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History of the Series

With strong support from Presidents Jack Shay, Glenda Price, David Fike, and Elizabeth Burns, the English professors, faculty colleagues from other departments, and Institutional Advancement staff members wrote grant proposals, sold t-shirts designed by artist Katherine Blanchard, IHM, and for many years held “The Mother of All Bake Sales,” a day-long campus feast featuring donations from metro Detroit’s finest restaurants and bakeries. The series has received financial support from Detroit-area foundations and businesses and from the National Endowment for the Arts. Its most consistently generous support has come from Dr. Lillian Bauder, president emerita of the Cranbrook Educational Community, former Masco Corporation vice president, and former president and chair of the Masco Foundation. She and her late husband Don Bauder found in the series a way to act upon their deep commitment to the work of African American writers. In 2005, President Price announced that they had generously endowed the Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series, and from then on, the evening event has been called "The Lillian and Don Bauder Lecture" or, more simply, "The Bauder Lecture." When Marygrove College closed in 2019, CAALS gained new life as a Legacy Program of the Marygrove Conservancy.

The success of the Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series emboldened President Price and faculty members in English, the social sciences, business, and visual and performing arts to establish Defining Detroit, a series of lectures, readings, exhibits, and performances to commemorate the city’s 2001 tercentenary. The two series, continuing to the present, have brought to Detroit audiences the recipients of eleven MacArthur “Genius” Grants, ten National Book Awards, six Pulitzer Prizes, eight Guggenheim Fellowships, five Pushcart Prizes, three Emmy Awards, and one Man Booker Prize. In addition, in these last three decades, three U.S. poets laureate and one presidential inaugural poet have appeared at Marygrove.


Inspired by this success, the department faculty, led by Barbara Johns, IHM and Lynne Schaeffer, decided to continue the series. Scholar Mary Helen Washington, well-known to the department from her years at the University of Detroit, was the second guest and was so pleased with the experience that she has served as the series consultant ever since. As is evident in the roster of guest authors later in this program, the series continued with major writers of the 1990s and 2000s. Each year brought to Marygrove’s students and faculty and those of several area high schools an exciting new body of work to study, and each event was distinctive and memorable.

In 1988, Marygrove trustee Frederick P. Currier proposed that the Marygrove College English Department initiate a series that would bring nationally known writers to the campus. He backed up his proposal with a personal check, and the department’s faculty jumped at the chance to introduce the works of major African-American writers to their students and the Detroit community. They invited Gloria Naylor, whose 1982 novel The Women of Brewster Place had received the National Book Award and was produced as an ABC miniseries by Oprah Winfrey, to be the first guest author, and they offered a special course focused on Naylor’s work. On a Friday evening the following April, six hundred people jammed into Alumnae Hall to hear Naylor, and the next day well over a hundred students from Marygrove and local high schools attended class sessions with her.

Lynne Schaeffer and Barbara Johns in 2004

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