If you wanted to watch “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda speak, you may have missed your chance – his sold-out talk kicked off the Chicago Humanities Festival on Sept. 23 – but that doesn’t mean you can’t see a ton of the other speakers and performers at the festival.
The annual festival hosts talks, performances and other events in Chicago and Evanston throughout October and November. The festival began in 1990, as a one-day event put on by the Illinois Humanities Council. By 1997, the festival became its own organization separate from the council. In past years, it has hosted events featuring Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig (who briefly ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2015), chef Rick Bayless and New Wave musician Elvis Costello.
This year’s festival’s theme is “Speed.” Scattered events throughout October will lead up to over 100 events from Oct. 29 to Nov. 12. Here are the seven you can’t miss. (And many of them take place on campus, so you really have no excuse.)
Feminist activist and journalist Gloria Steinem made a controversial return into the public eye last year after saying young women supported Bernie Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie.” Outspokenly pro-Clinton, Steinem certainly won’t have a shortage of points to talk about between this momentous year for women in politics, her work on Viceland’s new show Women and her new memoir, My Life on the Road.
Maureen Dowd with David Axelrod: “The Year of Voting Dangerously”
Known for her witty, sharp and critical take on politics, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s talk, titled after her new book, will likely focus on the craziness that is this year’s presidential election. Dowd has developed a reputation for critiquing the Clintons (she won her Pulitzer for columns on the Monica Lewinsky scandal), but lately she’s turned her attention to Donald Trump – and not without acknowledgement from the Donald himself. Dowd’s talk will be in conversation with University of Chicago Institute of Politics Director and former Obama advisor David Axelrod.
Prof. Gary Saul Morson: “Slow Reading and the Russian Novel”
Going to award-winning Northwestern professor Gary Saul Morson’s Humanities Festival talk might be the next best alternative to taking Introduction to Russian Literature. The class, while a perennial favorite among students, requires over 1,500 pages of reading. On the other hand, Morson’s talk on the importance of slow reading in Russian literature promises to be fun and enlightening regardless of your interest in actually making it through Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov.
Dan Savage with Alison Cuddy: “Savage Love”
Sex columnist and LGBT activist Dan Savage’s lack of a filter helped him to become famous, and that’s what makes his Humanities Festival talk a must-see. There’s no telling what the Chicago native could say about the election, LGBT rights or anything else for that matter. Savage has also kept busy between his syndicated Savage Love column, the podcast Savage Lovecast, his work with the charity It Gets Better and his newest foray into TV as an executive producer of the semi-autobiographical ABC sitcom The Real O’Neals. Savage’s talk will be in conversation with Humanities Festival Associate Artistic Director Alison Cuddy.
Jamie Kalven with Lori Lightfoot: “Chicago’s Culture of Policing”
Recent tensions over police brutality hit close to home with protests against the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black man shot dead in 2014 by a white police officer for carrying a knife. Subsequent protests after Chicago took more than a year to release dash cam video of the shooting took place well into early 2016. Slate reporter Jamie Kalven, who publicized the video’s existence and reported after McDonald’s autopsy that he had been shot 16 times, should bring an interesting perspective to his talk on reforming policing in Chicago. Kalven’s talk will be in conversation with Chicago Police Board president Lori Lightfoot.
“Prince/Bowie: We Can Be Heroes”: directed by Rob Lindley and Doug Peck, featuring Jayson Brooks, Mark Hood, Bethany Thomas, Malic White and others
2016 marked the death of two of, simply put, the greatest musicians ever: experimental glam rock star David Bowie and funk, R&B and rock icon Prince. Tributes to the artists have had varying success rates, from Lady Gaga’s heartfelt Bowie medley at the Grammys to Madonna’s trainwreck of a Prince tribute at the Billboard Music Awards. But “We Can Be Heroes,” featuring appearances by many prominent figures in the Chicago arts scene, promises to break boundaries just as the two musicians did themselves.
Trevor Noah: “Born a Crime”
No one can ever live up to Jon Stewart’s clever satire on “The Daily Show,” but that doesn’t keep new host Trevor Noah from holding his own. Noah’s talk centers around his new memoir, “Born a Crime,” about growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid, and hopes to show that his witty humor extends beyond talking about American politics to talking about personal experience outside the U.S.
If none of these events piqued your interest – though I don’t see how they wouldn’t – there are many others on the festival’s website that you can check out, including 15 on-campus for “Northwestern Day” on Oct. 29.