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Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Graduate Center Alumni Awards Presentation in the William P. Kelly Skylight Room. Next to me sat the eponymous, greatly beloved, and always amazing William P. Kelly. Bill was a long-time faculty member at the Graduate Center as well as at Queens College, then Executive Officer of the English Department, then Provost, then President, then Interim Chancellor at CUNY. There are few people more legendary (innovative, witty, kind, brilliant, and altogether wonderful) than Bill Kelly (that’s why we named the finest space in the Graduate Center after him!) He moved on, after his long and distinguished career of innovation, service, and dedication to CUNY, to the New York Public Library where he became Director of the NYPL Research Libraries.

Bill enticed me away from Duke University where I’d taught many years and convinced me to join the Graduate Center a decade ago. He also convinced my partner, Ken Wissoker, Senior Executive Editor at Duke University Press, to, in addition to his publishing day job, start a program at the GC, Intellectual Publics, where he stages lively, engaged conversations between authors (and also, in his spare time, offers advice and counsel to dissertators and scholarly authors all over CUNY).

All that is relevant because, in accepting his Distinguished Alumni Award, Billy Goldstein thanked both Bill and Ken. Like everyone who spoke last night, Billy talked about the very special, wonderful mission of CUNY and the incredible role of the Graduate Center in that mission. (Our GC Fellows teach on the order of 250,000 CUNY undergraduates every year.) Billy was introduced by the always amazing GC English Professor Wayne Koestenbaum (scholar, author, artist, pianist, performer, composer, and, of course, fashion icon). Also there last night, at Billy’s invitation, was Hal Sedgwick. Hal was the partner of the late and legendary Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, founder of Queer Theory, who taught at the Graduate Center and was sort of the start of all of this.

Ken knew Billy back at the University of Chicago, in Hyde Park, where Bill was already a notable figure in the publishing world. After Ken became an editor at Duke University Press, he published Eve’s landmark book, Tendencies… and Billy, then a notable literary figure in NYC, wanted to meet Eve and asked Ken for a formal introduction. Billy later decided to go back for a PhD, became a doctoral student at the Graduate Center, and took Eve’s famous Proust class. She and Billy became dear friends. Wayne and Eve go way back too. I’m sure it was Eve who first introduced me to Wayne. Eve was one of my closest friends. Bill Kelly hired Eve. Eve introduced me to Bill. Bill hired me.

So it goes . . . Academe has a way of making such circuits of affiliation and connection.

The circle continues. In the audience last night was a friend of Billy’s: Ryan Donovan. Coincidentally, Ryan was a doctoral student in the first class I taught at the GC–which happened to be the last class Bill Kelly taught at the GC. He’d stepped down as Interim Chancellor and hadn’t yet accepted the Director position at NYPL. I invited him to co-teach the “most daring course we could dream up together.” I think we called our course something modest like “The Future of Learning”–or maybe it was “The Future of Thinking.” We accepted applications and chose 15 students from 15 different fields, classics to computer science, and invited them to create a course that “none of us would ever forget.” Ryan, a former professional ballet dancer, had us all dancing, physically and intellectually. He inspired us to think about the role of the body in our own modes of creativity and research. Ryan, coincidentally, is now an Assistant Prof in the Drama department at Duke University, where I taught and where I met Eve.

(I said there were a lot of circles in academe . . . )

Last night, though, belonged to Billy, so let me drop in an official biography here of this remarkable human being: “Bill Goldstein, the founding editor of the books site of The New York Times on the Web, reviews books and interviews authors for NBC’s “Weekend Today in New York.” He is also curator of public programs at Roosevelt House, the public policy institute of New York’s Hunter College. He received a PH.D in English from City University of New York Graduate Center in 2010, and is the recipient of writing fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, Ucross and elsewhere. Bill is the author of The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature. He is currently writing a biography of Larry Kramer.”

I felt so lucky to be in that room, soaking up brilliance and also pride. In his eloquent and, of course, witty tribute to Billy, the incomparable Wayne Koestenbaum talked about Billy’s beautiful sentences, his exquisite taste as a critic (“Bill’s Books” are always well chosen!), and his generosity of spirit and person. (Please see Wayne’s wonderful tribute below). All so true! It’s an honor to know him–and to know the community of friends and admirers who came together in that room to celebrate him and the other alumni honorees. There we all were in this dispiriting historical moment, sitting in the William P. Kelly room, hearing one faculty member after another present one alum after another. All a bit quirky, all with a life characterized by purpose, all dedicated to education and the CUNY mission, a mission like no other. There’s something magical teaching at the nation’s largest public urban university, the greatest engine of social mobility in all of higher ed. Proud. At such a grim, depressing time, last night we were given the special chance to feel luminous and proud together. #CUNYProud.


Tribute and Introduction by Prof Wayne Koestenbaum, Distinguished Professor of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Wayne is a poet, critic, novelist, artist, performer—has published nineteen books, including Camp Marmalade, Notes on Glaze, The Pink Trance Notebooks, My 1980s & Other Essays, Hotel Theory, Best-Selling Jewish Porn Films, Andy Warhol, Humiliation, and Jackie Under My Skin, and many others.

“Billy Goldstein was never my student while he was here at the Graduate Center, but we befriended each other while he was completing his dramatic dissertation on John Milton, under the supervision of Joseph Wittreich.  After Billy and I synchronistically fell into each other’s orbit, it quickly became clear to me that Billy is one of the most intelligent, charming, eloquent, and gregarious writer/scholars I’ve ever met.  Billy reviews books and interviews authors for NBC’s Weekend Today in New York—i.e., he is that rarest of phenomena, the erudite and charismatic TV star—and he was the founding editor of The New York Times books website.  He is now writing a biography of the writer/activist Larry Kramer, to be published by Crown.  (What other literary scholar in the world is an expert on John Milton and Larry Kramer?)  Billy is now finishing up his glorious year as a fellow at the Graduate Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography, and he has received many other prestigious fellowships, including at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. at at the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University.  He has done years of prominent public work as interview and speaker at panels and conversations held everywhere from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Smithsonian Museum.  He achieved literary renown in 2017 when he published his book The World Broke in Two:  Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year that Changed Literature, which was an international critical success and is a bravura performance of innovative literary-historical sleuthing and storytellingTo do justice to complex works of modernist literature while writing a captivating narrative account of one year in history is a task that Billy managed to fulfill with an élan and cleverness and imagination that surpassed my greatest hopes for the book, and that earn it a place in literary history as an exemplum of the joint biography, the intricately threaded composite portrait.  Billy’s prose is a marvel:  his sentences are impeccable, stylish, clear, informative, witty, fact-filled, unpretentious—equally transparent and substantial.  As writer, as scholar, and as public personality, Billy demonstrates extraordinary powers of affinity—for creating an emotive bond with other writers and scholars on the page and in person.  I’ve rarely known anyone with such a gift for cheerfully rapid discourse, such an eager mind, such a knack for understanding how the textures of literature and daily life mingle together to create intangible amalgams and atmospheres.  I’m honored to present him with the Graduate Center’s Alumni Achievement Award.”

–Wayne Koestenbaum

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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