Harpur Dean's Distinguished Lecture

The Harpur Dean's Distinguished Lecture was inaugurated in 1998 as an annual forum to feature the exemplary research and scholarly and creative work that is being conducted across the disciplines in Harpur College. These lectures also provide an opportunity for distinguished members of the Harpur College faculty to address an audience of their peers and students, in addition to the wider local community. The Harpur Dean's Distinguished Lecture is open to the public.

*Dean's Distinguished Lecture is co-sponsored by the Binghamton Chapter of United University Professions.


2020-21 Harpur Dean's Distinguished Lecture

Image: Jaimee Wriston Colbert
Jaimee Wriston Colbert
Flight of the Palila – From Passion to Eco-fiction, One Writer’s Process

Jaimee Wriston Colbert, Professor of English and Creative Writing
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | 4:30 PM - (Delivered via Zoom)
Register todayThe critically endangered Palila is one of the rarest birds on the planet, existing only in a small area on Mauna Kea Mountain in Hawai’i. I became enchanted with them as a child growing up in Hawai’i. Years later doing research for my novels, I learned that the Palila is one of what had been fifty-six Hawaiian Honeycreepers endemic to the islands; now just eighteen are left. This troubling statistic joins an ever-growing list of animal and plant species disappearing around the world. Scientists have estimated every day more than 150 species go extinct. I became interested in writing eco-fiction in part to shed light on this travesty through what I do best, telling stories. This talk discusses my process as a fiction writer, through childhood enchantment with this one endangered bird to its role in my linked story collection Wild Things. I will define eco-fiction and detail my goals as an eco-fiction writer engaging with the environment in my work. During the second half I will read excerpts from the story “Wild Things” featuring the Palila, emphasizing my task as a fiction writer creating empathy for her characters, while revealing nature’s role in this particular work of eco-fiction.

Jaimee Wriston Colbert is the author of six books of fiction: Vanishing Acts, her 2018 novel, Finalist for the 2019 International Book Award in Literary Fiction; Wild Things, linked stories, winner of the CNY 2017 Book Award in Fiction and the 2018 International Book Award; the novel Shark Girls, finalist for the Foreword Book of the Year Award; Dream Lives of Butterflies, winner of the IPPY Gold Medal Award for story collections; Climbing the God Tree, winner of the Willa Cather Fiction Prize, and Sex, Salvation, and the Automobile, winner of the Zephyr Prize. A new novel, How Not to Drown, is forthcoming May 2021. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including The Gettysburg Review, New Letters, and Prairie Schooner, and broadcast on “Selected Shorts.” She was the 2012 recipient of the Ian MacMillan Fiction Prize for “Things Blow Up,” a story in Wild Things. Other stories won the Jane’s Stories Award and the Isotope Editor’s Fiction Prize. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Binghamton University, where she is a recent recipient of the 2019 SUNY Chancellor’s Award in Scholarship and Creative Activities. She is originally from Honolulu, Hawai’i.

For more information about Professor Wriston Colbert, read an interview about Vanishing Acts and another interview about Wild Things. You are also invited to read excerpts of her books, Vanishing Acts (2018) and Wild Things (2016). For more information about the Palila, visit the Mauna Kea Restoration project website.


Past Dean's Distinguished Lectures
2019-20 Matt Johnson, Psychology
Predicting Marital Discord & Divorce
2018-19   Anne Bailey, History
The Weeping Time and Divided America
2017-18 Max Pensky, Philosophy and Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention
Is the Battle Against Impunity Worth Winning?
2016-17 Subal Kumbhakar, Economics
Performance, Productivity and Profit: A Primer
2015-16 Tim Lowenstein, Geological Sciences
Predicting future climate change from study of Earth's past
2014-15 Nancy Um, Art History
A Mosque, a Tomb, and the Arabian Legacy of Coffee
2013-14 Benjamin Fordham, Political Science
Protectionist Empire: Trade, Tariffs, and United States Foreign Policy, 1890­–1914
2012-13 Karin Sauer, Biological Sciences
Disarming Biofilms - How to Turn a Microbe Against Itself
2011-12 Maria Mazziotti Gillan, English
William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, and Paterson: Poets of the City
2010-11 Donald Quataert, History
Views from Below and the Writing of Ottoman History
2009-10 Marilynn Desmond, English and Comparative Literature
Transitional Feminism and the Middle Ages
2008-09 J. Koji Lum, Anthropology and Biological Sciences
Human Settlement and Malaria of the Pacific
2007-08 Thomas Dublin, History
The Face of Decline - Deindustrialization in Pennsylvania Anthracite Religion