Patti Smith: a high note on Living Writers schedule

Back to All Stories

Colgate community members preparing for the university’s Bicentennial kickoff enjoyed a legendary opening act on September 20. Patti Smith, award-winning singer-songwriter and author, launched the weekend with music and readings through the Living Writers series.

Smith, punk poet laureate, is primarily known for her music, having been listed in 2010 as one of the greatest artists of all time by Rolling Stone and a 2011 recipient of the Polar Music Prize. But the focus of the event was on Smith’s National Book Award–winning memoir, Just Kids, a work so influential it earned her inclusion on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Just Kids was written as part of a promise to the renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom Smith shared a long relationship. The title stems from an overheard conversation: an elderly woman, seeing Smith and Mapplethorpe, said to her husband, “Take a picture of them, they’re artists.” To which her husband responded, “Oh, no, they’re just kids.”

While most of Smith’s event involved readings from her book and recollections running the course of her career, she performed a number of her greatest hits, interspersed among — and relating to — the passages.

Many students said that Smith’s event felt more like a concert than a traditional speech or reading, fitting in with Smith’s own lyrical sense of poetic musicality. Kenny Linder ’21 said that Smith’s style of exposition was “exciting  — the switch between songs and readings was a really good way to keep us all engaged.”

For a full list of Living Writers participants, visit