Honorary Degree Citation
Gregory White Smith. A prize-winning writer and coauthor of eighteen books, you graduated summa cum laude with a major in English in the Class of 1973 and went on to earn advanced degrees from Harvard Law School and its Graduate School of Education. Diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer in 1986, you beat incredibly high odds against survival. After this experience, so vividly chronicled in your Making Miracles Happen, you and Steven Naifeh, your coauthor, life partner, and business partner, cofounded the influential international directory Best Doctors, which connects patients with excellent physicians. Best Doctors parallels your earlier project Best Lawyers, preeminent guide to the legal profession worldwide. The subjects of your books range from an exploration of men’s emotional reticence to murder in a Mormon family to an amusing narrative of your restoration of a 60-room mansion in South Carolina, now the site of a Juilliard-allied summer music festival. You are best known for your meticulously researched books on artists Jackson Pollock and Vincent van Gogh. Jackson Pollock: An American Saga won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for its account of the interconnections between the artist’s personal demons and his iconoclastic art. Most recently, your Vincent van Gogh: A Life helps readers understand how van Gogh’s primal, joyful art emerged in part from his preternatural ability to absorb lessons from other artists, despite his unhappiness. Because you have so helpfully mapped the professions of law and medicine, served as an innovative patron of the arts, and, most of all, because you have written books of uncommon grace, liveliness, and insight, Colby takes pride in counting you among our most distinguished graduates.
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, Gregory White Smith, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are the visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you eligible.
Conferred May 26, 2013
More about Gregory White Smith:
Gregory White Smith ’73 is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has written more than a dozen books with his partner, Steven Naifeh, including five New York Times bestsellers. Their biography of the American painter Jackson Pollock won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and was a National Book Award finalist. Smith and Naifeh’s most recent book, Van Gogh: The Life, was acclaimed as “magisterial” by the New York Times. Widely regarded as the definitive biography of the great Dutch painter, the book has been translated into a dozen languages. At age 34 Smith was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and told he had only months to live. He chronicled his ongoing medical journey, which was featured on 60 Minutes, in his 1997 book Making Miracles Happen.
Commencement 2013 Q&A with Gregory White Smith ’79
Q&A with Van Gogh Biographer Gregory White Smith ’73 | Colby magazine, Winter 2012
The Biographer’s Craft | Colby magazine, Fall 2006