Visiting Hurst Professor program brings celebrated writers Hernan Diaz, Rigoberto González, and Timothy Donnelly to campus this fall.
Every year, the English department considers top writers in three genres to visit campus as visiting Hurst Professors, and for the last few years, one name has continually topped the list: Hernan Diaz.
The department's wish is becoming a reality this fall; Diaz will be one of three visiting Hurst Professors to come to campus. The New York Times bestselling author will give a reading on Oct. 25 — an event open to the public — and hold a craft talk and individual meetings with fiction-writing MFA students.
For decades, the visiting Hurst Professor program has brought celebrated authors like Diaz into conversation with WashU writers. The program has hosted authors such as George Saunders, Hilary Mantel, Salman Rushdie, Edward P. Jones, and Claudia Rankine.
Abram Van Engen, the Stanley Elkin Professor in the Humanities and chair of English, believes the visiting Hurst Professors help WashU’s English program stand out. “It’s not just the great students and faculty that we have, but this program allows us to be a hub for the world’s leading writers who pass through our halls every year.”
Diaz’s first novel “In the Distance” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, and his second novel, “Trust,” won the award in 2023. Danielle Dutton, associate professor of English and co-director of the Center for the Literary Arts, said she’s admired Diaz since she read his first novel. “Frankly, it blew me away,” she said.
Rigoberto González and Timothy Donnelly will also be on campus this semester as part of the visiting Hurst Professor program. González is a poet and nonfiction writer who has received Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and numerous poetry awards. He writes a Latino book column for the El Paso Times of Texas and serves as a contributing editor for Poets & Writers. He will give a craft talk on October 17 and do a reading on October 19.
Donnelly is a widely published poet who has won awards including the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and the inaugural Big Other Award in Poetry. He’s the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship and a Columbia Distinguished Faculty Award and Faculty Mentoring Award. He’s scheduled to read on November 2 and give a craft talk on November 7.
The visiting Hurst Professor program began when WashU alumna and best-selling author Fannie Hurst left half of her literary estate to the university when she died in 1968. Marshall Klimasewiski, a senior writer in residence who is on the committee that helps choose and invite the Hurst Professors, said Hurst’s original idea was to bring in writers of stature to enlarge the writing program. “I think she wanted to have writers around and available to students, to talk about the experience of the writing life and model how it might be possible to be a writer in the world,” Klimasewiski said.
Every fall and spring, the Hurst program invites at least one poet, one fiction writer, and one nonfiction writer to campus. Each visit lasts one to two weeks, and during that time they give a reading, a craft talk, and meet individually with each MFA student in their discipline. Over the two-year program, every MFA student will have the chance to meet with Hurst Professors at least four times.
David Schuman, teaching professor in English and director of the MFA program, said the program helps attract top applicants to WashU. “For students, it’s a huge thing for them to get feedback from an outside voice,” Schuman said. “I’ve seen students whose whole trajectory in terms of their work has changed in conversations with these professors.”