Harvard-Westlake School
Brown Family Distinguished Speaker Series

Endowed in the year 2000, the series was intended to provide the student body with direct proximity to some of the most important thinkers and artists of our time. Over the years, the selected speakers have spanned a scientific, political, and artistic gamut ranging from documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, violinist Midori, artist and architect Maya Lin, music icon Herbie Hancock, the mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, and composer and conductor Thomas Adès.

2019 Speaker – Billy Collins

Billy Collins is an American poet and phenomenon. His work has appeared in a variety of periodicals including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The American Scholar. Collins has published 12 collections of poetry, a collection of haikus, and two chapbooks. His most recent book of poetry is titled The Rain in Portugal and is a New York Times bestseller. Collins has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has also been awarded the Oscar Blumenthal Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize, the Frederick Bock Prize, and the Levinson Prize — all awarded by Poetry magazine. He has also received the Aiken-Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry, The Hall-Kenyon Prize, the Mailer Prize for Poetry, and the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. In 2004, Collins was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry. In June 2001, Collins was appointed United States Poet Laureate 2001-2003. In January 2004, he was named New York State Poet Laureate 2004-06. He is a former Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York. In 2016 he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts & Letters.

Photo credit: Bill Hayes

2018 Speaker – Ava DuVernay

Academy Award nominee and Emmy, BAFTA and Peabody Award winner, Ava DuVernay is a writer, director, producer and film distributor. Her directorial work includes the Oscar-winning historical drama Selma, the Oscar-nominated criminal justice documentary 13th and Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, which made her the highest grossing African-American woman director in domestic box office history. She is currently in production on her next project based on the infamous crime case known as Central Park Five, while overseeing production of her critically-acclaimed TV series “Queen Sugar.” Winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Prize for her micro-budget film Middle of Nowhere, DuVernay amplifies the work of people of color and women of all kinds through her distribution collective ARRAY, named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. In 2017, she was featured as one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest Culture Leaders and TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.‎ DuVernay sits on the boards of Sundance Institute and Film Independent.