Open VISIONS Forum presents author of best-selling book "Dead Man Walking"

Open VISIONS Forum presents author of best-selling book "Dead Man Walking"

Image: Helen Prejean Helen Prejean, C.S.J., the nun whose work counseling death row inmates led to her best-selling book "Dead Man Walking" and the Academy Award-winning film of the same title, will deliver the 3rd annual Ignatian Residential College Lecture at Fairfield University. The lecture will be presented by Open VISIONS Forum, a program of University College, at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Wednesday, April 6, at 8 p.m.

The lecture has been made possible in part by the Lilly Endowment Fund. Justice Joette Katz, who is one of the seven Justices of the Supreme Court in Connecticut, will introduce Prejean.

In 1981, Prejean began her prison ministry, dedicating her life to the poor of New Orleans while spending her time at the St. Thomas housing project. While she was there, she started a correspondence with Patrick Sonnier, who was convicted of killing two teenagers and was sentenced to die in the electric chair in Louisiana.

In lending Sonnier spiritual support, Prejean wrote of her experiences in "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States." It was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize, and won a place on the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, as well as ranking number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks.

In 1996, the book developed into a major motion picture and was nominated for four Oscars. Tim Robbins directed the production and also wrote a stage version of the film starring Sean Pean and Susan Sarandon to help bring attention to capital punishment and promote public discussion of the issue. Through his Dead Man Walking Theatre Project, he invited the nation's 80 Jesuit schools and universities to perform a draft version of the adaptation.

In conjunction with Prejean's appearance, Theatre Fairfield, the producing organization of Fairfield University's Theatre Program, presented the play at the Quick Center in February. Also, the University's Ignatian Residential College planned a number of activities around the theme, including a screening of the film and a faculty seminar on the death penalty. Rose Rodrigues, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, taught a course on the death penalty during the fall semester.

Prejean is dedicated to educating the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. She is the founder of "Survive," a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans and counsels both inmates on death row and families of murder victims.

Her newly published book, "The Death of Innocents," focuses on Virginia and Louisiana cases in which she again serves as a spiritual supporter of two men on death row she believes have been wrongly accused. The New York Times reviewed the book, saying that "her prose is, as in ÔDead Man Walking,' luminous, undecorated, angry, and very moving."

In her current book tour Prejean talks about the need for political engagement, for letters to be written to politicians and for young people to aid in this cause.

"Don't doubt that change can happen," Prejean told the Los Angeles Times. "What will paralyze us and keep us in our beds on a Monday morning ... is if we feel the powers arrayed against us are so large and so big that we are powerless to change anything. That's why we need community. Lone Rangers don't do well in social justice ... We need the strength of others."

Prejean and "Dead Man Walking" have been the subjects of numerous media stories and reviews around the world. She has been featured in the New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Good Housekeeping, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Orleans Magazine, and Sisters Today. Her broadcast appearances include "60 Minutes," NBC's "Today Show," "World News Tonight," "The Tom Snyder Show" on CNBC, "Larry King Live" (radio), an NBC special on the death penalty, and "Prime Time Live."

Prejean joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in 1957 and received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Mary's Dominican College, New Orleans in 1962. In 1973, she earned an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada.

Tickets are $25, $22.50 for senior citizens. For tickets, call the Quick Center box office at (203) 254-4010 or toll free at 1-877-ARTS-396. For more information, visit the website

Posted On: 03-01-2005 10:03 AM

Volume: 37 Number: 181