Morning Lecture Previews

On day of Helsinki summit, Coons to discuss U.S.-Russia relations


It’s a big week for U.S.-Russia relations.

On Wednesday and Thursday, July 11 and 12, President Donald Trump met with European leaders at the NATO summit in Brussels, where he accused Germany of being a “captive of Russia.” On Monday, July 16, in Helsinki, Trump is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And at 10:45 a.m. Monday, July 16, in the Amphitheater,  will open the morning lectures for Week Four, “Russia and the West.”

In his first visit to Chautauqua, the Democratic senator will lay out a “comprehensive vision for the U.S.-Russia relationship,” according to Thomas Mancinelli, Coons’ foreign policy adviser. Mancinelli said the relationship between the two countries is one that extends far beyond the events of the 2016 election.

“There’s a lot of different aspects of (that relationship) that are important to Americans,” Mancinelli said. “Part of that, though, starts with recognizing that we’re at a low point in U.S.-Russia relations as a result of President Putin’s own efforts to undermine our own democracy in an attempt to divide us as a country, to divide us from Europe and to divide European society from within.”

Mancinelli said Russia has been working to “sow discord and create chaos in democracies around the world” as early as 2007, and Coons will discuss some of the circumstances that have led the Kremlin and Putin to “wage this campaign of informational and hybrid warfare.”

Coons, the junior senator from Delaware, has been an outspoken advocate for policies that “counter Russian aggression and subversion,” he said in a February talk he gave at the Hudson Institute. Although Mancinelli said the lecture will not specifically address the ongoing investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election, Coons has previously spoken out against the president’s relationship with Putin.

On July 8, Coons told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he is “very concerned about things (Trump) might give away or say with Vladimir Putin” at the expected Helsinki summit today.

The president told reporters last Thursday that he will raise the subject of Russia’s alleged interference during his meeting with Putin.

Coons is the vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and a member of the Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Appropriations and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. In those roles, he frequently works with Republican members of the Senate to create bipartisan legislation. In April, Coons co-sponsored a bill that would limit the president’s ability to fire any special counsel through the use of an “expedited judicial, review” to determine if the proposed termination was for a “good cause,” according to The Hill.

Most recently, Coons was part of a bipartisan delegation to northern European countries that share borders with Russia to discuss their concerns about U.S.-Russian relations.

“I’ll remind you last month in Quebec at the G7, President Trump picked a whole lot of fights, particularly with Canada,” Coons told “Morning Joe” on July 9, “and for us to be facing a trade war with China and at the same time have President Trump be picking fights with our key allies in Europe and North America, strikes me as just nonsensical, and many Republican senators feel the same.”

Mancinelli said Coons frequently works with Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, as well as other Republican officials who see the Russian threat with “clear eyes.” Mancinelli said this approach is crucial for developing a “pragmatic analysis of how we can go forward and improve the (U.S.-Russia) relationship.”

“Whether you’re Republican, Democrat, American, European or Russian, if we all understand one another’s perspectives and backgrounds, we can use that as a basis for developing an informed, bipartisan strategy going forward,” he said.

Matt Ewalt, Chautauqua’s chief of staff, said the Institution is excited for Coons to set the stage for Week Four with suggestions for how “we as American citizens … can ultimately serve an important role in bringing this relationship to a constructive space.”

“Coons is widely praised for his pragmatism, working across the aisle and finding common ground with his Republican colleagues,” Ewalt said. “It’s this commitment to talk across differences that gives us confidence that he’ll find the Chautauqua community and experience both personally enriching and a valuable model for community discourse.”

Original SNL cast member Newman to discuss benefits of everyday play, improv


“The fourth wall” originated as a concept in theater. Merriam-Webster defines the fourth wall as “an imaginary wall (as at the opening of a modern stage proscenium) that keeps performers from recognizing or directly addressing their audience” It sections off the fabricated world the actors are performing in from the audience.

People often think of play as something that only takes place within the confinements of a space closed off by the fourth wall. Yet the concepts of improvisation, play and acting are not always enclosed in the imaginary worlds of theater, television and movie production.

