BRISTOL, Tenn. — Award-winning author and syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., will be the featured speaker this Monday at both King College and the Bristol Public Library as part of the Buechner Institute Lecture Series.
Pitts, whose commentary often focuses on cultural issues that range from race relations to religion and poverty, will give his first presentation at 9:15 a.m. in the Memorial Chapel at King College.
His second appearance at the Bristol Public Library will begin at 7 p.m.
Buechner Institute Director Dale Brown, who also serves as chair of King College’s English department, said he was pleased area residents would have two chances to hear Pitts’ “fascinating and insightful” lectures.
“Leonard Pitts is a keen observer who may well give us new perspectives on where we have been and where we are going,” Brown said. “His feature columns, appearing in newspapers throughout the country, comment on race, religion, politics and other major matters in the American experience.”
Pitts said he plans to use the two sessions to address topics that are relevant to the Southern Appalachian region.
“In the morning I’ll be talking about poverty and the fact that poor people are routinely forgotten and made invisible by our politicians and news and entertainment media,” Pitts said.
“In the evening session, the title of the speech is “Late for the Revolution,” and it deals with the fact that religious conservatives have a historical pattern of not showing up when human rights are at stake and then showing up a few years later with apologies and explanations,” Pitts continued. “That was the story of the civil rights movement and the AIDS epidemic, and I argue it’s going to be the story of gay rights, immigration and Muslim rights, unless somebody finds some courage.”
A columnist for the Miami Herald since 1991, Pitts was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for “his fresh, vibrant columns that spoke, with both passion and compassion, to ordinary people on often divisive issues.”
One of his best known columns – entitled “We’ll Go Forward From This Moment” – was written for the Miami Herald-Courier in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Described by the author as an “angry and open letter to the terrorists,” Pitts said the reaction to the article was overwhelming, with thousands of readers forwarding it to their friends, colleagues and family members in the days and weeks following the attack.
“When I was writing it that morning of Sept. 11, you didn’t know anything, you don’t know who did it you don’t know why they did it,” Pitts said. “So if you look at the column, it says the only two things I could say. One, I was angry, we were angry, and two that we will be resolved to hunt down and bring to justice whoever did this.
“The response was pretty amazing. The e-mails just started and wouldn’t stop. It was the biggest out flowing of response that I’ve ever known for anybody. I stopped counting the e-mails at 30,000, it was just over 30,000. ... It was just an astonishing feedback, one of the most amazing things I’ve had happen to me professionally. It told me that I struck a nerve, and I found the words to say that people were feeling.”
In addition to his work as a columnist, Pitts has also authored several novels — including “Freeman;” “Before I Forget;” the collection “Forward From this Moment;” “Selected Columns;” and “Daily Triumphs, Tragedies, and Curiosities.”
Born and raised in Southern California, Pitts graduated from the University of California at age 19 with a degree in English and now resides in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
In addition to writing columns and novels, Pitts’ 35-year career has included stints as college professor, radio producer and lecturer.
In 2001, Pitts received the American Society of Newspaper Editors prestigious ASNE Award for Commentary Writing and was named Feature of the Year Columnist by Editor and Publisher magazine. In 2002, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists awarded Pitts its inaugural Columnist of the Year award.
Pitts has also been invited to teach at Hampton University, Ohio University, the University of Maryland and Virginia Commonwealth University.
In 2011, he was a visiting professor at Princeton University.