A tale of persistence, passion, and music

Table of contents

Table of Contents
Part I
Chapter 1 The Beginning
Chapter 2 Violin and Middle Passage
Chapter 3 Chocolate City
Chapter 4 Europe
Chapter 5 Tarzan, Practicing & Searching
Chapter 6 Interlochen
Chapter 7 A Love at Penn State
Chapter 8 Final Year at Penn State
Chapter 9 Jumpstarting the Homeless
Chapter 10 Dungeons, Dragons & Miracles with Robin Williams
Chapter 11 Reconciliation Tour
Chapter 12 The Angel
Part II
Chapter 13 Unearthing the Sphinx
Chapter 14 Becoming Strong
Chapter 15 A Mirror for my Soul
Chapter 16 There was Moore to Life
Chapter 17 I Reach for Oprah
Chapter 18 A Detroit Renaissance
Chapter 19 Picture Perfect
Chapter 20 A New Place for My Heart
Chapter 21 Uncommon Genius
Chapter 22 (Fund)raising the Dream
Chapter 23 Getting to Carnegie Hall
Chapter 24 Building Beyond Oneself
Part III
Chapter 25 A Change in Direction
Chapter 26 Dean of the Big Blue
Chapter 27 A Noah Crisis
Chapter 28 The Spirit Endures
Chapter 29 Family and My Boys


Lessons in Gratitude tells the story of Aaron Dworkin, a MacArthur Fellow, social entrepreneur, and spoken word artist who has dedicated his life’s work to changing the face of classical arts in the world. The themes of persistence, passion, and loyalty shine through stories of an unhappy childhood, a lifelong search for identity, and the obstacles of race, culture, and class. Readers will learn how the author greets these challenges and how they drove him to make a difference for people who are shut out of opportunity. Persistence in the face of multiple failures and false starts ultimately led Dworkin to create the Sphinx Organization, whose mission is to address the underrepresentation of Black and Latinx people in the field of the classical arts. 

Aaron’s unique journey, which begins with his adoption by a white Jewish couple from Chicago at two weeks of age, leads him to the ultimate reunification with his birth family at the age of 31. Lessons of Gratitude is a coming of age story that examines the difficulties of biracial identity across generations and the challenges that mixed race families still face today. It is also a painful and honest adoption memoir, further complicating the narrator’s experiences of racial identity throughout his life and shaping his experiences with his own children. Through his work in the arts and the impact of this work, Dworkin has been able to “pay forward” the first thing that offered him unconditional love—music.

Aaron P. Dworkin is a Poetjournalist, Professor of Arts Leadership & Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan, and Founder of the internationally acclaimed Sphinx Organization.