Commencement 2016 Speaker
World-renowned Author, Journalist and Lecturer
Doctor of Letters
Gail Sheehy chronicles politics, social change, and the human experience in an immersive style and descriptive voice that has won her numerous awards in her decades-long career. A prolific writer, she has authored 17 books and hundreds of magazine articles; she is a founding writer of New York magazine and has been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair since 1984. Her seminal work Passages was named by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books of our times.
A 1958 University of Vermont alumna, Gail Sheehy launched her career in New York as one of the first women journalists in national media in the 1960s, at the birth of the second-wave feminist movement, working at newspapers Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester) and New York Herald Tribune (New York City). She began writing for the startup New York magazine in 1968, one of a tight cadre of literary colleagues including Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, and Clay Felker developing a style of narrative journalism that brought a compelling personal voice to investigative reporting. From her first major assignment traveling with Robert Kennedy in his campaign for the 1968 Democratic nomination—and one of the last interviews he gave before his assassination—Gail Sheehy’s incisive and personal brand of storytelling and her close read of the human heart have revealed the inner workings of people and politics to readers for more than 50 years.
A progenitor of New Journalism, Gail Sheehy’s fearless, exploratory style of reporting offered her entrance to the center of her subjects’ milieu. As a young magazine writer she dispatched reports from inside the radical leftist movement at Columbia University, from the internal trials of the Black Panthers, from violent prostitution rings in New York City, and from the frontlines of the civil conflicts in Northern Ireland. Later, as a biographer, interviewer, and profiler of world leaders, her work made a great impact on the public’s understanding of what shapes world events and the people behind them. From bestselling biographies of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev to profiles of Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and many others, Gail Sheehy seeks to make complex, powerful figures and their approach to decision making understandable on a human level.
Her gift and skill for blending journalism and psychology is perhaps most significant in the influential work Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976). In Passages, and in subsequent books over the next 20 years, Sheehy explores the rhythms and evolutions of adult life. From early adulthood through retirement years, Passages reveals emotional, psychological, and developmental trends of maturing and aging in modern society—demonstrating for readers a degree of commonality in personal experience. It was and remains a subject of intense public interest: Passages stayed on the New York Times bestseller list from 1976 through 1979 and has been reprinted in 28 languages.
Gail Sheehy has won numerous awards for her journalistic work. She is the recipient of the Washington Journalism Review Award for Best Magazine Writer in America, is a seven-time recipient of the New York Newswomen’s Club Front Page Award for Distinguished Journalism, and was awarded the 1973 National Magazine Award for Reporting Excellence for her article on prostitution in Times Square, to name a few. Most recently she has published her memoir, Daring: My Passages, and launched The Daring Project to highlight stories of women around the world breaking through boundaries to advance social justice for all.
For more than five decades, Gail Sheehy has forged pathways for understanding into little-known territory—as a leader of New Journalism, as a pioneering woman in journalism, as one with uncommon access to and perspective on many of the world’s key post-war political leaders, and as an honest, compelling, and successful chronicler of the personal experience—defining her as one of the most compelling and informative voices in the canon of contemporary nonfiction.
Last modified March 24 2016 04:26 PM