While a freshman at Barnard College, Jhumpa Lahiri discovered her roommate’s copy of the novel Light Years by James Salter, which caused her to fall in love with contemporary literature. Eleven years after graduating from Barnard College, Jhumpa Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize for Interpreter of Maladies, her collection of short stories. She has since published several novels, as well as numerous short stories and essays in The New Yorker.
Linda Laubenstein’s name may not be as well known as some of the others on this list, but it should be. Laubenstein was a doctor who was instrumental in early AIDS research during the U.S. AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. After contracting polio during her childhood and ending up a paraplegic, Laubenstein chose Barnard because of its wheelchair accessibility. She went on to conduct groundbreaking research connecting Kaposi’s sarcoma with AIDS and to co-found Multitasking, an organization dedicated to finding employment opportunities for people living with HIV and AIDS. A major character in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart was based on Laubenstein and was portrayed by Julia Roberts in the HBO film adaptation.
7. Ntozake Shange – writer
Ntozake Shange is best known for her first work, “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” which combines several artistic forms to tell the stories of seven women’s experiences facing racism and sexism. In addition to this work, she has written many more plays, essays, novels and poems. Shange has stated that she “felt as if she came of age as a feminist and an artist at Barnard” where she was heavily involved politically and artistically on campus. The Barnard Archives and Special Collectionsrecently acquired Shange’s personal papers, including early poems, essays and an annotated manuscript of “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,” so students can gain a deeper understanding of Shange’s work.
8. Martha Stewart – businesswoman and television personality
If there's one alumna with obvious Barnard pride, it's Greta Gerwig. As well as co-writing and starring in the critically acclaimed Frances Ha, Gerwig co-wrote and co-starred in Mistress America, a film that takes place partly at Barnard College and tells the story of a Barnard student. She returned to Barnard to speak at the opening of the Athena Film Festival, an annual Barnard event celebrating women in cinema. Recently, she co-starred in Twentieth Century Women, and made her directorial debut with Lady Bird (which she also wrote), which will be released this fall.
The list of noteworthy Barnard alumnae definitely doesn't stop there; Barnard students have a long history of going on to do big things, and these listed women are a few examples out of many. There are countless graduates from a variety of fields who have made a difference after graduating from Barnard College, and there are doubtlessly many more to come.