Diane Ackerman
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Literary Arts

Diane Ackerman

Past Event: Monday, November 19, 2007

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

Sponsored by Christensen O'Connor Johnson Kindness, PLLC.

Diane Ackerman’s work has been described as a history of her extraordinary enthusiasms. She has published books about gardening, psychology, and neuroscience, animals on the verge of extinction, working in a crisis-call center, learning to fly, cattle ranching, and a history of love. She has been awarded a coveted Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Burroughs Nature Award, and the Lavan Poetry Prize. She has been honored as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and has taught at Columbia University, the University of Richmond, and Cornell. She has even had a molecule—actually a sex pheromone in crocodilians that she researched and wrote about—named after her: the dianeackerone.

Born in Waukegan, Illinois, Ackerman received an M.A., M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University where she studied with Carl Sagan, the renowned astronomer and astrochemist. Her fascination with the natural world seems to stem from a desire to be a part of everything, to experience the world fully and intimately. And though she considers herself a poet first, her studies in science have informed all of her work, from her best-selling A Natural History of the Senses to her look at the brain and all its wonders in An Alchemy of Mind. “Not to write about Nature in its widest sense,” she says, “because quasars or corpuscles are not ‘the proper realm of poetry,’ as a critic once said to me, is not only irresponsible and philistine, it bankrupts the experience of living, it ignores much of life’s fascination and variety.”

First influenced by the likes of Wallace Stevens, Pablo Neruda, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf and Colette, Ackerman has been equally moved by the naturalists John Muir, Loren Eiseley, and Peter Matthiessen. Her writing in turn reflects the scientist’s careful attention to detail, the observation of matter as it changes, the questioning of physical states as a mode of operation, coupled with the poet’s ear for language, the artist’s love for ecstasy.

Her most recent work, The Zookeeper’s Wife, tells the true story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski, zookeepers in Warsaw during World War II who saved hundreds of Jews and others from the Nazis. Ackerman uses the totality of her diverse background and skills in this unusual look at the Third Reich’s plan to control the genetic destiny of the planet. Carefully researched and constructed, Ackerman’s portrayal of Antonina Zabinska is deepened by the two women’s shared sensibilities and Ackerman’s own ability to immerse herself in the life of another. It is perhaps her most important work yet on science, history, courage, and love of life.

Ackerman lives with her husband, the novelist Paul West, in Ithaca, New York, where she takes in the outside world, walking for half an hour every day. “I put the whole planet under me,” she said. “The sway of my bones, of my hips, the blood-red maples, the feel of the breeze.” And when she travels the world, it is with great courage—rock climbing, biking, swimming with whales, learning to fly, and, of course, determining the sex of alligators.

Excerpt from The Zookeeper’s Wife (2007). . . Antonina had sometimes joined Jan to visit the famous entomologist Dr. Szymon Tenenbaum, his dentist wife Lonia, and their daughter Irena. As boys, Jan and Szymon attended the same school and became friends who loved crawling around in ditches and peering under rocks, Szymon a bug zealot even then. The scarab-like beetle became his sun god, specialty, and mania. As an adult, he started traveling the world and collecting in his spare time, and by publishing a five-volume study of the beetles of the Balearic Islands, he joined the ranks of leading entomologists . . . Even in the Ghetto, Szymon continued to write articles and collect insects, pinning his quarry in sap-brown wooden display boxes with glass fronts. But when Jews were first ordered into the Ghetto, Szymon worried how to protect his large, valuable collection and asked Jan if he’d hide it in the villa. Luckily, in 1939 when the SS raided the zoo and stole over two hundred valuable books, many of the microscopes, and other equipment, they somehow overlooked Tenenbaum’s collection of half a million specimens . . . It doesn’t really matter where the boxes sit [now, long after the war], but Szymon would have enjoyed this end-of-the-lane, out-of-the-way place, surrounded by farm fields and dense foliage askitter with insects, tiny beetles abounding . . . One often recognizes only in hindsight a coincidence or unlikely object that altered fate. Who would have imagined that a zealous professor’s cavalcade of pinned beetles would open the gate from the Ghetto for so many people?

Selected WorkThe Zookeeper’s Wife (2007)An Alchemy of Mind (2004)Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden (2001)Deep Play (1999)A Slender Thread (1997)The Rarest of the Rare (1995)A Natural History of Love (1994)The Moon by Whale Light (1991)A Natural History of the Senses (1990)On Extended Wings (1985)Poetry:Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire (2002)I Praise My Destroyer (1998)Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems (1991)Reverse Thunder: A Dramatic Poem (1988)Lady Faustus (1983)Wife of Light (1978)The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral (1976)Books for Children:Animal Sense (2003)Bats: Shadows in the Night (1997)Monk Seal Hideaway (1995)LinksAuthor’s website

An interview with Jill Owens at Powell’s

A short article in the Cornell Chronicle

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

By Car

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5 via Westbound I-90
    Take the 2C exit for I-5 North. Follow signs for Madison Street/Convention Place and merge right onto Seventh Avenue. Turn left onto Madison Street. Proceed three blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue four blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Public Transit (Bus & Light Rail)

Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).


The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. ChargePoint charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $20.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


Open Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where a captioning screen displaying the words that are spoken or sung is placed on stage. This option is present at every event at Benaroya Hall in our 2021/22 Season.

Closed Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where captioning displays the words that are spoken or sung at the bottom of the video during an online event. Captioning is available for all online events; click the “CC” button to view captions during the event.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are devices that people with hearing loss use in conjunction with their hearing device (hearing aids or cochlear implants). Benaroya Hall has an infrared hearing system, which transmits sound by light beams. Headsets are available in The Boeing Company Gallery coat check and the Head Usher stations in both lobbies.

Sign Language Interpretation is available upon request for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals for both in-person and online events. To make a request for interpretation, please contact us at [email protected] or 206.621.2230×10, or select “Sign Language Interpretation” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process and we will contact you to confirm details. Please note: we appreciate a two-week advance notice to allow us time to secure interpretation.

Wheelchair Accessible Seating and Accessible Restrooms are available in all sections at our venues, and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. Among other features, Benaroya Hall has designated parking spaces adjacent to elevators in their parking garage. Elevators with Braille signage go to all levels within the Hall. To reserve seating for a specific mobility concern, you may select “Wheelchair Accessible or Alternative Seating Options” during ticket checkout, and we will contact you to confirm details. For more details on their accessibility features, click here.

Guide and service dogs are welcome.

Gender neutral restrooms are available.

We are pleased to offer these accessibility services at our venues, and they are provided at no additional cost to ticket holders. Please contact us with any questions and feedback about how we can be more accessible and inclusive. Our Patron Services Manager is available at [email protected], or Monday-Friday from 10:00am – 5:00pm at 206.621.2230×10.

For more accessibility information, please head to lectures.org/accessibility. If you would like to make accessibility arrangements you do not see listed here, please contact our box office or select “Other Accommodations” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process, and we will contact you to confirm details.