Victor Bailey
Hall Center for the Humanities

Hall Center announces Humanities Lecture Series speakers for 2014-2015

Thu, 05/08/2014

LAWRENCE – The Hall Center for the Humanities has announced the speakers for its 2014-2015 Humanities Lecture Series. The series will include Katherine Boo, John Symons, Amy Wilentz, Anna Deavere Smith, Natasha Trethewey and James Oakes. The lectures are free, open to the public and begin at 7:30 p.m. on the dates specified below. Boo, Wilentz, Smith, Trethewey, and Oakes will also take part in conversation sessions at 10 a.m. the day after their lecture.

Katherine Boo – “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” – Sept. 16-17, Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union

Katherine Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Over the years, her reporting from disadvantaged communities has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. Her book "Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" was a smash New York Times best-seller and is the recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In the story, global change and inequality is given a human face through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. Boo carries the reader headlong into one of the 21st century’s hidden worlds and into the lives of people impossible to forget. Her work gives deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change.

John Symons – “What Can We Teach Our Posthuman Descendants?”— Oct. 7, The Commons, Spooner Hall

John Symons is chair and professor of the Philosophy Department at KU. Symons received his doctorate from Boston University. He most recently served as an associate professor and chair of the philosophy department at the University of Texas, El Paso. His research interests include metaphysics and epistemology of science (how scientists know what they know), the philosophy of psychology, and the logic behind knowledge and belief. Philosopher Nick Bostrom recently described a “posthuman” as an individual who has gone beyond “the maximum attainable capacities by any current human being without recourse to new technological means.” In his lecture, Symons will discuss the posthuman, including what the term might mean and how we can talk to and think about our posthuman descendants.

Amy Wilentz – “Haiti: Tragedy and Hope” — Nov. 3-4, Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union

Amy Wilentz is a journalist and author whose works focus on the politics and culture of Haiti. She is the author of "Farewell Fred Voodoo (2013)," "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (1989)," "Martyrs’ Crossing (2000)" and "I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger (2006)." She teaches in the Literary Journalism program at the University of California at Irvine. She most recently collected the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Autobiography for "Farewell, Fred Voodoo," based on her years of reporting from Haiti. Wilentz traces the country’s history from its slave plantations through its turbulent revolutionary history, its kick-up-the-dirt guerrilla movements, its totalitarian dynasty that ruled for decades and its long and always troubled relationship with the United States. Haiti emerged from the dust of the 2010 earthquake like a powerful spirit, and this stunning book describes the country’s day-to-day struggle and its relationship to outsiders who come to help out.

Anna Deavere Smith – “Snapshots: Portraits of a World in Transition”— Feb. 18-19, 2015, Lied Center Auditorium

Anna Deavere Smith's ground-breaking solo shows blur the lines between theater and journalism, using text from real-life encounters to create gripping portraits of subjects as diverse as author Studs Terkel, a female convict, a Korean shopkeeper and a bull rider. Prizes she has won include a MacArthur fellowship, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award, two Tony nominations and two Obies. She was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for her play “Fires in the Mirror.” She has created more than 15 one-person shows based on hundreds of interviews, most of which deal with social issues. “Twilight Los Angeles,” about the Los Angeles race riots of 1992, was performed around the country and on Broadway. Her most recent one-person show, “Let Me Down Easy,” focused on health care in the United States. She has also starred in "Nurse Jackie," "The West Wing," "The American President," "Rachel Getting Married" and "Philadelphia," among numerous other roles.

Natasha Trethewey – “An Evening with U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey" — March 3-4, 2015, Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union

Natasha Trethewey is the 19th United States Poet Laureate. She is the author of "Thrall (2012)"; "Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin)," for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize; "Bellocq’s Ophelia (Graywolf, 2002)," which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association; and "Domestic Work (Graywolf, 2000)." She is also the author of "Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press)." In her second term as Poet Laureate, Trethewey’s signature project is a feature on the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series known as "Where Poetry Lives." In this series, Trethewey travels with Senior Correspondent Jeffrey Brown to various cities across the United States in order to explore societal issues through a link to poetry, literature and Trethewey’s own personal experiences.

James Oakes – “Rethinking Emancipation: Freedom National”— April 9-10, 2015, Woodruff Auditorium, Kansas Union

James Oakes is a professor of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer, as well as author of "Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-865 (2013)," a powerful history of emancipation that reshapes our understanding of Lincoln, the Civil War and the end of American slavery. "Freedom National" is a groundbreaking history that joins the political initiatives of Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress with the courageous actions of Union soldiers and runaway slaves in the South. It shatters the widespread conviction that the Civil War was first and foremost a war to restore the Union and only gradually, when it became a military necessity, a war to end slavery. The OAH promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching and presentation of American history, and encourages wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history.

Founded in 1947, the Humanities Lecture Series is the oldest continuing series at KU. More than 150 eminent scholars from around the world have participated in the program, including author Salman Rushdie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Recent speakers have included Henry Louis Gates Jr., Diane Ravitch and T.R. Reid. Shortly after the program’s inception, a lecture by one outstanding KU faculty member was added to the schedule.

For more information, contact the Hall Center by email at or call (785) 864-4798.

KU in the news
The Daily MailSat, 04/25/2015
CNNMon, 04/13/2015
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@KU bschool 's KIP team includes @KU _SADP students in all-ages housing project. #KUworks
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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