The literary events at the Chicago Humanities Festival are illustrative of the festival's sprawling theme, “America.” A diverse array of voices, perspectives and characters will illuminate the American experience. And for those whose passion for reading is undimmed in this digital age, the festival offers celebration and community. The festival, which kicked off Oct. 14 and will host a handful of events today, will be in full swing Nov. 1 to 11.
“These events become really important,” observed author Luis Urrea, whose novel “Into the Beautiful North” has been selected for the National Endowment for the Arts' national Big Read program, and who will speak at the festival Nov. 3 about a new generation of Latino writers. “The industry is getting dinged a little bit, and authors are not getting the kind of extensive book tours they used to get. (The festival) brings literature to the people. It offers an opportunity for you to see someone new or a paired with a familiar or favorite author.”
This connection enhances the reading experience, said Ian Frazier, who will be discussing his new comic novel, "The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days," on Nov. 10. "There is so much text out there and competition for your attention," he said. "I find it easier to read something if I have a personal connection (with the author). It's a way to get a running start into the text."
Literature has always been one of the core offerings of the festival, said Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins, director of programming. "It transcends categories and crosses borders between the academic and pop culture worlds. Most people are fascinated by the creative mind and love any opportunity to peek inside. We think the public's appetite for face-to-face conversation is growing, despite our increasingly digital lives."
Frazier agrees. "I think computers make people lonely," he said. "While you are in touch with people and getting these little thrills of contact, they are remote. For some reason, it makes people very eager to get together. I go into the main reading room of the public library in New York City, and 90 percent of the people are working on their computer. They're not doing anything they couldn't do in their apartment as near as I can see, but they want to be doing it together."
For book lovers who want to indulge their passion together, here is a guide to some of the festival's best literary bets. Even though some events may sell out ahead of time, tickets are sometimes be available at the door. The lower of each price listed is the teacher/student price. For more information, visit chicagohumanities.org or call 312-494-9509.
Luis Urrea and Cristina Henriquez
When the festival asked Urrea — a Pulitzer Prize finalist, member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame and professor of creative writing at University of Illinois at Chicago — to introduce a young area writer, he chose novelist Henriquez. Her work has "a magical sense, but not because people are flying through the air," he said. "She's talking about Panamanian and Panamanian-American issues I don't know about. It's so rich to me and shows me a new world that I think is really exciting." The event will be a salon, in which they talk to each other and engage the audience, he said.
Beyond Macondo: Contemporary Latino Fiction (Event No. 412), 2 p.m. Nov. 3, University of Illinois at Chicago Forum, Main Hall AB, 725 W. Roosevelt Rd., $5-$10.
A favorite of the Chicago Humanities Festival, Frazier will talk with broadcast journalist Victoria Lautman about his recently published first novel, "The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days," featuring the eponymous character who previously appeared in several hilarious pieces in The New Yorker.
Ian Frazier on the American Family (Event No. 702), 11 a.m. Nov. 10, First United Methodist Church at The Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St., $5-$10.
Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins calls Helprin "a renaissance writer" acclaimed for his short stories, novels and children's books. Helprin will discuss his new novel, "In Sunlight and in Shadow," with Trib Nation manager James Janega.
Printer's Row, In Sunlight and in Shadow (Event No. 515), 7:30 p.m., Nov. 4, Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N. Clark St., $5-$15.
Waldman, who has been called "the hardest working woman in poetry" by Chicago-based writer Rowland Saifi, will give a performance. She has been hailed by Publisher's Weekly as "a countercultural giant" and has written 40 poetry collections, including "Fast Speaking Woman." An Outrider, Waldman wrote, is one who "rides the edge — parallel to the mainstream, is the shadow to the mainstream, is the consciousness or soul of the mainstream whether it recognizes its existence or not."
Poetic Outrider: A Performance with Anne Waldman (Event No. 206), 3:30 p.m., Oct. 21, Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Performance Penthouse, 9th Floor, 915 E. 60th St. (sold out).
