It may have Chicago in its name, but the Chicago Humanities Festival found a new home in Evanston Oct. 29, on the festival’s Northwestern Day.
The festival occurs annually, bringing dozens of speakers and performers to the Chicago area throughout October and November. Northwestern Day included 15 talks and presentations by a variety of writers, performers and scholars. Maureen Dowd, a columnist for The New York Times, and David Axelrod, the director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics and former Obama advisor, kicked off Saturday’s talks, and California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Chicago Tonight correspondent Elizabeth Brackett closed out the day. Additionally, three University professors held CHF events.
If you couldn’t make it to any of the day’s festivities, no worries – NBN has you covered with recaps of Newberry Medal-winning author Kwame Alexander’s talk, Yale Sterling Professor of Law Akhil Reed Amar’s presentation, and a panel led by Communication Studies professor Aymar Jean Christian.
“YA Lit in Kicks, Hoops and Verse”
Kwame Alexander with Shepsu Aakhu
Louis Theatre, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Kwame Alexander’s talk, with writer and director Shepsu Aakhu, seemed more like a casual conversation than a formal presentation.
“So we’re going to pretend there’s a roaring fire behind us and a nice pooch at my feet,” Aakhu said to start the talk.
Alexander’s wide-ranging talk touched on how he became interested in writing, his process, his work outside young adult literature and how to get children interested in reading. He also recited a few poems from his books.
“In schools, after fourth grade poetry becomes this sort of staid thing,” Alexander said. “People are afraid of it. … You actually learned how to communicate with the world through rhythm and rhyme … so I want to bring that back.”
Lynn Townsell, a Chicago resident, said she brought her son to Alexander’s talk because of his interest in writing and his love for Alexander’s work.
“I got [my son] The Crossover a couple years ago when it first came down, and he loved it,” Townsell said. “It was very good in terms of him just being very personal and down to earth.”
“The Constitution Under Pressure”
Akhil Reed Amar
Harris Hall 107, 2:30-3:30 p.m.
Between references to politicians from Illinois and FBI Director James Comey’s recent announcement of a renewed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Akhil Reed Amar’s sold-out presentation on constitutional law in the upcoming election was as topical as it gets.
In Amar’s view, every election is a referendum on the Constitution and Lincoln’s vision for a country built on equality. He argued that this election especially showed this because “one of the two people [running for president] gets that vision, and the other not so much.” Amar also related Lincoln, who was from Illinois, to President Barack Obama, who is also from Illinois, saying Obama is now the defender of Lincoln’s vision for the country.
In total, Amar said five people from Illinois are on the ballot this election – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Supreme Court justice nominee Merrick Garland and, of course, Abraham Lincoln and his vision for the U.S.
During a Q&A after his presentation, Amar addressed questions about the Supreme Court, Comey’s announcement, states’ rights and the Patriot Act.
Diane Falk, a Chicago resident who’s worked on multiple presidential campaigns, said she appreciated Amar’s knowledge, but noted his criticism against Trump.
“Clearly he’s got a partisan viewpoint, and since it aligns with mine, I was OK with that,” Falk said. “I thought the historical references were very interesting, that we’ve kind of been in this place before.”
Amar, however, concluded his talk by emphasizing that he criticizes both sides of the aisle and has agreed with liberal and conservative scholars.
“You expected a squishy Yale Law professor,” Amar said. “Bernie Sanders, all the rest.”
“Slow, Artistic, Indie TV”
Aymar Jean Christian with Ricardo Gamboa and Shea Couleé
Block Museum, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
To Aymar Jean Christian, the founder of Open TV, television doesn’t need to exist on a TV. He wrote the first complete study of internet TV, and has spent his time outside the classroom working on Open TV, which aims to give diverse artists a platform for independent TV projects.
“I wanted to create a platform for television that was more interdisciplinary,” Christian said at the start of his panel. “It’s all research driven, but it’s most importantly artist driven.”
Christian’s panel featured two Open TV collaborators: Shea Couleé, a drag queen who made a short film featuring drag queen characters called “Lipstick City,” and Ricardo Gamboa, a writer and actor whose series Brujos – Spanish for “male witches” – will premiere on Open TV next year. Christian screened “Lipstick City” and the trailer for Brujos before a Q&A with the artists.
Couleé talked about the aesthetics of drag and how social assumptions about gender play into drag performance. She also performed a lip sync of “Daddy Lessons” by Beyoncé.
“I think that a lot of power comes from femininity and feminine energy,” Couleé said. “Putting on the wig and the heels somehow made me feel more powerful.”
A doctoral candidate in American Studies at New York University, Gamboa focused on talking about diversity in his work, and his goal of featuring a variety of voices in his teams and projects.
“Art was always a way to critique … and then to be able to ask, to talk back to power,” Gamboa said. “You might not see the change you want to make in your lifetime, but you have to lay the groundwork.”