Chicago Humanities Festival: How to Navigate the Lineup

130 Ways to Use Your Eyes, Ears, Head

For a quarter of a decade, Chicago has played host to an annual gathering of creative minds for discussion, performance and shared ideas.

This weekend, the 26th annual Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) returns with a new-and-now group of talented writers, performers and creative thinkers who head up 130 events throughout the city.

This year's theme is Citizens. In a news release, CHF Marilynn Thoma Artistic Director Jonathan Elmer expanded on the concept. "What it means to be a citizen is changing before our very eyes,” he said. “It's incredibly exciting to launch this festival now and think through the range of issues that face us–race in America, immigration, religious freedom, to name a few—in the company of today’s leading thinkers, writers and artists.”

Some of this year's more well-known participants include author Ta-Nehisi Coates, musician Elvis Costello, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" contributor Aasif Mandvi. But sorry, those shows are among the nearly 30 pecent that are already sold out.

So, how to navigate the event? And who else is participating?

The answer: Lots and lots of other very talented, interesting people. And we're here to help you navigate the options by bringing you a curated list of program highlights (and links to each day's full lineup so you don't miss a thing). Most events last an hour; and all events below have tickets available as of Thursday afternoon. But don't wait: Some will sell out fast.

Click on a date below to see what caught our eye.

• Saturday: Oct. 24 | Oct. 31 | Nov. 7
• Sunday: Oct. 25 | Nov. 1 | Nov. 8
• Monday: Nov. 2
• Tuesday: Oct. 27 | Nov. 3
• Wednesday: Oct. 28 | Nov. 4
• Thusday: Oct. 29 | Nov. 5
• Friday: Nov. 6


Saturday, Oct. 24 | See all programs today | Back to top

Azar Nafisi (Stanley Staniski)Azar Nafisi (Stanley Staniski) Azar Nafisi: Republic of Imagination
11 a.m. Cahn Auditorium, Evanston
$15-$20; $10 for students, teachers.

The acclaimed Iranian-American author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" celebrates the act of reading in her new book "The Republic of Imagination." Pre-order a copy with your ticket for an extra $14 and pick it up at the event, which includes a book signing.


John MerrowJohn Merrow Transforming Our Schools: John Merrow
12:30 p.m. Norris University Center, Evanston
$9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

The award-winning journalist and correspondent for PBS' "NewsHour" has been reporting on public education in the U.S. and around the globe since the mid-70s. Join him for a discussion about the state of education across the nation and why transformation–not reform–is key to future success.


Sunday, Oct. 25 | See all programs today | Back to top

Chicago's Heat Wave 20 Years Later
Logan Center for the Arts, Hyde Park
Noon. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

In July, Chicago remembered the 20th anniversary of the deadly heat wave of 1995. The brutal event left 700 people dead in its wake. During the anniversary coverage, many news outlets spoke with author and sociology professor Eric Klinenberg, whose 2002 book "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago" examined how social, political and institutional forces worked against the city's most vulnerable residents that summer. Learn more about the disaster from the author during this intimate conversation. The event includes a book signing.


Tuesday, Oct. 27 | See all programs today | Back to top

Laura Eason (Meredith Zinner Photography)Laura Eason (Meredith Zinner Photography) House of Cards
Northwestern University School of Law, Streeterville
7:30 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

It should come as no surprise that one of the writers behind the drama-filled Netflix series is full of drama herself. In a professional sense, that is. Evanston native Laura Eason served as artistic director at Lookingglass for six years and has extensive experience as a playwright, screenwriter, actor, musician and composer. She's even got a few circus tricks up her sleeve. Eason joins former WBEZ host-turned-CHF associate artistic director Alison Cuddy to discuss writing for screen and stage.


Wednesday, Oct. 28 | See all programs today | Back to top

(Alex Indigo / Flickr)(Alex Indigo / Flickr) Spokaoke
Haymarket Pub & Brewery, West Loop
8:30 p.m. $10

Karaoke gets a political update and comes with a pint of beer at this audience-participation event. Yale School of Drama graduate Annie Dorsen's unique show gets folks on stage to perform iconic political speeches–from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Ronald Reagan–to explore the power or oratory and politics of performance. Use that beer for liquid courage.