Rotella, a Boston University professor, contributor to The New York Times and The New Yorker, and author of "Cut Time" and the upcoming collection "Playing in Time," will explore the parallels between the sweet science and the intellectual world, finding a surprising connection, for example, between "The Iliad" and Muhammad Ali.
Boxing: Going for the Head (Event No. 508), 1:30 p.m. Nov. 4, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, 400 S. State St., Free-$5.
Booklist senior editor Donna Seaman will join the award-winning author of "Bastard Out of Carolina" and "Cavedweller" in conversation about the Southern storytelling tradition and the role class, gender and sexuality have played in her works.
The Power of the Writer's Voice (Event No. 401), 10:30 a.m., Nov. 3, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, 400 S. State St., $5-$10.
August Wilson's America
Chicago and playwright August Wilson are inextricably linked. The Goodman Theatre was the first in the country to produce all 10 plays in his epic decade-by-decade "Pittsburgh Cycle," and one of those plays, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (the only one not set in Pittsburgh), was set here. Harry J. Elam Jr., a Stanford University scholar and provost and Wilson expert, will address Wilson's theatrical legacy and its cultural impact.
(Event No. 513) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 4, Harold Washington Library Center, $5-$10.
"Expect a high-velocity, whip-smart battle of ideas that is massively entertaining," says Belknap, monologist and founder of WRITE CLUB. The event consists of two writers/performers arguing for or against certain topics over the course of three 14-minute "bouts." What kinds of topics? Fire vs. Ice, Comedy vs. Tragedy, Roots vs. Branches. The audience decides the winner. "Think debate club where you don't have to fight fair or stick to the facts. It's a showcase for some of the city's sharpest wits in all their bare-knuckled, butt-kicking splendor. To the winning idea goes the glory; the losing idea gets to pick its teeth off the canvas."
WRITE CLUB (Event No. 517), 6 p.m. Nov. 4, Poetry Foundation, 61 W. Superior St., $5-$10.
Harjo, a Tulsa, Okla., native of Muskogee Nation heritage, is the author of seven books of poetry, the best known of which is the award-winning "In Mad Love and War." Her memoir, "Crazy Brave," was published in July.
Crazy Brave: The Life and Poetry of Joy Harjo (Event No. 504), noon Nov. 4, Poetry Foundation, $5-$10.
Glass, a University of Iowa associate professor of 19th- and 20th-century American literature and cultural studies, recounts how Chicagoan Barney Rosset and his upstart Grove Press brought Henry Miller's taboo-shattering "Tropic of Cancer" out of the brown paper bag and into college classrooms and the mainstream.
The Case for Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" (Event No. 806), 2 p.m. Nov. 11, Francis W. Parker School, 2233 N Clark St., Free-$5.
Chicago Tribune prizes
The Chicago Tribune presents its 2012 Literary Prize to Wiesel, a tireless human rights activist and author of more than 50 fiction and nonfiction books, including the seminal Holocaust memoir "Night." He has received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal. Tribune arts critic Howard Reich will interview him onstage.
2012 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize: Elie Wiesel (Event No. 800), 10 a.m., Nov. 11, Symphony Center Armour Stage, 220 S. Michigan Ave., $5-$15.
The Chicago Tribune presents its 2012 Heartland Prize for Fiction, which honors recent works "embodying the spirit of the nation's heartland," to Richard Ford's best-selling novel "Canada." The novel begins: "First I'll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then, about the murders, which happened later." Ford is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the trilogy "The Sportswriter," "Independence Day" and "The Lay of the Land."
2012 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize (Event No. 814), 6 p.m., Nov. 11, Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago Ave., $5-$15.
The Chicago Tribune presents its 2012 Heartland Prize for Nonfiction to Hendrickson for "Hemingway's Boat," his triumphant and unconventional biography of Ernest Hemingway. Former Chicago Tribune cultural critic Julia Keller ranked it among her top picks of 2011, saying: "Hendrickson does what many thought was impossible: He tells us new and crucial things about Hemingway."
2012 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction (Event No. 807), 2 p.m. Nov. 11, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, 400 South State St. (sold out).