Sister Helen Prejean to speak at SMU April 23

Sister Helen PrejeanSister Helen Prejean, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, will speak at SMU April 23 as part of a panel discussion, “Arts, Social Change, and Human Rights,” from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center Theater.

Hosted by SMU, Fort Worth Opera and the Dallas Opera, the panel will be moderated by Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

The other panelists include Jonathan Pell, artistic director for the Dallas Opera; Darren K. Woods, general director of Fort Worth Opera; and Jake Heggie, composer of the modern opera derived from Dead Man Walking.

Sister Helen Prejean, a former teacher from Louisiana, joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille at a young age and dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. She began a prison ministry in 1981 and became a pen pal and spiritual adviser to convicted felons, which led her to share her experiences through Dead Man Walking. The book was made into a major motion picture in 1996.

Sister Prejean received the Robert O. Cooper Peace and Justice Fellowship from SMU in 1998. The fellowship is sponsored by the SMU Office of the Chaplain, in collaboration with the Human Rights Program, the Ethnic Studies Program and the Dallas Peace Center.

The panel discussion will highlight examples of how the arts have impacted communities and will emphasize efforts to integrate the arts into social change. The event also will spotlight Heggie’s operas Dead Man Walking, which will be presented by Fort Worth Opera in May, and Moby Dick, which the Dallas Opera will premiere in 2010.

The panel is free and open to the public, and a reception will follow the discussion.