Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean-Argentinian-American novelist, playwright, academic, and human rights activist. He is an exile from the Pinochet regime in Chile and the child of Holocaust refugees. At Duke University, Dorfman is the Walter Hines Page Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Literature. With expertise in Latin American culture and politics, he has also taught at the Universidad de Chile, the Sorbonne (Paris IV) and the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles, collections of poems, a memoir, novels, plays, and non-fiction books including Exorcising Terror: The Incredible, Unending Trial of General Augusto Pinochet and Desert Memories: Journeys through the Chilean North. Roman Polanski’s 1994 film Death and the Maiden, with Ben Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver, was based on Dorfman’s play of the same name. A documentary feature film based on his life, A Promise to the Dead: the Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman, was directed by Peter Raymont in 2007 and shortlisted for an Academy Award. According to Queen’s history professor James Leitch, who helped organized Dorfman’s lecture, Dorfman was well-suited to his lecture topic because “anyone who comes from Santiago, Chile will have some knowledge of authoritarian states through direct experience.”

Dorfman’s lecture was the annual Dunning Trust lecture and a part of a symposium titled “Citizen and the State,” which featured a series of lectures addressing the concept of citizenship in the changing world. Other speakers were John Pocock, historian at Johns Hopkins University, Soviet human rights activist Yelena Bonner, Paris-based author Mavis Gallant, controversial architectural expert Leon Krier, Irish writer and politician Conor Cruise O’Brien and Nobel Prize-winning Canadian scientist John Polanyi.