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Athenaeum Spring 2013


Wednesday, February 6, 2013, 7:00PM


Tony Cohen Photo Small

Historian Anthony Cohen’s work springs from his 1996 two-month-long journey to explore a tragically overlooked part of American history—the Underground Railroad—the secret network, which thousands of slaves traveled to attain their freedom. Cohen began his trek in Sandy Spring, MD, traveling a distance of 1,200 miles by foot, boat, and rail to his final destination in Amherstburg, Ontario.

In 1997, Cohen prepared television icon Oprah Winfrey for her role as Sethe in the film Beloved. Blindfolded and dropped on a Maryland plantation, Cohen transported Oprah back to the time of slavery, where for two days and nights she lived as a fugitive on a simulated Underground Railroad—an experience she later claimed as an inspiration for her change-your life TV show.

Friday, March 1, 2013, 7:00PM


Vaddey Ratner Photo Small

Vaddey Ratner In the Shadow of the Banyon Small

Vaddey Ratner was born in Cambodia, where her father was a descendant of the early 20th century King Sisowath. She was five years old when the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. After four years, having endured forced labor, starvation, near execution, and the death of her father, she and her mother escaped while many family members perished.

In 1981, she arrived in the U.S. as a refugee not knowing English and, in 1990, went on to graduate as her high school class valedictorian. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Cornell University, where she specialized in Southeast Asian history and literature.

In recent years, she traveled and lived in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, writing and researching, which culminated in her debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan. Author Vatner stated that her purpose in writing the novel was “to honor the lives lost … by endeavoring to transform suffering into art.”
Thursday, March 28, 2013, 7:00PM


Carolyn Cook Photo Small

When Carolyn Cook, a graduate of American University, was laid off from her job, she decided that corporate America was not for her and it was time to work for something she truly believed in: women’s rights. After being laid off, Cook went on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton, where she was shocked by the media’s portrayal of Clinton.

Since the Clinton campaign, Cook has been working on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which expired in 1982. It was three votes short of ratification and has been introduced in every Congress since it expired. The ERA would eliminate all types of discrimination based on sex. To fight for the ratification of the ERA, Cook founded United for Equality, LLC, in 2010.

As she continues promoting the ERA, Cook finds it inspirational to follow in the footsteps of the first woman who wrote and pushed for its ratification in 1923, Alice Paul. “Just knowing that I’m honoring the legacy that Alice Paul left for us—to walk in her footsteps today and keep the legacy alive—is the most self-satisfying work that I’ve ever done in my life.”

Cook and the members of United for Equality are pushing for the ratification of the amendment by 2015. As part of Women’s History month, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will reintroduce the ERA in March 2013.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 7:00PM


Ira Shapiro Photo Small

Ira Shapiro The Last Great Senate Small

Ambassador Ira Shapiro, an international trade lawyer, is one of Washington's most respected public servants, serving in the Senate and in the Clinton White House, and the author of the critically-acclaimed, The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis.

Ira came to Washington to work in the U.S. Senate in 1975, and served in senior staff positions for 12 years with some of the most distinguished senators of the era----Gaylord Nelson, Abraham Ribicoff, Tom Eagleton and Robert Byrd, before completing his Senate time as Jay Rockefeller's chief of staff.

During the Clinton administration, Ira was one of the premier U.S. trade negotiators. Serving as General Counsel to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), he helped complete the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Uruguay Round, the global trade agreement that created the World Trade Organization and established today's global trade rules. Nominated by President Clinton for ambassadorial rank, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate, Ira went on to negotiate solutions to some of the most contentious bilateral trade disputes.

His 2002 campaign for Congress in Maryland was described by the press as the “antidote to cynicism.”

Tuesday, April 16, 11:00AM


Doctor Lesley Francis An Adventure in Poetry Small

Dr. Lesley Francis, the daughter of Frost’s eldest daughter, Lesley Frost, has lectured and published extensively on her grandfather Robert Frost, the four-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. She holds an A.B. from Radcliffe, an M.A. from the University of Miami, and a Ph.D. in Romance Languages from Duke University.

Dr. Francis joined the staff of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), where she made a name for herself by studying academic tenure and championing the status of women in higher education. She is a former faculty member at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Besides writing and lecturing, she currently teaches courses on Robert Frost and Spanish literature in various adult programs in the Washington, DC area, including Montgomery College’s Lifelong Learning Institute.

Thursday, April 18, 2013, 7:00PM - THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED 


Ambassador Girma Birru Photo Small

Prior to his appointment as a Special Envoy to the US in December 2010, Ambassador Girma Birru had served his country as the Minister of Trade and Industry of Ethiopia (2001 to 2010) and as Ethiopia's Minister of Economic Development and Cooperation (1995-2001). He started his professional public service as an economist, in the Office of the Council of Ministers beginning from 1982 after successfully completing his undergraduate studies, with Distinction.

He was Ethiopia's Chief Negotiator at the World Trade Organization, leveraging and navigating propitious venues in the on-going accession process to this august body. Over and above his in-country service at various levels, Ambassador Girma Birru has also served as an Alternate Governor of the World Bank, the African Development Bank and as a Board member of COMESA Bank-PTA Bank, representing his country from 1995-2001.

Ambassador Girma Birru currently holds a Master of Arts in Economic Policy and Planning from the Institute of Social Studies (ISS), the Hague, Netherlands; and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics with Distinction from Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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