By Edwin B. Smith
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, University of Mississippi English professor and award-winning author, will deliver the keynote address to the university’s first-year/transfer class on Aug. 24 during the annual Fall Convocation.
The in-person event begins at 7 p.m. in the Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss. Others scheduled to speak include Chancellor Glenn Boyce; Charlotte Pegues, interim vice chancellor for student affairs; Brent Marsh, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students; and Morgan Atkins, Associated Student Body president. The deans of the schools will also briefly appear.
Nezhukumatahil said she has high hopes for what the audience will receive from her lecture.
“I’m hoping to show the importance of keeping your sense of wonder and curiosity alive and that it’s never too late to do so,” she said. “If we let ourselves be astonished by a range of voices – if wonder becomes a habit – we set the groundwork for cultivating a more tender and just world.”
Participants should expect to hear many references to local life.
“This talk will most definitely have Mississippi/Oxford references more than my previous keynotes and talks,” Nezhukumatahil said. “It will most probably include some references to college football, which I unabashedly love, too.”
Incoming freshmen and transfer students will each receive a free, limited edition commemorative 2025 challenge coin distributed by residence hall staff on Sunday (Aug. 15) and Monday (Aug. 16). As students watch the program, they will be asked by Pegues to pull out the coins and accept the challenge.
University administrators are thrilled Nezhukumatahil will address the incoming Class of 2025, Boyce said.
“Fall Convocation serves as the official gateway to the University of Mississippi student experience,” he said. “It’s meaningful and exciting that a member of our own community will offer words of welcome and inspiration to these students.
“Teaching young minds to engage with their surroundings is a core part of our mission, and Nezhukumatahil’s ‘World of Wonders’ has achieved national acclaim for illuminating this same value.”
Students who did not receive a coin can check with their community adviser or graduate community director, or email the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New students earlier received an electronic copy of “World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments” (Milkweed Editions, 2020), Nezhukumatathil’s New York Times bestseller that was chosen as the university’s 2021 Common Reading Experience selection. They were instructed to read the volume before the start of classes and will receive a special hardcover university edition later this month.
In “World of Wonders,” Nezhukumatahil has collected illustrated essays that serve as a memoir of sorts examining the beauties of nature seen through her eyes from childhood to the present.
Her poetry has been featured in journals such as The Paris Review, Tin House and Poetry, and was selected for the 2015 and 2018 volumes of “Best American Poetry.” Her most recent chapbook is “Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens” (2021), a collaboration of nature poems with poet Ross Gay.
Nezhukumatathil is the first-ever poetry editor for Sierra magazine, the storytelling arm of the Sierra Club, and her writing has been featured in ESPN Magazine and on “PBS NewsHour.” She is also a contributing editor or serves on the advisory board of Poets & Writers magazine, Orion magazine, Terrain.org, BOA Editions and Kundiman, an organization that supports Asian American writers.
The writer also has published four collections of poetry. Her most recent is “Oceanic” (Copper Canyon Press, 2018). Her previous books were published by Tupelo Press: “Lucky Fish” (2011), “At the Drive-in Volcano” (2007) and “Miracle Fruit” (2003).
One of her poems, “Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth,” was published in The New York Times Magazine in 2018.
Nezhukumatathil was named a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She was the first Ole Miss professor to receive this prestigious fellowship as an active faculty member.
For more information on the Common Reading Experience, visit http://umreads.olemiss.edu/.