November 13, 2005
Chi Humena Humena Fest

This week, thanks to the gracious giveaway from my employer, AZ and I were able to attend a few sessions of the Chicago Humanities Festival. We've intended to go every year for the past several, but it never quite worked out. having attended four sessions this year, the impetus to attend again is high, and we should be able to leap the chasm of lassitude next year handily.

We attended four sessions, and I'd say we had a 75%+ success rate. To wit:

Last week a seminar on the works of William Maxwell. AZ and I attended as we are fans of the New Yorker and the various editors who spent time there; Maxwell was fiction editor during the William Shawn years, but in the context of this instructive talk he was also a notable author in his own right, and a translator of midwestern life into east coast (and somewhat modernist) fiction.

Saturday we were up early to attend to the words of New Yorkerist Adam Gopnik, speaking on the theory that it is in our sense of private space (in his recounting of Voltaire, our gardens) is our ability to empathize with those others who have private spaces in need of protecting; this first shimmer of enlightenment thought is also, in Gopnik's, the first glimmering of modernity. This follows through to Tocqueville and (dramatically) William Dean Howells. In a sense, as this was taken from various essays Gopnik has written over the years, it was a bit of the 'greatest hits', but the synthesis and threading (and humor in aside) made it well worthwhile.

Hermione Lee provided an engaging overview of the sojourn in England of Edith Wharton (in her view, an under-appreciated period in Wharton's life). Fine photos of English Gardens, and spirited readings from Henry James. This is a work in progress for her next biography (of Wharton), tentatively due in 2006.

Finally, we ended our weekend with Noelle Riley Fitch on Julia Child. This was the rockiest - Fitch's work on Child was some 6-10 years ago, and this lecture came out as sounding like one she may have drafted before Child's death, and then skimmed before speaking, making a mental note to change tenses whade nowadays... Notable gossip - the Child family feels that the Julie and Julia book may have taken fictional liberties. Seems dubious (surely publisher fact checking would have caught any problems).

We discovered that for each of the authors we have books on our shelves that we treasured by them; there were signing tables after each session, which we should have taken advantage of. Next year.

One warning for attendees - the audiences skew old (so hipsters should beware, and no shoving!), and some of the sessions, were packed (the Maxwell session was not one of those). We were fortunate to have 'access all areas' passes, but next year we'll be booking early.

Posted by esinclai at November 13, 2005 03:28 PM |