Frederic King Conover III '80

Doctor of Letters

Frederic King Conover III, you are known to us, to your family and friends, as Ted. Among Mexican migrant workers you were called Teodoro; as a corrections officer in New York State's notorious Sing Sing prison your superiors just barked "Conover!" This ability to permeate boundaries forms the core of your life's work. Combining a genuine interest in the complexities of human experience with honest, precise and elegant prose, you have become one of the nation's most incisive and recognized writers of nonfiction.

An anthropology major at Amherst, class of 1980, you planted the seeds of your first book, Rolling Nowhere, by riding America's rails as a hobo and writing a senior thesis based on your experiences. To write Coyotes, you criss-crossed North America with Mexican workers in search of jobs. Shifting your acute lens to the elite and wealthy, you became a newspaper reporter and cab driver in Aspen, Colorado, and published Whiteout. Your most recent and highly-acclaimed book, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction in 2001; it was also a nominated finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

To write Newjack, you did the unthinkable: You became a prison employee and worked the cells like the rest of the guards. This book is a full narrative, carrying the weight and the insight that can only come from knowing the gritty details first-hand.

You tease out the differences between perception and reality. This is a journalist's finest impulse. An anthropological, immersion journalist. A narrative anthropologist. A writer. A worker. You are all these things, somehow, amazingly, wrapped into one mind and one craft. Congratulations and thank you, Ted. We are proud this morning to present you with your second Amherst degree.

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