Thursday, Oct. 29 | See all programs today | Back to top

Sarah Vowell (Bennett Miller)Sarah Vowell (Bennett Miller) An Evening with Sarah Vowell
Art Institute of Chicago, Streeterville
6 p.m. $32-$38

Fans of "This American Life" recognize the wry, understated humor–and distinctive voice–of the New York Times bestselling author of "The Wordy Shipmates" and other nonfiction titles. Hear about her latest book about Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, "Lafayette in the Somewhat United States." A book signing follows the program.


Saturday, Oct. 31 | See all programs today | Back to top

School Choice?
Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, Gold Coast
12:30 p.m. $9-$12; $5 students, teachers.

The debate over charter schools is one example of Chicago's ongoing discussion about education. Mary Pattillo, sociology and African-American studies professor and award-winning author of "Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City," interviewed 70 families in the city and discusses her findings of how school choice impacts their experiences with public education.


Maria Hinojosa (c) SantiagoMaria Hinojosa (c) Santiago Maria Hinojosa
Northwestern University School of Law, Streeterville
6 p.m. $9-$12; $5 students, teachers.

The Emmy award-winning journalist and host of NPR's "Latino USA" has covered issues relating to the Latino experience–from immigration to gender equality–for more than two decades. She joins Silvia Rivera, managing director of Vocalo, to discuss the 2016 elections and American culture in the coming decades.


Marlon James (Jeffrey Skemp)Marlon James (Jeffrey Skemp) Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings
Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, Gold Coast
4:30 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

Caribbean writers take center stage at this event and book signing featuring two prominent, acclaimed voices. Marlon James' new book uses the assassination attempt on Bob Marley as an anchor for his new book "A Brief History of Seven Killings"; Roger Bonair-Agard, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who teaches writing to local at-risk youths, among others, joins him for a discussion of fictional characters and creative motivation.


Sunday, Nov. 1 | See all programs today | Back to top

Wendell Pierce (Sean Hagwell Photography)Wendell Pierce (Sean Hagwell Photography) Wendell Pierce's New Orleans
First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, Loop
4 p.m. $15-$20; $10 for students, teachers.

The actor and producer may be best known for his role playing Bunk Moreland in HBO's gritty five-season drama "The Wire." But he's also a New Orleans native who experienced the devestation of Hurricane Katrina from the perspective of a family that had called that city its home for more than 100 years. His memoir "The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City that Would Not Be Broken" offers a reflection on his beloved city. Producer and playwright Shepsu Aakhu joins him in discussion. Pre-order a copy of the book with your ticket for an extra $23 and pick it up at the event, which includes a signing.


Big Data and the Algorithmic Citizen
Harold Washington Library Center, Loop
1:30 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. And just because you delete an email, it doesn't mean that email goes away (remember?). Find out how your Google searches, Facebook profile and other digital usage contribute to a collective identity, and how the NSA uses its algorithms to navigate its vast data collections. John Cheney-Lippold, a professor in the Department of American Studies at the University of Michigan, presents the program.


Monday, Nov. 2 | See all programs today | Back to top

Four Women: Josephine, Eartha, Nina, and Tina
Francis W. Parker School, Lincoln Park
6 p.m.; 8:30 p.m. $20-$25; $12 for students, teachers.

CHF's cabaret program features two performances this year, and it's a good thing. Jeff award-winning directors Rob Lindley and Doug Peck are behind this year's musical exploration of the incredible lives of Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone and Tina Turner. The music-filled progam features performances by internationally acclaimed jazz singer Dee Alexander, six-time Jeff winner E. Faye Butler and others.