“(While) researching the topic, it became apparent to me how much improvisation and humor are used every day in so many ways that we don’t even think about,” said Laraine Newman, actor and original cast member of “Saturday Night Live.”

At 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 13, in the Amphitheater, Newman will speak to Chautauquans about how applicable play is to everyday life, from casual encounters to easing the stress of those affected by a medical condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

For more than three decades, Newman has gained experience in the entertainment industry.

A Los Angeles, California, native, she first became interested in improvisation, acting and humor as a teenager, which eventually led her to study mime under Marcel Marceau. She was a founding member of the improvisational and sketch comedy troupe, The Groundlings, in 1974 and became an original cast member of “Saturday Night Live” a year later.

From there, Newman has enjoyed a career in acting and voice animation, appearing in episodes of iconic television shows like “Friends” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” in addition to numerous animated shows like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Fairly Oddparents” and “Spongebob Squarepants.”

Throughout Week Three, Chautauquans have been asked to think of play in a constructive manner. One area Newman will touch on is the importance of play during childhood, relating to her own experience of letting her children run free with their imaginations in the park.

“For a child, it affirms them,” Newman said. “I noticed in my own children when we’d play in the park … the self-confidence they gained from it was such a delight to see.”

Yet Newman plans to take a holistic approach to the importance of play, as Chautauquans have engaged in dialogue about the relevance of play in adulthood throughout the week.

For example, horror movies are often produced in response to public fear about a real-life event, such as war. During World War II, Vietnam War and post-9/11, there was an increase in horror films that related to each era’s anxieties. Newman said she will touch on how those horror films are “another form of play for people to deal and manage with stress.”

Another facet of Newman’s lecture will be about the benefits of play in terms of health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. By talking about these conditions, Newman said the discussion may make someone who has Alzheimer’s feel at ease.

“Much of the time, people with Alzheimer’s are told that their reality is not happening,” Newman said. “You can only imagine how terrifying that must be on a daily basis. To go along with what someone’s reality is … just a loving thing to do. For someone with Alzheimer’s, it relieves their stress.”

Newman said play has a number of benefits and real- world applications. She thinks play is not confined to a specific age group or professional field, and she plans to share the various ways play can be incorporated into everyday life.

Psychologist Gray to talk importance of ‘free play’ in children’s education


Peter Gray thinks the best educator for children might not be schools or adults — it’s playing with other children.

Gray, who will speak at 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, July 11, in the Amphitheater, has researched and taught about the psychology of children for 30 years. He is a research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of the widely used introductory textbook, Psychology.

In his lecture, Gray said he will focus on “how children learn in their own natural ways and how they can become educated that way.” He suggested that a forced curriculum common in elementary schools can actually deteriorate the natural way in which children inherently educate themselves.

“Children are biologically designed to educate themselves,” Gray said. “They are naturally playful and curious. We can maximize that instead of forcing them to do schoolwork.”

According to Gray, the retention rate for students who are genuinely interested in school material they’ve chosen is exponentially higher than that of students who are required to memorize and recite a variety of pre-chosen subjects.

The answer to the problem, Gray said, is the “natural play of a child” and a healthy mingling with their peers without overbearing adult supervision or correction.

“Over the past 60 years, there has been a tremendous decline in opportunity for children to play free of supervision because of societal fears,” he said. “As a result, we are depriving children of their ability to play and learn freely.”

Gray also said that schools have slowly become a much more “pressured community” in which children are rewarded based on performance. This, he suggested, might be one of the reasons why there have been incredibly high levels of depression and anxiety among children.

Gray’s remedy for this problem goes beyond expanded free play time. Gray is the president and co-founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, which promotes opportunities for self-directed education over the traditional curriculum. Instead of children being forced to learn specific subjects, the group encourages children to learn for themselves in a way that advances their interests.

“We work to make it more possible for families to remove their children from school and let them learn on their own by facilitating the child’s own interests and not forcing a set curriculum,” Gray said. “We provide parents and communities with general information on how to do this and the legalities of it.”

