, Feb 1 Custer/ Sitting Bull by Nathaniel Philbrick

Philbrick is the author of the recently published The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (2010). Of that book, The Los Angeles Times wrote, “With strong narrative skill, offering broad context and a narrative tale, Philbrick recounts a story and, in the process, dismantles old myths piece by piece.” His other books include In the Heart of the Sea (2001) and Mayflower (2007).


Thursday, Feb. 3 Louis Armstrong, by Gary Giddins

Pop culture scholar Gary Giddins is the author of Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong (2001). A longtime contributor to the Village Voice, Giddins is generally considered to be the world’s preeminent jazz critic. His other books include Riding on a Blue Note: Jazz and American Pop (2000), Jazz (2009), and biographies of Bing Crosby and Charlie Parker.


Tuesday, Feb. 8 Joseph Pulitzer, by James McGrath Morris

Morris devoted five years to writing his recently published Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power, which was named one of the ten best biographies of 2010 by Booklist. According to The New York Times Review of Books it “reads like a novel.” Morris is the editor of the monthly Biographer’s Craft and a founding member of Biographers International Organization (BIO).


Tuesday, Feb. 15 Walt Whitman, by Mara Scanlon

Professor Scanlon’s study of Whitman involved multi-university collaboration that produced a digital study titled “Looking for Whitman: the Poetry of Place in Life and Work of Walt Whitman.” Part of her work focuses on how Whitman helped heal wounded Civil War soldiers in Fredericksburg in the same way he hoped his poetry could heal the war-torn nation.


Thursday, Feb. 17 Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields

In the four years he spent researching the life of the reclusive author for his biography Mockingbird (2006), Shields analyzed the archives of her Alabama hometown and the papers of her friend Truman Capote, as well as interviewed over 600 of Lee’s neighbors, childhood friends, and law school classmates. This lecture is designed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the publication of Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.


Thursday, Feb. 24 George Washington, by Ron Chernow

Chernow is one of America’s most distinguished biographers. His Washington: A Life elicited immediate acclaim when it debuted near the top of The New York Times bestseller list following its publication in October 2010. His previous books, all highly acclaimed, include The House of Morgan (1990) and biographies of John D. Rockefeller (1998) and Alexander Hamilton (2004).


Thursday, Mar. 10 John Paul Jones, by Evan Thomas

Thomas is the author of the definitive John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (2003). He worked for many years an editor at Newsweek, has served as visiting professor at Harvard and Princeton, and is currently a regular panelist on the weekly television show “Inside Washington.” His other notable books include a biography of Robert Kennedy (about whom he spoke previously in Great Lives), and, most recently, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 (2010).


Thursday, Mar. 24 Lyndon B. Johnson, by Stephen Farnsworth

Prior to accepting an appointment at George Mason University, Professor Farnsworth was an award-winning political science teacher at UMW. His books include The Nightly News Nightmare: Media Coverage of U.S. Presidential Elections, 1988-2008. He has previously delivered well-received Great Lives lectures on Truman, Nixon, and Reagan.


Tuesday, Mar. 29 Amelia Earhart, by Susan Butler

Butler’s East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart was a basis for the 2009 Hillary Swank movie Amelia.  The biography was called by The Washington Post “the single best book we now have on Earhart’s life.” Her most recent work, My Dear Mr. Stalin, is a study of the wartime correspondence between Stalin and FDR.


Thursday, Mar. 31 The Freedom Riders, by Raymond Arsenault

Arsenault, a prolific scholar of Southern history, is author of the authoritative The Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006). His lecture is scheduled to coincide with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom March of 1961. (It is anticipated that some of the original Freedom Riders will be guests at this lecture.)


Thursday, Apr. 7 Mickey Mantle, by Jane Leavy

Jane Leavy, a former Washington Post sports writer, is author of The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. When released in October 2010, the book immediately rose to near the top of the New York Times best-seller list. Doris Kearns Goodwin has called it “one of the best sports biographies I have ever read.”


Tuesday, Apr. 12 James Bond, by Jeremy Black

Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, is the author of The Politics of James Bond: From Fleming’s Novels to the Big Screen (2001). One of Europe’s most prominent historians, he is the author of 100 books, including A History of the British Isles, and, most recently, George III: America’s Last King (2008). He previously lectured in Great Lives on George III and Napoleon.


Thursday, Apr. 14 Cornelius Vanderbilt, by T.J. Stiles

T.J. Stiles won the 2010 Pulitzer for biography and the 2009 National Book Award for non-fiction for his The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. One reviewer called “monumental and outrageously entertaining.” Stiles’s most recent book prior to the Vanderbilt biography was the acclaimed Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War.


Tuesday, Apr. 19 Rosa Parks, by Douglas Brinkley

Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a leading national commentator on recent America. His book Rosa Parks: A Life (2000) is considered the standard biography of the iconic Civil Rights figure. Among his numerous other publications are biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Gerald Ford, as well as a study of the Hurricane Katrina disaster called The Great Deluge.


Thursday, Apr. 21 Oprah Winfrey Kitty Kelley

Kitty Kelley is America’s preeminent (if sometimes controversial) investigative biographer, whose latest work, Oprah: A Biography, debuted in 2010 at #1 on The New York Times bestseller list. Her previous works, all dealing with high-profile figures, include biographies of Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

About Marty Morrison


  1. Barbara Quann says

    The UMW Bookstore has Great Lives Lecture Series in stock now.

  2. looking forward to Kitty Kelley 🙂