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Headliner Spotlight: Diane Foley

This spotlight is going to be a bit different, because our subject, Diane Foley, is not a poet. Her son, journalist James Foley, was the first American citizen killed by ISIS. After many years in the late 2000s and early 2010s covering wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, Foley was kidnapped by ISIS in 2012. He spent nearly two excruciating years as a hostage before the group murdered him. Less than a month later, his family founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation

Diane, the President of the Foundation, is a UNH graduate and longtime resident of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, where James and his siblings grew up. She’ll be appearing in a special presentation at the Nossrat Yassini Poetry Festival to discuss her son’s legacy with Massachusetts poet Daniel Brock Johnson, a close friend of James Foley who published Shadow Act: An Elegy for Journalist James Foley in 2023. You can hear Johnson discussing these intimate poems in this episode of the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf podcast. 

In the above interview, Diane Foley recounts her experience of her son’s murder and how she, remarkably, took the opportunity to meet one of his killers. She’s also discussed the story at length with author Colum McCann in the book American Mother. Her presentation with Johnson and his wife Dr. Ebele Okpokwasili-Johnson will be a powerful testament to the capacity of poetry to help us understand grief and celebrate life. We’re very fortunate to have them for what will surely be one of the Festival’s major highlights. 

Death is not an uncommon fate for journalists like Foley, who take enormous risks to bring crucial information to the public. As of this writing, at least 95 journalists and other media workers have been killed during Israel’s current campaign in Gaza, and at least 17 have given their lives covering the Russian campaign in Ukraine. This event is an opportunity to reflect not only on Foley’s sacrifice, but also those of far too many of his comrades in the past, the present, and—so long as war continues—the future. 

 A Tribute to American Journalist James Foley will take place at 4:00 PM on Saturday, April 13th, in the Dimond Library’s Courtyard Reading Room. Check our Schedule page for more info about the Festival's offerings, and the Featured Poets page for a full bio.

—Matthew Mallory Dinaro