For parents who can afford this alternative programming, there are a few schools that have taken this idea of self-directed education as their curriculum. Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, for example, recently adopted a schedule that allowed for increased amounts of free play and encourages it students to facilitate their own learning.

Additionally, Gray is a founder and board member of an organization called Let Grow, which works to promote free play for children outdoors and in public areas without the pressure of constant adult supervision.

“We are concerned with creating societal changes that will allow children to play without adult control,” Gray said.

Let Grow works toward these goals through the creation of “capable kids communities,” in which local communities are educated on how to create a safer space and allow children to be in public spaces alone.

“Things like walking to school or being in public parks without parents can be highly beneficial for a child’s emotional and intellectual development,” Gray said.

In March, Utah passed a law referred to as the “free range kids act” which states that children are legally allowed in public spaces without adult supervision. The law redefines neglect so parents won’t be charged for allowing their children to do certain activities alone.

Gray said the law’s passage is proof that organizations like Let Grow’s methods are receiving wider support.

“Free play offers the development of a lot of traits that can’t be taught to children: controlling their emotions, building people skills, and maintaining confidence in themselves,” Gray said. “Kids are born knowing how to learn — we just have to let them do it.”

Steven Johnson to discuss how ‘play made the modern world’


Playing into Week Three’s theme, writer Steven Johnson will speak at the 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, July 10, in the Amphitheater.

Johnson has written 11 books. Most recently, he published Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, which the New York Times wrote in 2016, “makes a swashbuckling argument for the centrality of recreation to all of human history.”

Wonderland chronicles how popular entertainment has developed over time and explores those who have helped shape it.

Steven Johnson

Johnson, who graduated from Brown University in 1990 as a semiotics major, told the New York Times in a 2016 interview that he and his classmates “were all very much immersed in media theory and poststructuralist philosophy … there was very little room in that world for science, particularly for science that wasn’t, in some fashion, being deconstructed.”

It was James Gleick’s book Chaos that “broke through those boundaries” for him, Johnson told the Times, and helped spark his interest in science-related writing.

Johnson also told the Times that he was an “avid” reader growing up, and revealed that when given the option to visit a playground or a bookstore, he would choose the latter.

Johnson has written about the origin of inventions like batteries and pencils, Joseph Priestley (a scientist friend of Thomas Jefferson’s), popular culture and a political philosophy he calls “peer progressivism.”

He also hosted the six-part PBS series “How We Got to Now” and the podcast “American Innovations.”

In January, Johnson published “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble” in the New York Times Magazine. In the piece, he discusses “the Cycle,” a term he derives from Tim Wu’s book The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. The “Cycle” Wu and Johnson refer to is that of “all major information technologies,” which inevitably wind up “in the hands of multinational corporations fixated on maximizing shareholder value.”

In the article, Johnson defends the blockchain, though he acknowledges that it “may seem like the very worst of speculative capitalism right now” and is “demonically challenging to understand.”

Johnson’s next book is slated for release Sept. 4. Farsighted: How We Make The Decisions That Matter The Most, is about “the art and science of life’s most difficult choices,” according to Johnson’s website.

“My hope is that you will come out of reading the book with a practice for making hard choices in your own life,” Johnson wrote on his website. “Whether those choices are personal, professional, or civic ones.”

Vialet to speak on benefits of play for both adults, youth to open week


Week Three, “The Art of Play,” will kick off with a lecture by Jill Vialet, who has been dedicated to expanding and promoting play in children for the past 22 years through her nonprofit organization, Playworks.

At 10:45 a.m. on Monday, July 9, in the Amphitheater, she will share her experiences at Playworks, as well as her findings about the importance of play.

Vialet founded Playworks in 1996 after an elementary school principal in the San Francisco Bay Area asked her to help make recess more constructive. The program began with two schools, and today is used in more than 1,800 schools in more than 20 cities across the country.

According to its website, Playworks will reach almost one million students this year by helping schools establish inclusive environments for play.

“The idea is that play has the possibility and potential of bringing out the best in kids,” Vialet said. “What is great about the program is when it is intentionally worked into a school, it allows kids to feel seen, feel included and develop teamwork skills. Then, these morals can become really established and habitual.”

