Mark Nepo, D.A.’80

Spiritual Visionary

By Paul Grondahl, M.A.’84
Mark Nepo

There are two distinct phases of the writing and teaching career of Mark Nepo: Before Oprah and After Oprah.

After earning his doctorate in English and teaching literature at UAlbany for 18 years, Nepo had built a respectable career as an academic and poet. He announced his lofty literary aspirations with the 1988 publication of Fire Without Witness, an epic poem that centers on the world of Michelangelo as revealed through the artist’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill called Nepo’s work “remarkable in its ambition and conception and cumulative weight.”

While at UAlbany, Nepo was diagnosed in his 30s with a rare form of lymphoma that spread to his brain and developed into a large tumor. Prior to surgery, the tumor shrank and disappeared. Nepo went into remission. Doctors and traditional medicine could not explain what had happened. To try to comprehend the miracle he had experienced, Nepo began a profound spiritual journey, writing poetry, studying philosophy, and embarking on an inner transformation.

And then, in 2010, lightning struck when Oprah Winfrey selected Nepo’s The Book of Awakening as one of her Ultimate Favorite Things for her farewell season on daytime network TV. The pick sent the work soaring to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list and launched Nepo’s career into the stratosphere. Winfrey invited Nepo to appear several times on her OWN network’s “SuperSoul Sunday” program and included Nepo among her SuperSoul100 list of visionaries and influential leaders.

Mark Nepo and Oprah Winfrey on stage during The Life You Want Tour
Mark Nepo, a sought-after speaker, was part of Oprah Winfrey’s “The Life You Want Tour” in 2014. He has also appeared several times with Winfrey on her OWN TV “SuperSoul Sunday” program.  Harpo Studios, Inc./George Burns

Nepo explained his cancer journey to Winfrey during a TV episode this way: “I went through a door, and when I tried to go back out that door, it was gone. There was no way to get back to the life I had lived. Everything had changed.”

Book cover for The Book of Awakening

“The Oprah Effect,” as it has been dubbed, helped Nepo become a best-selling author, elevated his national profile as a philosopher-poet, and helped establish him as a leading spiritual teacher whose workshops and retreats are in high demand. Nepo’s 20th book, More Together Than Alone, published in July by Atria Books, is a moving meditation and an empowering guide to those seeking a sense of community, connection, and hope in turbulent times. Arianna Huffington called it “a compelling testament to the power of community to help us lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.” A review in the online journal Spirituality & Practice said Nepo has written “a masterwork on community animated by visionary vigor, philosophical rigor, a cross-cultural practice, and a poetic sensibility.”

"Nepo returns to UAlbany as a headliner in the Writers Institute’s Spring 2019 Visiting Writers Series. 

His visit, scheduled for March 5 and 6, will include a keynote address, classroom visits, and special programs. 

“I’m thrilled to be returning to UAlbany,” Nepo said by phone from his home in Kalamazoo, Mich. “It was such a vibrant program in which I studied and taught for many years. I learned so much from my professors and colleagues in the English department,” he said, citing Hugh MacLean, Bill Dumbleton, Judy Johnson, Don Byrd, Eugene Mirabelli and Gene Garber.