Tuesday, Nov. 3 | See all programs today | Back to top

(Sotaro Omura / Flickr)(Sotaro Omura / Flickr) Politics and the Business of Craft Beer with Tony Magee
Francis W. Parker School, Lincoln Park
6 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

Tony Magee is no stranger to the booming business of craft beer. He opened a Chicago outpost of his California-based Lagunitas Brewing company last year in Douglas Park and is known for his strong viewpoints on more than just suds. Humorist Mark Bazer, host and founder of "The Interview Show" and co-host of "My Chicago" on WTTW, engages Magee on topics of beer and beyond.


Wednesday, Nov. 4 | See all programs today | Back to top

Evan WolfsonEvan Wolfson Evan Wolfson on Freedom to Marry
Francis W. Parker School, Lincoln Park
6 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

The attorney, author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry" and founder of Freedom to Marry has been advocating for gay rights for more than 25 years. He's made an impact and Time magazine's list in 2004 of "100 most influential people in the world," to boot. Hear what he has to say about changing attitudes in the U.S. toward civil rights, the highs and lows of the struggle for equality, and the challenges ahead. Columnist Steve Chapman joins him in conversation.


Thursday, Nov. 5 | See all programs today | Back to top

(Lance McCord / Flickr)(Lance McCord / Flickr) Year in Review: 1990
Park West, Lincoln Park
8 p.m. $15-$20; $15 for students, teachers.

Was it really that long ago? Reminisce (or renew your memory) of the decade with 12 stories (that's one for each month) from a half-dozen local storytellers and poets. The other half come from yet-unnamed "WBEZ personalities." We're intrigued. Will Milli Vanilli be mentioned? One can only hope.


Friday, Nov. 6 | See all programs today | Back to top

Roxane Gay
Francis W. Parker School, Lincoln Park
8 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

We're honestly surprised this program is not yet sold out. If you feel the same, snap up tickets soon to see the outspoken author of "Bad Feminist" who has also contributed to the New York Times and something called Best Sex Writing 2012, among other publications. Local transplant and author Lindsay Hunter joins Gay in conversation.


Saturday, Nov. 7 | See all programs today | Back to top

Patton OswaltPatton Oswalt Patton Oswalt
UIC Forum, University Village
8 p.m. $12-$15; $10 for students, teachers.

The comedian, actor and New York Times bestseller unveiled his love of film in his 2015 memoir "Silver Screen Fiend." Listen in as he shares with CHF's Alison Cuddy how cinema and other inspirations helped shape his outlook on life and his sharp wit.


Citizen Artist: Salman Rushdie
UIC Forum, University Village
10 a.m. $15-$20; $10 for students, teachers.

The internationally renowned novelist, short story writer and nonfiction author won the Man Booker Prize in 1981 for "Midnight's Children." Join him for a conversation with Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold. Pre-order a copy of Rushdie's latest work, "Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights" for an extra $23 and pick it up at the program.


Office Space
UIC Forum, University Village
5:30 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for students, teachers.

If you spend more time sitting in your office than relaxing at home, you're sure to appreciate this conversation with author Nikil Saval, whose debut work "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace" suggests there's more to the places where we spend our 9 to 5. Designer Jonathan Olivares joins him in conversation.


Sunday, Nov. 8 | See all programs today | Back to top

Nigella LawsonNigella Lawson Simply Nigella
Benito Juarez Community Academy, Pilsen
10 a.m. $15-$20; $10 for students, teachers.

Yes, Nigella. We'll gulp coffee and get up extra-early for you on a Saturday morning, brunch be damned. The culinary superstar speaks with CHF's Alison Cuddy about her latest cookbook "Simply Nigella" during what we're told is a rare Chicago appearance. Pre-order a copy of "Simply Nigella" for an extra $28 for pickup at the program. A book signing follows.


(Jason Howie / Flickr)(Jason Howie / Flickr) #justice
National Museum of Mexican Art, Pilsen
4 p.m. $9-$12; $5 for teachers, students.

Meet online strategists @DrGoddess (aka Kimberly C. Ellis, Ph.D.) and David Iberkleid, the Bolivian-American creator of apps PaseLaVoz and Relaid, for a conversation about digital tools for social change and community empowerment. Journalist and former Vocalo staffer Molly Adams joins the conversation.


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