Vialet directly oversaw the programming in the original two schools as executive director, but said her role has since evolved over the years to include “fundraising, public speaking, creating partnerships, identifying opportunities for expansion.”

Vialet said her findings are not limited to children. Play has the ability to also impact adults’ lives.

“Play infused into a workplace or a society more intentionally creates an opportunity to build trust and rapport across the messiness of human interaction,” she said. “And it’s not necessarily through dialogue. The experiential opportunity and the ability to experience common ground and common interests is necessary to create an environment that enables dialogues to enhance democracy.”

Vialet said play and systems of play are “inherently ammature,” meaning that one must have a love for it and recognize the way that it presents itself naturally. She will expand on this concept at her lecture.

“Another thing I have been thinking about a lot recently is the idea that play is kind of a design element that can change the experience,” she said, “and how we might make opportunities to participate in democracy in a more constructive and engaging way.”

Vialet is also the author of Recess Rules, which tells the story of a group of middle- schoolers who are unhappy with the way their recess is going and begin to create a Playworks-like framework by themselves.

“It’s really about kids leading and finding their own power of play,” Vialet said. “That’s a common theme in both the book and the Playworks framework.”

Amy Chua to close week examining political tribalism and identity politics


When Amy Chua wrote her most recent book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, she said she was instantly criticized by both liberals and conservatives. That’s because the book dishes out pointed criticisms of both sides of the aisle.

But she doesn’t just point out the follies of liberals and conservatives — in Political Tribes, Chua describes how tribal identities can affect political divides and how Americans often underestimate the importance of those tribes. In the book’s last two chapters, Chua tries to recapture “some form of a national identity that can resonate for all Americans.”

Chua, the John M. Duff Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School, will present that vision at 10:45 a.m. Friday, July 6 in the Amphitheater to close the Week Two theme, “American Identity.”

Chua thinks this kind of national introspection is necessary because identity politics has taken hold of American politics, locking it in a stalemate of stubborn ideologies that seem to be moving further apart. And in her view, it’s not the standard, expected partisanship.

“For the first time in our history, the United States is starting to display these destructive political dynamics that are more typically associated with developing and non-Western countries, like populism and blasts of ethnonationalism,” Chua said.

Before she wrote Political Tribes, Chua was more focused on the differences between the United States and those developing and non-Western countries. For 20 years, she taught a course on international business transactions, in which she emphasized that the United States’ social, political and ethnic dynamics were so different from those of developing countries, which led to critical misunderstandings and foreign policy blunders.

“At a certain point, I read a passage from my first book (World on Fire) that said Americans tend to romanticize democracy,” Chua said, “and democracy can sweep to power a politician with no political experience who, to the horror of elites, rides a wave of ethnically tinged populism to power.”

At that moment, Chua paused and looked out at the class. She said they were all thinking the same thing: That description sounded a lot like the current political climate of the United States.

This was a “lightbulb” moment for Chua. It caused her to turn her lens on the ways that the United States was similar to these nations and, to some degree, susceptible to the same social and cultural forces.

“Once you see the United States as part of a larger global pattern, I feel like it’s much easier to diagnose the problem,” Chua said.

The problem, she said, isn’t tribal identities themselves.

“Telling somebody to get rid of their tribal identities would be like telling somebody to stop liking their sports team,” Chua said. “You know, just think about that — stop liking the Buffalo Bills, or stop liking the Dallas Cowboys. I mean, good luck with that.”

Instead, Chua said the United States must acknowledge the many tribes within its borders and allow them to flourish under a larger national identity that can resonate with all Americans.

For Chua, the linchpin of that larger national identity is the set of principles that America was founded on, particularly the Constitution.

“I think it’s probably because I’m an outsider — my parents are immigrants that just love this country — but I tend to feel that a lot of Americans take some of these special and unique principles for granted,” Chua said. “We forget how unusual it is to have a constitution that actually has no established religion, that is on its face ethnically and religiously neutral.”

