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).