Hello! I’m Rebecca Makkai, a 1999 graduate (BA in English with honors, Magna Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa) of W&L. I went on to receive my MA in Literature from Middlebury College, and am now an author with an international profile.
I’ve been back twice as an invited speaker at W&L, and will return in the spring of ’22 as the Tom Wolfe lecturer—the first alum to fill that role.
I live in Lake Forest, Illinois, close to where I grew up, with my husband and two daughters (Lydia and Heidi, currently in 8th and 5th grade).
The voice I can bring to the board
I should have been a bit of an outsider at W&L (a northerner, an independent, a theater-and-writing kid), but in fact I found my people quickly and remain close with dozens of classmates and professors. I might still not fit the classic profile of the W&L graduate, but at a time when the university particularly needs to think beyond its existing sphere and dream huge, I do think that’s an asset.
While writing is my career, you’ll see below that I have an enormous amount of experience in higher ed as well as a track record in board work (both serving on boards and reporting to my own nonprofit board). I’m known on the board of the Ragdale Foundation (an arts organization here in Chicago) as the one person who can convince people from various committees and groups (staff, trustees, curators, the public) to listen to each other. While this means I do quite a lot more there than I signed on for, I genuinely love the work.
I’ve found success and prominence in my field beyond my wildest dreams, especially in the past few years, and enjoy lending my connections to institutions I love.
My service to the University community
I am the 2022 Tom Wolfe lecturer, and I’ve have been brought back to campus two previous times to give talks and work with students. While these were paid visits, I was delighted to prioritize my trips there over other opportunities.
As a student, I worked at Shenandoah (a work study position) and volunteered at the preschool in the basement of the Presbyterian church near campus. (I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the preschool.) I served on the Honors Scholarship review committee, toured with the Chamber Singers and General Admission for alumni fundraisers, and was involved in many different unpaid rolls involving both journalism (The Trident) and the literary magazine.
Other community service
I currently serve on the Board of Trustees of the Ragdale Foundation and am co-chair of its Curatorial Board. I am Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago (a nonprofit organization), and in this role I founded an initiative called StoryArc that connects writing instructors with at-need organizations. (For example, we work with StreetWise and the Illinois Prison Project.)
I have been involved in fundraising (as an event host, awards judge, and in other public-facing capacities) for many literary and literacy organizations, including the National Book Foundation, PEN America, 826Chicago, the American Writers Museum, Open Books Chicago, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, Chicago Literacy Alliance, and the Chicago Review of Books.
Relevant personal and professional experience
While I’m not sure what exact committees there are, I’d be strongest in addressing faculty relations, curricular vision, student experience, communications, branding, and public presence.
Relevant to those…
I have taught undergraduates at Beloit College and Lake Forest College, graduate students at the Iowa Writers Workshop (University of Iowa), Northwestern University and Sierra Nevada College, and postgraduates at StoryStudio Chicago.
I have worked with undergraduate and graduate students at around 100 American and international universities as a visiting author. In this capacity, been able to see the changing face of American university education up close and from many different perspectives.
Since 2001, I have lived on the campus of Lake Forest Academy, a private 9-12 boarding school, where my husband is a teacher and dean, and where he was at one time in the College Counseling office. While I only taught there for one semester (filling in someone’s maternity leave), I’ve gotten continual up-close experience with some of the brightest and most ambitious high school students in the country.
In my roles as Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago and as a trustee of the Ragdale Foundation, I do a lot of work on the public image of those institutions, reaching new people, fundraising, “friendraising,” public events, and online presence.
I am an author of novels, short stories, book reviews, and essays. My most recent novel, The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; won the ALA Carnegie Medal, the LA Times Book Prize, the Stonewall Award, the Clark Prize, and others; was one of the New York Times’ 10 best books of 2018; and has been translated into 20 languages.
I write as well for The New Yorker, Harpers, The New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, and other national publications. I was recently awarded the Mark Twain Award for distinguished contributions to Midwestern Literature.
I teach graduate Creative Writing at both Northwestern University and Sierra Nevada College, and am Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago, a nonprofit organization for writing education.