Chua acknowledged that the United States has failed to live up to those principles again and again, and it has not yet fully realized the ideals that it claims to uphold. But she’s an optimist — she closes Political Tribes with this excerpt from the Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again.”

“O, let America be America again — The land that never has been yet — And yet must be— the land where every man is free. … O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath — America will be!”

Brooks to analyze week’s topic with conservative lens


David Brooks has a special, unofficial label for his work at The New York Times. He’s not just an op-ed columnist — he’s a conservative columnist.

Brooks has defined this label further:

“Well, I’m an American conservative,” Brooks recently told the podcast “Conversations with Tyler.”

During his third lecture at Chautauqua Institution, Brooks will have the opportunity to expand on the meaning of that label, continuing Week Two’s exploration of “American Identity.” Brooks will take the podium at 10:45 a.m. on Thursday, July 5 in the Amphitheater.

“I hope it gives voice to those who would identify as conservative. I hope it challenges those who consider themselves solidly liberal,” said Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill. “I think one of the interesting things with David, and it’s one of the reasons that he both appeals and occasionally frustrates both sides of that aisle, is that he refuses to be put in a camp of left or right.”

Brooks has written columns for the Times since 2003, following stints as a foreign correspondent and op-ed editor for the Wall Street Journal. Brooks appears every Friday as a commentator on PBS’s “News- Hour,” as well as on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In addition, Brooks is the author of four books, the most recent of which is The Road to Character, which is a New York Times best-seller.

Brooks last visited Chautauqua in July 2013 when he gave a lecture titled, “Moral Geniuses: Public Figures to Admire and Imitate.” This was before Brooks became a frequent and strident critic of President Donald Trump.

In partisan political discourse, Brooks is a uniquely nuanced voice, Hill said. Brooks does not equate conservative with Republican, a point he argued in his June 25 column, “Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose.”

“Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear,” Brooks wrote.

But while critiquing both sides of the aisle, Brooks also analyzes cultural trends such as “wokeness,” questioning the common space in what can feel like a national Venn diagram of opposing views.

He acknowledged conflicting ideas of American identity in his May 2017 Times piece, “The Four American Narratives.”

“America has always been a divided, sprawling country, but for most of its history it was held together by a unifying national story,” Brooks wrote. “But that civic mythology no longer unifies.”

Hill expects Brooks to discuss both America’s historical narrative and current events in the dizzying national news cycle.

“I can’t predict which thing he might bring up,” Hill said. “It could be anywhere from the Supreme Court vacancy, to what’s happening with the border, to how he sees the social fabric of America.”

Chautauquans may notice there is no title listed for Brooks’ lecture. Hill said he expects this presentation to be an entirely different experience from the last one Brooks gave in the Amp.

“Part of the reason why there’s not a title, and I really applaud this about David, is that he’s probably writing it right now,” Hill said. “I think David is just extremely educated, nuanced and thoughtful at how he looks at issues, and I suspect that this will be one of the best lectures we have all season because of those qualities.”

‘Our Towns’ authors Fallowses to examine nation’s ideals in context of current climate


The American identity is changing, according to James and Deborah Fallows.

The Fallowses will discuss how cities are redefining American ideals and their new book, Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, at their 10:45 a.m. lecture Wednesday, July 4 in the Amphitheater to continue Week Two, “American Identity.”

“(Chautauqua Institution) has a way of understanding how the long-term elements of the American identity and American ideals match the realities of this moment of the political trends and emerging crises,” James Fallows said. “It’s particularly relevant right now because a lot of both national and local politics involve this effort to figure out what is America, who are Americans and what does it mean to be of this country.”

Over the last five years, the Fallowses have traveled by prop airplane, reporting on smaller-to medium-sized cities that are reshaping what it means to be an American on a local level. This project, in partnership with The Atlantic and “Marketplace,” is called “City Makers: American Futures.”

Along their journey, the couple met with civic leaders, factory workers, immigrants and entrepreneurs — Our Towns is a collection of those interactions, “an account of a country busy remaking itself.”

