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Firoozeh Dumas was born in Abadan, Iran and, in the 1970’s, moved to Southern California with her family. She later attended UC Berkeley where she met and married a Frenchman.

Firoozeh grew up listening to her father, a former Fulbright Scholar, recount the many colorful stories of his life in both Iran and America. In 2001, with no prior writing experience, Firoozeh decided to write her stories as a gift for her two children. Funny in Farsi was on the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times bestseller lists and was a finalist for the PEN/USA award in 2004 and a finalist in 2005 for an Audie Award for best audio book (she lost to Bob Dylan). She was also a finalist for the prestigious Thurber Prize for American Humor (she lost to Jon Stewart), and is the first Middle Eastern woman ever to be considered for this honor.

Critics and readers of all ages have loved her stories. Jimmy Carter called Funny in Farsi "a humorous and introspective chronicle of a life filled with love—of family, country and heritage.”

Over a dozen community reading programs have used Firoozeh's books for their citywide reads, all with great success. Firoozeh's stories appeal to all ages and backgrounds and her humor resonates with a wide audience. In addition, Funny in Farsi has become part of the curriculum in junior highs, high schools, and colleges around the country and is now on the California Recommended Reading List for grades 6-12. Educators have found that Firoozeh's books are a gateway to many conversations, including shared humanity, immigration, language, family, and identity. Firoozeh has spoken at educational conferences throughout the United States and in Europe and was awarded the Spirit of America Award in 2008 by the National Council of Social Studies. Former recipients of this award include Jimmy Carter, Rosa Parks, and Mr. Rogers. Her commentaries are often broadcast on NPR and published in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Gourmet, Good Housekeeping, and Lifetime Magazine.

In April 2005, Firoozeh's one-woman show, "Laughing Without an Accent" opened in Northern California to sold out audiences at Theatreworks in Mountain View, California. Firoozeh incorporates much of what she learned from her one-woman show in her speeches, adding yet another layer of entertainment to her thought-provoking yet humorous talks.

For the past eleven years, Firoozeh has traveled the country reminding us that our commonalities far outweigh our differences. Her travels have taken her throughout rural America, from the East Coast to the West Coast, from Harvard University to UCLA and to Europe. Everywhere she has gone, audiences have embraced her message of shared humanity while laughing at her humorous tales.

Firoozeh Dumas’s second memoir, entitled Laughing without an Accent, was published in May 2008 and is a New York Times bestseller. Alexander McCall Smith had this to say: "These stories, like everything Firoozeh Dumas writes, are charming, highly amusing vignettes of family life. Dumas is one of those rare people -- a naturally gifted storyteller."

Her most recent book, a “tween” novel, It Aint So Awful, Falafel, was published in May 2016 to favorable reviews. It Aint So Awful, Falafel is a Kirkus 'starred' book and a 2016 Time Magazine Top 10 YA and Children’s Book In addition, It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel was selected as the 2017 recipient of the California Library Association’s John and Patricia Beatty Award, as well as the New York Historical Society's 2017 New Americans Children’s History Book Prize. The story contains no vampires.

Firoozeh Dumas' official website

Juan Fillipe Herrera, U.S. Poet Laureate (2017)

Juan Felipe Herrera is the 21st Poet Laureate of the United States (2015-2016) and is the first Latino to hold the position. From 2012-2014, Herrera served as California State Poet Laureate. Herrera’s many collections of poetry include Notes on the Assemblage; Senegal Taxi; Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, a recipient of the PEN/Beyond Margins Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border: Undocuments 1971-2007. He is also the author of Crashboomlove: A Novel in Verse, which received the Americas Award. His books of prose for children include: SkateFate, Calling The Doves, which won the Ezra Jack Keats Award; Upside Down Boy, which was adapted into a musical for young audiences in New York City; and Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box. Herrera is also a performance artist and activist on behalf of migrant and indigenous communities and at-risk youth.

Tracy K. Smith, Author & Poet (2016)

Tracy K. Smith is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Ordinary Light (Knopf, 2015) and three books of poetry. Her most recent collection of poems, Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011), won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize and was selected as a New York Times Notable Book. The collection draws on sources as disparate as Arthur C. Clarke and David Bowie, and is in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, an engineer who worked on the Hubble Telescope. Duende (2007) won the 2006 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and an Essence Literary Award. The Body’s Question (2003) was the winner of the 2002 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith was the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers Award in 2004 and a Whiting Award in 2005. In 2014 the Academy of American Poets awarded Smith with the Academy Fellowship, awarded to one poet each year to recognize distinguished poetic achievement.

