Ithaca Events

The Richard Cleaveland Memorial Reading by Valzhyna Mort & Nafissa Thompson-Spires

Thursday, February 25, 2021 7:00pm

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Cornell’s creative writing program faculty members, poet Valzhyna Mort and author Nafissa Thompson-Spires, will read from their work for the Richard Cleaveland Memorial Reading. The readings will be followed by a live Q&A, and moderated by writer and professor J. Robert Lennon.

Both Mort’s and Thompson-Spires’s work explore the power of personal stories to challenge historical narratives and collective identities.

Mort will read from her most recent collection, Music for the Dead and Resurrected, described by the publisher as a “book of letters to the dead,” in which “the prize-winning poet relearns how to mourn those erased by violent history,” and hopes to create a space of coping and awakening.

Valzhyna Mort is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus, and she writes in English and Belarusian. She is the author of three poetry collections, Factory of Tears, Collected Body and, mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected. Her work has been honored with the Lannan Foundation fellowship, the Amy Clampitt fellowship, and the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry. Her work has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the Best Single Poem, and has appeared in Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry International, Granta, and many more. Mort translates between English, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish. She has received the Gulf Coast Prize in Translation and the National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation for her work on Polina Barskova’s book of selected poems Air Raid. With Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris, Mort co-edited Gossip and Metaphysics: Russian Modernist Poems and Prose. Valzhyna Mort’s poetry collections have come out in translation in Germany, Sweden and Ukraine, while single poems have been translated into a dozen of languages. Outside the US, she has received the Burda Prize for Eastern European authors (Germany) and the Crystal of Vilenica prize (Slovenia). Mort is an assistant professor of English at Cornell University.

Thompson-Spires will read from her most recent book, Heads of the Colored People—an award-winning short story collection that provides a strong sense of the range of contemporary Black literature and Black culture—and encourages readers to move beyond reading to activism.

Nafissa Thompson-Spires is the author of Heads of the Colored People, which won the PEN Open Book Award, the Hurston/Wright Award for Fiction, and the Los Angeles Times’ Art Siedenbaum Award for First Fiction. Her collection was also longlisted for the National Book Award, the PEN/ Robert W. Bingham Award, and several other prizes. She is also the recipient of a 2019 Whiting Award. She earned a doctorate in English from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in The Paris Review Daily, The Root, The White Review, StoryQuarterly, Lunch Ticket, and The Feminist Wire, among other publications, and work is forthcoming in multiple anthologies. Thompson-Spires is the Richards Family Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University, teaching creative writing in both the MFA and undergrad programs.

The Richard Cleaveland Memorial Reading was created in 2002 by family and friends of Richard Cleaveland, Cornell Class of ’74, to honor his memory.

This is the first virtual event in the Spring 2021 Barbara & David Zalaznick Reading Series: Together. Livestream powered by our friends at eCornell.

Free and open to the public

For more information about the Zalaznick Reading Series, visit,  to register for this event click here

This event is presented by the Department of English / Creative Writing Program at Cornell University

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