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic — he has written for The Atlantic since the late 1970s. James Fallows was the chief White House speechwriter under former President Jimmy Carter for two years and served as editor of US News & World Report for two years. He has authored Breaking the News: How the Media Undermines American Democracy and China Airborne. He is also the author of Blind Into Baghdad and Postcards From Tomorrow Square; these works are based on writing from The Atlantic.

He is a fifth-time finalist for the National Magazine Award, which he won once, recipient of the American Book Award for non-fiction and a NewYork Emmy Award-winner for the documentary series “Doing Business in China.”

He and Deborah Fallows have lived in Shanghai and Beijing, travelling through China for three years.

Deborah Fallows is the author of Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, a reflection on her struggles while learning Mandarin. She is also a contributing writer for The Atlantic and co-creator of “City Makers: American Futures.”

Deborah Fallows is a graduate of Harvard University with a Ph.D. in linguistics. She has worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and data architecture for Oxygen Media.

For their morning lecture, the Fallowses will touch on the contrast of American identity at the local and national levels.

“At the national level, there’s just a really pinched battle about who can be an American,” James Fallows said. “We’re contrasting that to what we’ve seen in the local level, where there is this city-by-city, ongoing reinvention of the American identity, which we’re saying is actually much closer to what has been over the century.”

The Fallowses have visited the Institution many times over the last few decades.

“Since we’ve gotten to know a lot of people at Chautauqua, we’re looking forward to seeing them again,” Deborah Fallows said. “We always look forward to the kind of community family village atmosphere of Chautauqua that’s different compared to maybe our hometown.”

James Fallows said he is interested in the way the Institution has evolved.

“One of the things that makes Chautauqua most distinctive in American life is the tradition,” he said, “the way it is deliberately set apart from modern chaos and trying to give people a chance to think seriously about ideas and books and matters, both of reason and of faith and of culture, and all those things have been consistent since its foundation. … It’s recognizably the same place, but is also clearly responding to the new ideas, challenges, opportunities of each age.”

Deborah Fallows said the Institution “maintain(s) some of the things about American society that the country has always valued.”

James Fallows agreed.

“(American identity) has been one of (the Institution’s) trademark themes over the decades of understanding both the permanent and continually changing nature of the American identity,” he said, “permanent in the ideals of inclusion, mutual effort to make a more perfect union and all the other aspects that were said at the start, but changing and continuing with the ethnic mix and international and domestic challenges.”

For Deborah Fallows, the Institution, despite its isolation and microscale, ignites inspiration for change across the nation.

“I think (Chautauqua) offers something different, which is maybe a chance to be more creative about the kinds of changes and renewal that are possible,” she said. “That comes from hanging out in the summer with people you don’t live with every day during the winter and the community problems you don’t live with during the winter, so it’s a chance to, in a micro-cosmic way, listen to the country at large.”

‘New Yorker’ staffer Cobb to examine intersection of race, social justice

William Jelani Cobb on Feb. 13, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Chautauqua is set to engage in a healthy dialogue surrounding race and culture.

Jelani Cobb, a staff writer at The New Yorker covering race, police and injustice in America, will speak at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, July 3 in the Amphitheater as part of Week Two’s theme “American Identity.”

Cobb, a Queens, New York, native, has earned accolades like the Sidney Hillman Prize for Opinion & Analysis Journalism and a 2017 Walter Bernstein Award from the Writers Guild of America East. He is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and former director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut.

He is the author of books such as The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress; To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic; and The Devil and Dave Chappelle and Other Essays. His work has previously appeared in publications like Essence, The Progressive and The New Republic.

Matt Ewalt, Chautauqua Institution’s chief of staff, said the Institution needed a voice like Cobb’s as part of this week’s lecture series that focuses on the intersection of social justice and identity at a time when “few things are more critical to the national conversation than race.”

“When we decided on a week for ‘American Identity,’ knowing identity has been the core of our national dialogue throughout our history, but particularly the past couple of years with deeper polarization of the American citizenry in how we define ourselves as Americans, we knew there were a few voices and thought leaders that had to be part of this dialogue,” Ewalt said. “Jelani Cobb is one of the country’s leading thought leaders, particularly on issues of race, culture and identity in the United States.”

Ewalt said Cobb is aware of Chautauqua’s platform because of its prominence in American history and its educated and well-read audience, and believes Cobb wants to engage this larger community in themes around American identity he wrestles with in his work.

“He’s eager to contribute to a dialogue on these issues of American identity, knowing we’d be looking at them through a lot of viewpoints,” Ewalt said. “I think there are many in Chautauqua who are New Yorker readers and familiar with Cobb’s work and respect his thought leadership and incredible gifts as a writer, regardless of one’s policies.”

Cobb stressed the importance of continuing the dialogue about racial injustice and not getting comfortable with the current social climate in his 2015 article “Murders in Charleston.” The article focuses on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, and Cobb wrote that “the daisy chain of racial outrages that have been a constant feature of American life since Trayvon Martin’s death, three years ago, are not a copycat phenomenon soon to fade from our attention.”

He stated a similar discourse in his 2014 piece “The Anger in Ferguson” about the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old, unarmed African-American, in Ferguson, Missouri, and how common racial profiling is in the United States.

“Yet what happened on Staten Island and in Dearborn Heights, Charlotte, Jacksonville, and Sanford have culminated, again, in the specific timbre of familial grief, a familiar strain of outrage, and an accompanying body of commentary straining to find a novel angle to the recurring tragedy,” Cobb wrote. “The conventions are so familiar that … the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown began circulating on Twitter, with thousands of tweets pointing to the ways in which incidents such as these play out.”

Ewalt has no doubt Cobb will bring this kind of honest reckoning and wrestling to Chautauqua.

“He’s prepared to have a difficult conversation about race with a predominately white audience, but that dialogue has to happen,” Ewalt said. “I hope, totally recognizing there’s a range of political viewpoints represented in that audience, that we can engage and challenge one another, but in doing so, believe the conversation matters,

Lexicographer Stamper to share secret lives of words


As Week One’s theme, “The Life of the Written Word,” continues, lexicographer Kory Stamper will speak about the history of the English language, the creation and life of a dictionary, and how our language has inherently changed our culture over the 1,500 years of its existence.

At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Stamper will discuss her background in lexicography and the most fascinating parts of the English language she has discovered through her work.

After working as a lexicographer for Merriam-Webster for 20 years, Stamper wrote Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, published last year, and began working as a freelance writer for and writing articles on the etymological background of specific words.

“I do a lot of deep diving into one word, its history, how it has changed throughout time, how it has been used and abused and things like that,” she said.

Stamper said she became a lexicographer by accident. After graduating from Smith College with a bachelor’s degree in medieval studies, she applied to a job posting looking for an editorial assistant at a reference publishing company — which turned out to be Merriam-Webster.

During her time with the company, Stamper wrote and revised definitions in the dictionary based on instances of the word’s uses that were stored in a company-wide database.

“In this way, I never really wrote the definitions of a word,” she said. “I studied instances in which a specific word was used and made sure that its previous definition still worked. If not, of course, I would revise it so that it did work. Words are, in this way, not defined by the writers of the definitions, but by the users of the language themselves.”

Social media, Stamper said, has created a type of “playground” in which the English language has expanded and developed because of the widespread use of previously isolated vernaculars and dialects.

“It has enabled the spread of language in a way I have never seen because of its ability to spread across the world instantaneously,” Stamper said. “Through social media, vernaculars can overlap to the point that it is not immediately clear oftentimes what race or socioeconomic class the person posting belongs to.”

This mixture and widespread use of hundreds of vernaculars in one space, Stamper said, can be both very exciting and very daunting for lexicographers.

In addition to the creation of dictionaries and the role of social media in the development of language, Stamper will speak about Word by Word, which she said she decided to write after she received continuous interest and questions from her lexicography blog.

“The feedback for the book has been overwhelmingly and surprisingly positive. People really engaged with the book and interested in the history of the language,” she said. “The feedback that means the most is when people say that they didn’t know this particular thing about the language. That’s the best feedback I could possibly get because it means that I am engaging the reader and educating them on the history of the language that they speak.”

