Introduction of Dennis Lehane, Commencement Speaker
Dr. Donald R. Eastman, III
Dennis Lehane is the kind of student and alumnus that every college would like to have.
Dennis Lehane was born in 1965 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, the son of parents who immigrated from Ireland. He finished his secondary education in a Boston Jesuit prep school. Except for the time he has spent in Florida, he has lived in Boston all of his life. He transferred to Eckerd College from Emerson College and the University of Massachusetts in Boston in 1985, graduated from Eckerd in 1988, then lived in the Tampa Bay area for three years, writing as a film critic and working in social work and in local bookstores to make ends meet.
Dennis earned a Master's Degree in creative writing at Florida International University in Miami. He returned to Boston and worked as a limo driver and for a hotel parking cars to support himself as a writer. His first novel, A Drink Before the War, featuring the detective team of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Genarro, was published in 1993.
A Drink Before the War won the 1994 Shamus Award given by the Private I. Writers of America for the best first novel in that genre.
Four critically praised and widely read novels followed:
Darkness, Take My Hand;
Gone, Baby, Gone; and
Prayers for Rain.
As Sterling Watson, Eckerd College faculty member and head of the Creative Writing Program and Dennis's mentor, has noted, "With his sixth novel, Mystic River, Dennis radically altered his approach to writing, and this changed his life forever." Mystic River enjoyed remarkable success in bookstores and on The New York Times best-seller list. The New York Times Book Review called the novel ‘a powerhouse ... heart-scorching ... penetrating ... ' and said "(Lehane's) deeply scored characterization of the three former friends carries the soul of this story ... if you really want to know when innocence dies, just look these people in the eye.'"
As many of you know, Mystic River became a highly acclaimed film directed by Clint Eastwood, who won an Academy Award as Best Director. It starred Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon; Penn and Robbins won best actor and best supporting actor in their roles.
In 2003, Dennis published Shutter Island (also projected to become a major motion picture along with Gone Baby Gone), and he is currently at work on a long, ambitious novel about Babe Ruth and the Boston Police Strike of 1919.
More than Dennis's success as a writer, we are most proud of Dennis's continuing commitment to the education of future creative writers and to Eckerd College. Dennis has been teaching fiction writing at renowned writing programs at University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast MFA, Pine Manor College in Massachusetts, Tufts, Boston College and Harvard. Last January, Dennis came back to co-found and co-direct with Professor Watson a wildly successful writers' workshop called Writers in Paradise. The workshop continues in January 2006 with a kick-off lecture by novelist Stephen King. Dennis will spend next year at Eckerd College as a writer in residence, and students who have learned of this already are giddy with anticipation.
In an interview with a St. Petersburg Times reporter, Dennis claimed, "Coming to Eckerd College was the best decision I ever made." Admitting Dennis Lehane as a student was one of the best decisions Eckerd College ever made.
Welcome, Dennis Lehane.