Throughout its long history, the College has brought some distinguished guests to its campus, thanks to different organizations that have taken turns sponsoring lectures by famous writers and activists.
One of the most recent controversial visitors to the College was Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” who gave the keynote address at the 2003 Writers’ Conference. At the time Rushdie’s book was published, some people claimed it was blasphemous because of its critiques of traditional Muslim belief.
In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, the ruler of Iran, issued a fatwa against Rushdie and threatened his life. Rushdie went into hiding until the fatwa was lifted in 1998 and published another book, “Fury,” in 2001. Rushdie’s lecture at the College concentrated on his writing and politics because, as he said, “The subject (the fatwa) is dead, I am not.”
The Writers’ Conference brought another distinguished author to the College last spring. John Irving, author of the novel-turned-Oscar winning movie “The Cider House Rules,” read an excerpt from the novel he was working on at the time, “Until I Find You.” He also gave advice to aspiring writers and shared some of his personal political views.
During its 22-year run, the Writers’ Conference managed to bring many other great authors to the College. Joyce Carol Oates, famous for her short stories and novels, appeared at the first Writers’ Conference. Toni Morrison, author of “Beloved,” and Kurt Vonnegut, author of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” also visited the College.
Earlier in its history, the College saw many guest lecturers as well. In 1937, Carl Sandburg, author of “Chicago Poems,” appeared. Sandburg had seen a long career as a writer and political organizer.
Also, during the 1970s, a time of great upheaval for the country, many activists came to make their views known to the College’s students. Dick Gregory, an author and civil right’s activist, visited the campus on more than one occasion.
“If this is one nation under God, I sure would like to see a nation under the devil,” he told students during a lecture in 1971.
Jane Fonda, although mostly famous for her acting career, also spread her personal message as a guest speaker.
“You (the students) are an incredible threat to the opponents of change,” Fonda said on Nov. 12, 1970. “Never forget your power.”
Fonda came back to the College’s campus in 1978 and spoke about corporate corruption in America.
One person who was able to fill Kendall Hall to capacity during her lecture was Margaret Mead, the famous socio-anthropologist. Mead came to the College on Oct. 9, 1975 and gave a lecture entitled “The Changing Roles of Men and Women.”
Another famous visitor to the College campus, although it was before he was a household name, was Dan Rather. The current anchor of “CBS Evening News” lectured to the College’s students during the 1978-1979 school year. In 1981, only two years after his visit to the College, Rather took over the anchor chair for the “CBS Evening News.” And now, 24 years later, he is planning to retire after he presented a story about President George W. Bush without substantiated evidence.
Looking back over the years, the College has managed to bring impressive guest speakers to the campus and it shows no signs of slowing down.