Smith’s poems embody the lyrical, rhythmic quality of masters such as Federico Garcí­a Lorca. At times political, whimsical, and always meditative, they speak largely to the role of art and to the conception of what it means to be American, dealing with the “evolution and decline of the culture we belong to.” Her work also explores the dichotomy between the ordered world and the irrationality of the self, the importance of submitting oneself willingly to the “ongoing conflict” of life and surviving nonetheless—or as in Smith’s own words, “poetry is a way of stepping into the mess of experience.”

Her memoir, Ordinary Light, “begins with a harrowing scene at the deathbed of Smith’s mother, who died in 1994,” writes Craig Morgan Teicher: “From there it circles back to Smith’s early childhood, tracing her growth not just as a writer, but as someone who must learn the hard lessons of puberty and early adulthood, as well as what it means to be a black woman growing up in suburban California. Her discovery of poetry is part of this, but the most remarkable moments in this book are the ones in which Smith deals with ordinary trials, which she treats with rare insight and heart.” Booklist calls Ordinary Light “a gracefully nuanced yet strikingly candid memoir about family, faith, race, and literature” and praises Smith for her ability to “hold our intellectual and emotional attention ever so tightly as she charts her evolving thoughts on the divides between races, generations, economic classes, religion and science and celebrates her lifesaving discovery of poetry as ‘soul language.’” BBC’s Between the Lines, says simply, “Ordinary Light is a lament, an homage, a discovery, a blessing.”

After her undergraduate work at Harvard, Smith earned her MFA at Columbia before going on to be a Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. She is currently the Director of Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program, and has also taught at Columbia, City University of New York, and the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in Princeton.

Mark Salzman, Novelist (2015)

Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author whose work transcends genre and covers a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith (Lying Awake) to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb (Lost in Place). As a boy, Salzman dreamed about becoming a Kung Fu master, but his academic achievements, along with his proficiency on the cello, facilitated his acceptance to Yale at 16.

His first memoir, Iron and Silk, inspired by his years in China, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction and received the Christopher Award. His True Notebooks is a fascinating look at his experiences as a writing teacher at Los Angeles Central Juvenile Hall. Common to each of his works is a theme of how people struggle to reach an ideal but often fall short. Salzman writes with gut-wrenching honesty, unalloyed warmth, and a sharp sense of humor. His newest work is the non-fiction title The Man in the Empty Boat.

Jane Hirshfield, Poet (2014)

Elected as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2012, Jane Hirshfield is one of the most important voices in American literature today.

She is the author of seven collections of poetry, including: Come, Thief (2011), After, and Given Sugar, Given Salt, a finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award. As befits a Visiting Author to Stuart in its 50th anniversary year, among her other published works is an important anthology titled Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women.

Hirshfield’s first poem was published in 1973, shortly after she graduated from Princeton University as a member of the first graduating class to include women. In the years that followed, she has received many of the highest honors in her field.

Photo credit Nick Rosza.

Edwidge Danticat, Author (2013)

Edwidge Danticat is a storyteller who writes about the Haitian-American experience. She received the MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius’ Grant in 2009, and is the author of numerous books, including Brother, I’m Dying (2007), which was nominated for a National Book Award, making her one of the few writers nominated for both fiction and non-fiction.

Born in Haiti in 1969, Danticat came to America as a 12-year-old, reuniting with her parents who had moved to Brooklyn when she was four. Her many books include Breath, Eyes, Memory; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; and The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the first Story Prize. Her latest book is Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, and she is currently working on a story collection tentatively titled Claire of the Sea-Light. Her work, which also includes a children’s book and a young adult novel, has appeared in The New Yorker and many anthologies.

Naomi Shihab Nye, Poet & Author (2012)

Naomi Shihab Nye is the author and/or editor of more than 30 volumes. Her notable works include the best-selling book of poetry, You & Yours, and Habibi, a novel for young readers.

Nye describes herself as a “wandering poet.” She has spent 37 years traveling the country and the world to lead writing workshops and inspiring students of all ages. Nye was born to a Palestinian father and an American mother and grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio.