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Focus on History Speaker Series
The Focus on History Speaker series brings to campus working historians, authors, scholars and other outstanding individuals who capture and tell stories that preserve history. The series is funded by an anonymous, generous donation from a parent of North Shore graduates.



Bennett Singer '82 (2012-13)
Bennett Singer, North Shore class of '82, is an award-winning New York-based filmmaker/writer with 20 years of experience. His feature-length film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was broadcast nationally on PBS, and received more than 25 international awards. It was shown at the Kennedy Center, the United Nations, The Department of Justice, and for members of Congress, as well as at more than 250 festivals and community screenings in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America; it has also been used by an array of social-justice organizations including GLSEN and Human Rights Watch, which has shown the film to more than 5,000 high school students. Singer was an Associate Producer on the Emmy- and Peabody-winning Eyes on the Prize II and an editor of two books on civil rights history. His latest film, Electrorial Dysfunction, had screenings at both the 2012 Republican and Democratic National Conventions, and aired nationally on PBS.

Dr. LeeAnna Keith (2011-12)
LeeAnna Keith is the author of The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction (Oxford University Press). She currently teaches at the Collegiate School in New York city.

Susan Retik (2010-11)
Susan Retik is the co-founder and president of Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit organization that empowers widows in Afghanistan who have been afflicted by war, terrorism, and oppression. Susan’s commitment to Afghan widows was born from her own journey into widowhood, which began on September 11, 2001, when her husband David was killed. Susan is an inspirational speaker who shares her remarkable story of transforming personal loss into humanitarian outreach, helping others to embrace their own power to make a difference and raising awareness of the struggle of Afghan widows. Susan has received a number of honors, including a prestigious award from Search for Common Ground and Traditional Home magazine’s Classic Woman award. Susan has been featured in many media outlets including CNN, People Magazine, NBC Nightly News, and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Susan is also a subject of the award-winning documentary Beyond Belief.

Bill Hinchliff '64 (2009-10)
Bill Hinchliff, North Shore class of '64, taught high school English for some years (having been inspired by his great teachers at North Shore), while also serving as a docent for Chicago Architecture Foundation in his free time. He got hooked on Chicago and giving architectural tours and eventually became a full time, free-lance tour guide for many organizations, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Smithsonian, National Trust for Historic Preservation, the University of Chicago, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and countless others. While Chicago has always been his main focus, he has led trips to a number of other U.S. cities for the Art Institute and North Shore's Senior Class. He also given many slide presentations on Chicago, co-written a booklet on the architecture of George W. Maher in Kenilworth and contributed to the AIA Guide to Chicago. His presentation was on the 100th Anniversary of the 1909 Plan of Chicago authored by Daniel Burnham.

Literature to Life: American Place Theatre Company (2008-09)
The goal of the Literature to Life program is to bring important works of writing to the stage in a series of one-person adaptations. Students were treated to an adaptation of Tim O’Brien’s award-winning book, The Things They Carried, which all 11th graders have read in their US history class for the last 15 years.

Cait Murphy (2007-08)
Currently an editor at Fortune magazine, Cait Murphy is the author of the new book, Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History. She spoke on “What Baseball Teaches US About American History and Culture.”

Mike Leonard (2006-07)
Mike Leonard has won acclaim for his work on the TODAY show for telling stories that are slightly off the beaten path. He has turned his attention to telling his own story in his first book, The Ride of Our Lives, which was nominated for the 2006 Quill Award for first-time authors. Mike’s son Brendan graduated from North Shore in 2002.

Ms. Diane McWhorter (2005-06)
Author Diane McWhorter won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for her adult book, Carry Me Home, a personal documentary of the cataclysmic events that took place in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 -- a time and place many people consider the turning point in America's long struggle for civil rights. Considered one of the most important books on the civil rights movement, its additional awards and accolades include one of Time Magazine's Ten Best Books of the Year, a New York Times Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and USA Today newspapers.

Mr. David Grubin (2004-05)
As president of David Grubin Productions, Inc., David has produced over 100 films on subjects ranging from history to art, from poetry to science. His biographies of American Presidents (FDR, LBJ, TR, and Truman) for American Experience on PBS have been widely acclaimed as have his other films for television including: Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided, The Secret Life Of The Brain and Napoleon. As director, writer and cinematographer, David has won every major award in his field, including three George Foster Peabody awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards and nine Emmys.

Mr. James Tobin (2004-05)
James Tobin is author of To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight (Free Press, 2003), which Publisher’s Weekly called a “detailed yet truly exciting tale…extraordinarily well-written and deeply nuanced…stunningly effective in presenting the intertwining lives of the brothers and an amazing cast of friends and competitors…the best yet of all the books celebrating the Wright Brothers’ 100-year anniversary.” The book was recognized as the best nonfiction book of 2003 by the Great Lakes Booksellers Association. In 2000, the project was awarded the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Prize, which recognizes promising work in narrative non-fiction. The award is given jointly by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and the Columbia University School of Journalism. His first book, Ernie Pyle’s War: America’s Eyewitness to World War II (Free Press, 1997), won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award in biography. 

Dr. Robert Brent Toplin (2003-04)
Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, spoke on the topic, “History by Hollywood.” He is the author or editor of 10 books, and has published a variety of articles dealing with Hollywood’s portrayals of the past. Toplin has been a principal creator of historical dramas that appeared nationally on PBS Television or The Disney Channel, including Denmark Vesey’s Rebellion, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, Charlotte Forten’s Mission, and Lincoln and the War Within.

Dr. William E. Cross (2003-04)
Dr. Cross from the City University of New York spoke on the topic of “Race, Class, and the Culture Wars: What’s It All About?” He is noted author, sociologist and professor of African-American history who co-founded the Afrikaner Institute at Cornell University before coming to CUNY. His groundbreaking work on the concept of racial identity challenged much of the conventional wisdom about how African-American children develop a self-concept.

Dr. Edith Mayo (2002-03)
Dr. Mayo from Harvard University spoke on the topic of "From Parlor to Politics: Women and Reform in America, 1890-1926."  She is Curator Emeritus in Political History at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Her books include First Ladies: Political Role & Public Image (1995) and The Smithsonian's Book of First Ladies (1996). She is currently developing a major traveling exhibition of women business entrepreneurs, entitled "Enterprising Women, for the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University."

Dr. William Cheek  (2001-02)
Dr. Cheek from San Diego State University spoke on the topic of "Mark Twain and the Historical Making of Huckleberry Finn." He is noted lecturer on this topic and has won numerous teaching awards throughout his career. He has taught at a diverse number of schools from the University of Virginia to Universite de Paris and is the author of a number of publications associated with the Black resistance movement prior to the Civil War.

Dr. Charles Cullen (2000-01)
Dr. Cullen spoke on the "Jeffersonian Legacy." He is President and Librarian of the Newberry Library in Chicago. He joined the history department at Princeton University in 1979 as a senior research historian, and served first as co-editor, then as editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. In 1986, he became President of the Newberry Library and remained in that position until 2006.

Dr. Roger Daniels (1999-00)
Dr. Daniels from the University of Cincinnati is the nation’s leading authority on Japanese-American internment during WWII. His visit coincided with North Shore hosting a touring Smithsonian Institution on photographs and mementos of Japanese-American internment.