The women speaking at this panel come from a  wide range of fields yet are connected by their success and impact on their respective fields. The creativity and dynamism required of their professions is both shared and unique. This panel will explore how these remarkable women have navigated their professional spheres, which are all entrenched with gender disparities in leadership, and have nonetheless succeeded in surpassing such limitations to create successful careers. .


Vinca LaFleur

Partner, West Wing Writers 

When President Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland in November 1995, Vinca LaFleur helped him find the words to inspire new hope for peace. The Financial Times described the president’s speeches as “Ciceronian”; the Times of London called his Belfast keynote address “one of the finest” of his presidency; and The Guardian advised the British prime minister to “hire that man’s speechwriter.” Working at the White House combined two of Vinca’s passions: writing and international relations. During her three years as a foreign policy speechwriter and special assistant for national security affairs, she accompanied President Clinton to Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Previously, she served as a speechwriter for the Secretary of State, and before that as a human rights analyst at the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. After Vinca left public service, more leaders got their opportunity to takeThe Guardian’s advice. From 1998-2008, she ran her own speechwriting consultancy, serving clients across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Today, as a partner at West Wing Writers, Vinca helps CEOs, senior government officials, philanthropists, and other prominent public figures to shape ideas and drive conversations in fields from global development to public health, technology, manufacturing, and many more. She graduated summa cum laude from Yale University and holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.



Rachel Zucker


Rachel Zucker is the author of nine books, most recently, a memoir, MOTHERs, and a double collection of prose and poetry, The Pedestrians. Her book Museum of Accidents was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2013. Zucker teaches poetry at New York University and recently delivered a series of lectures on the intersection of poetry, confession, ethics and disobedience as part of the Bagley Wright Lecture Series. Zucker is the host of Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People), a podcast she started in 2016. 



Ruth Franklin

Ruth Franklin is a book critic and biographer. She has written for many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, and The New York Review of Books. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life was a New York Times Notable Book of 2016 and appeared on "Best of the Year" lists from NPR, Time, Entertainment Weekly, the Boston Globe, and many more. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.



Claudia Rankine

 Poet and essayist, MacArthur Genius Grant Awardee



Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of the highly acclaimed debut novel,HERE COMES THE SUN (Norton/Liveright, July 2016), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and an Amazon and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2016. Dennis-Benn's debut novel has received a starred Kirkus Review and is deemed one of the best books to read this summer and beyond by New York Times, NPR, BBC, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, Bookish, Miami Herald, Elle, O Magazine, Marie Claire, Entertainment Weekly, Flavorwire, After Ellen, BookPage, Cosmopolitan, Brooklyn Magazine, among others. New York Times Book reviewer, Jennifer Senior describesHERE COMES THE SUN as a “lithe, artfully-plotted debut”; Pulitzer Prize finalist, Laila Lalami, as well as Booklist have deemed it a "fantastic debut"; and Man Booker Prize winner, Marlon James says “[Here Comes the Sun] is a story waiting to be told”. Dennis-Benn is a finalist for the 2016 National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award and is shortlisted for theTexas Library Association 2017 Lariat. Dennis-Benn was a finalist for the2016 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize.  Her work has appeared in The New York Times, ELLE Magazine, Electric Literature, Lenny Letter, Catapult Red Rock Review, Kweli Literary Journal, Mosaic, Ebony, and the Feminist Wire. Dennis-Benn has an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and has been awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Lambda, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Hurston/Wright, and Sewanee Writers' Conference. Her writing has been awarded a Richard and Julie Logsdon Fiction Prize; and two of her stories have been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize in Fiction.  Dennis-Benn was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.