Renowned African American Poet Nikki Giovanni to Serve as Inaugural Lecturer

Professor Patricia Elliot's headshot
Professor Patricia Elliott, PhD

Regis College announces the establishment of the Elliott Lectures: A Liberal Arts Lecture Series, made possible through a generous $1.2 million bequest from the estate of the late and former Regis English Professor Patricia D. Elliott, PhD. The series seeks to provide insight and exposure to a broad range of topics and ideas in the liberal arts and offer different perspectives on pressing issues.

Poet and Professor at Virginia Tech during the tragic shootings, Professor Nikki Giovanni will serve as the inaugural speaker of the lecture series. Prof. Giovanni’s poetry has elevated African American awareness in the arts through the Black Arts Movement. The first lecture is scheduled for April 18, 2024, at Regis.

Upon her retirement in 2014, Dr. Elliott reflected on her 24 years of teaching which included pondering the next chapter in her life and, ostensibly, the meaning of her life. Dr. Elliott was a successful businesswoman who was dedicated to enhancing students’ academic journeys. She wished to create a lecture series that would inspire growth and educational development of Regis students and added Regis to her estate plans to carry out this legacy.

"As a university dedicated to the formation of the whole person, Regis fosters the development of each students' character and confidence as they prepare for a meaningful career and life," said Regis President Antoinette M. Hays, PhD, RN. "This new lecture series will provide opportunities for Regis students and the campus community to engage with some of the greatest thinkers of our time. Professor Elliott’s passing in 2021 was a loss, yet we are deeply grateful for her generosity and tireless service to Regis and its students. This lecture series will serve as her enduring legacy, inspiring students and promoting learning at the university."

"The Elliott Lecture Series, named in honor of Pat (Dr. Elliott), will provide a forum for introducing students, faculty, and staff to influential figures in the arts and beyond who are enacting meaningful changes in society,” said Deborah Sawin '80, Dr. Elliott's partner. “The series will challenge students to learn in a different forum, encouraging the expression of thoughts and ideas through various mediums, be it poetry, art, or activism. I hope the series will encourage the Regis community to open their hearts and minds to different points of view, especially in these turbulent and divisive times."

In accordance with Dr. Elliott's wishes, her gift will sponsor two to three lectures annually, focusing on the liberal arts and extending to other disciplines. Jason Clemence, PhD, Chair of the Humanities Department, has established the Elliott Lecture Committee, which is responsible for planning lectures and selecting speakers, including writers, critics, and practitioners in the liberal arts. Committee members include Dr. Elliott's partner, Deborah Sawin ‘80, Regis Provost Mary Erina Driscoll, PhD, and Regis’ Interim Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Joseph Draper, PhD.

Professor Elliott retired with the designation of Professor Emerita of English. Her teaching career began at Louisiana Tech University, and in retirement, she continued her pursuit of knowledge by enrolling in classes at Tufts University's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. A prolific traveler and poet, Dr. Elliott was also a supporter of classical music and a subscriber to the Handel and Haydn Society. At Regis, she encouraged students to undertake Senior Honors Theses and established an internship program, which evolved into a graduation requirement for all Regis students.

Dr. Elliott earned her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate in English from the University of Arkansas and passed away on May 17, 2021. Her impact on students and the Regis community is evident in the heartfelt testimonials from graduates, noting that Dr. Elliott's classes changed their academic trajectory and truly shaped who they became.

Giovanni is a highly acclaimed American poet known globally. She began her career with self-published works, "Black Feeling Black Talk" (1968) and "Black Judgement.” Giovanni became a prominent figure during the Black Arts Movement through her appearances on "SOUL!!" and extensive lecture tours. In 1971, her autobiographical work, "Gemini," was a National Book Award finalist. Joining Virginia Tech in 1987, she became a University Distinguished Professor in 1999, continuing to publish essays, children's books, and numerous volumes of poetry, including "Make Me Rain" (2020). Despite facing personal challenges, including breast cancer, Giovanni, at 74, remains an influential figure, recognized with awards such as the Langston Hughes Medal and the Carl Sandburg Literary Award. Her dedication to teaching, writing, and publishing persists, with her latest work, "A Good Cry," showcasing her enduring impact.