Rebecca Solnit Visits Duke English

Photo of Rebecca Solnit speaking to crowd

Author, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit, known for helping to make the term "mansplaining" popular, visited Duke on April 19. Her visit began with a workshop with Duke English creative writing students. It concluded with an evening reading and Q&A in the Rubenstein Library. During her visit, Solnit dropped pearls of wisdom that encouraged those who love writing and shared her passion for the fight against climate change.

Students in my advanced workshop encountered Solnit's work at a few different stages in her career, and these readings spoke to the stunning breadth of her passions: from ecofeminist to art to literary critic. She embodies what it means to write with open eyes. It was an unbelievable honor and privilege to help welcome her to Duke.
Professor JP Gritton

During the workshop, Solnit presented the attendees with the question, "What is your story?" This led to a discussion of writing from different perspectives and retelling stories from more diverse viewpoints than they were originally written. She challenged the student writers to see themselves in their writing and provide more diverse representation in their works. This was a key topic of discussion, as Solnit has rewriting pieces, making them more realistic and relatable for today's society

Having the opportunity to meet with Rebecca Solnit and hear her speak about her experience grappling with the world of writing, censorship, understanding how to represent a community she cannot call her own properly, and asking us students who are so newly entering the world of writing, insightful questions were an unforgettable experience. Something that significantly stuck with me was our conversation about how writers and artists navigate the difficulties of offering representation vs. being exploitative and the challenges of speaking for vs. about a group of people. This conversation is necessary when considering the art and writing community and highlighting under-represented communities without taking advantage of or ignoring the voices of those people.
- Claire Song ’25, Pre-Veterinary, Biology and Visual Arts, major 

In the evening, Solnit greeted an audience that filled the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room in the Rubenstein Library. She read from a draft of a potential commencement speech focused on climate change, followed by a Q&A session and book signing. Solnit said she began penning this piece while riding the train down the East Coast to Durham. She shared with the audience that the inspiration for this speech blossomed from a recent event where she was a panelist with other climate change activists. Throughout her reading, Solnit spoke of past actions that motivated people to contribute to necessary changes in the world.

The talk was as much about social change as climate change and the need to overcome our "ideology of disconnection." Maybe she was a little more optimistic about that than I feel these days, but I loved her story about an activist's answer to a question about what individuals can do about climate change: "Stop being an individual." – Professor Cathy Shuman

Following the reading and Q&A, dozens of attendees lined up to have an individual moment with Solnit and have her autograph copies of her works, many of which were purchased that evening from Epilogue Books.

Rebecca Solnit Book signing


I first engaged with Solnit's writing as a sophomore in high school and have been a fan of her work ever since. She was just as careful and inquisitive in person as in her writing. Her discussion with the small group encouraged me to keep searching for stories that feature voices usually relegated to the shadows-- I feel motivated to incorporate such retellings in my work. I appreciated hearing her insights on writing and its role in shaping how we reckon with life's various challenges. It will continue to influence how I interact with all the communities I am part of. – Trisha Santanam, ‘26

Solnit was invited to campus by the Duke English Creative Writing Committee. Her visit was made possible by the George P. Lucaci endowment.

Click to hear the recording of Rebecca Solnit Reading and Q&A