Events & exhibitions

The Heisenberg Variations: Imagination, Invention, and Uncertainty

Jennifer Boylan
Photo by Lou Jones

How do we create art? How do we become ourselves? In this lecture, Jennifer Finney Boylan considers the way revision and reinvention serve—not only as necessary aspects of the creative process—but also as a model for the way we live our lives, and create ourselves, through trial and error. By examining music (including Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations); pentimenti in works of art; drafts of works by Emily Dickinson, Raymond Carver, and Charles Dickens; and, above all, by telling the story of her own evolving relationship with her teacher and mentor, author John Barth, Boylan will show that the transition that trans people go through is, in fact, a process both familiar and universal: a journey made, day by day, page by page, in hopes of finding the next best draft of the self.

Following her talk, Boylan will be joined in conversation by Richard Russo, 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls (Knopf, 2001) as well as eight other novels, two collections of stories, and a memoir. His latest book, Somebody’s Fool, will be released in July 2023.


Jennifer Finney Boylan is the author of 18 books, including the bestseller Mad Honey (Ballantine Books, 2022), coauthored with Jodi Picoult, as well as She’s Not There (Crown, 2013), the first bestselling work by a transgender American. A novelist, essayist, and memoirist, her work often focuses on the lives of trans men and women. She was the national cochair of GLAAD from 2013 to 2019 and served as contributing opinion writer for the New York Times for 15 years. She is a trustee of PEN America and the inaugural Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University. During her fellowship year at Radcliffe, she will write a novel, inspired by Amelia Earhart and told in the voices of three women at three moments in the history of American feminism, which she will research at the Schlesinger Library.

The Julia S. Phelps Annual Lecture in the Arts and Humanities was established to honor the late Julia S. Phelps, a longtime instructor in the Radcliffe Seminars, and is supported by the generous contributions of her family, friends, and colleagues.

Author Jennifer Boylan Discusses Experience with Gender Transition at Harvard Radcliffe Lecture (Harvard Crimson, 2/22/23)

Event Video

Play Jennifer Finney Boylan's Phelps lecture videoure Slides Thumbnail

More Events & Exhibitions

01 / 04