TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Award-winning English writer, naturalist, and researcher Helen MacDonald is visiting the University of Alabama as the English department’s first Coal Royalty Chairholder for the semester and will give a talk on Jan. 26 from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center.
MacDonald authored the bestselling H is for Hawk, a nonfiction book described by the New York Times as part memoir, part guide to raptors and part biography of British author T.H. White. MacDonald will be reading from and discussing this work in particular during her talk, which is free and open to the public.
John Estes, associate professor of English and director of undergraduate creative writing, described H is for Hawk as a “masterwork of contemporary nonfiction.”
“Above all, the language is taut, arresting, and beautifully written,” Estes said. “It does everything you want a work of literature to do, and in a way that surpasses the cliché, truly illuminating what it means to be human.”
MacDonald’s time at UA is part of the Creative Writing Program’s Distinguished Visiting Writers Series. Estes said the series exposes students to a variety of writers, helps encourage the public’s interest in the writing community, and fosters the local literary scene.
“Student writers benefit by these encounters with working writers who inspire, teach, and delight, who reinforce and demonstrate the idea that our humanity is only understood through diverse voices, that no number of voices is enough,” Estes said. “I hope it emboldens them to believe that their work too is needed, is essential, and can find a place in the world.”
MacDonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, naturalists, and an affiliated research scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. She won the Samuel Johnson Prize for nonfiction and the Costa Book of the Year Prize, awarded to the best new book in any genre.
She has worked as a professional falconer and authored a variety of books and collections of poetry. She now writes for the New York Times Magazine.
As part of her visit, she is also conducting a master’s class for all undergraduate and graduate students, then a literary salon for the English department.