Stamper will also walk the audience through the lexicography and historical study of one specific word in order share that word’s history and reveal some of the processes behind linguistic research. Although she has often spoken about dictionaries and lexicography, Stamper said she is particularly excited to speak to intellectual Chautauquans.

“These people are not here to go on vacation and just get away for a week. They are coming here specifically to engage in dialogue and learn,” she said. “My hope for the book and the lecture is that it will stir up people to understand more of the fascinating history of the English language and to love it more.”

National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas to speak on the role books play in society


The concept is the Oscars, but instead of movies, books. A night the nation would eagerly anticipate as authors such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and Alice Walker would come together, dressed to the nines, to celebrate the role literature plays in the way the world turns.

The National Book Awards is not there yet, but Lisa Lucas is working on it.

“We need to make it a good show and something people want to pay attention to,” Lucas said. “People love movies, they care about what the academy is doing, but they also watch the Oscars because it is a great show. There is a lot of energy and excitement, a lot of build-up, and we need to keep trying to do the same thing with books.”

Lucas, the executive director of the National Book Foundation since 2016, will touch on this and more as she continues the exploration of Week One’s theme, “The Life of The Written Word” with her 10:45 a.m. morning lecture Wednesday, June 27, in the Amphitheater.

As both the first woman and first African-American to hold the position, Lucas is vocal about inclusivity in the business, insisting the term go beyond race and gender to include everyone, regardless of any circumstances.

“Whether we are doing the work we have always done or doing new work that we are excited about, we always spend a lot of time thinking about what will make that work more powerful and what gives it a wider, further reach,” she said.

When it comes to access, Lucas places her focus on the younger generation in hopes they carry on the passion that drives the organization’s work.

“I always say to ‘get them while they are young,’ ” she said. “Let’s build some excitement about reading great books. Let us make sure kids have books in the home, that kids know where their libraries are. To start making sure that the resources needed to make sure that a young person develops into a reader are there is the only way any of this work will continue to grow and succeed.”

However, no matter what age group a reader falls in, Lucas always strives to share one particular message: The most powerful tool books provide is the ability to teach  people the need for empathy within the complicated, global, political and emotional issues that surface in everyday life.

“Having that depth of understanding about an issue really allows you to understand that it is important and gives you a chance to see it with less of the reactionary sort of ‘hot take look’ that we get from Twitter, from the internet or the 24-hour news cycle,” she said. “I think that allows us to humanize, to empathize, contextualize, to understand and to care.”

On top of fostering empathy, reading gives people a better understanding of one another, an issue Lucas said stems from a lack of exposure.

“We don’t all know one another, and books allow you to know someone that you have never met and that you might not ever encounter in your life.That proximity develops empathy. It’s like, you get it, you spent some time thinking about this person, their interests to their fears, and you used it for something good.”

-Lisa Lucas, Director, National Book Foundation

Ultimately, Lucas recognizes her responsibility in a time where the potential for new readers is unlimited and hopes the foundation’s impact continues to be unlimited, too.

“There are so many people that can be brought into reading, and I think that on some level, our goal is just to touch as many people as we can with the magic of books,” she said. “I feel we do that in many ways through the awards, and through all of our projects as a non-profit organization. Through the media, the awards and the medallion you see on the copies in the bookstores, this all reaches tons of people. We can’t even count how many lives all of this work impacts, and I hope that never changes.”


With ‘Olio,’ Jess to talk duality of poetic form


Tyehimba Jess’ Olio exemplifies the urgency of knowing:

“If people knew the sheer will that was put into each note, they might know better how those tunes, that music, let this country talk itself through its own ugliness,” Jess wrote in Olio, quoting pianist Sam Patterson. “I want to uncover the details of his process. … So here I am, putting his story together so I can better know … ours.”

The desire to know is a familiar theme. Dave Griffith, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, describes this year’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections as one would the arts, math or history — as ways of “knowing” the world.

Jess will speak about his project of knowing in the season’s second morning lecture platform at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater as part of Week One: “The Life of the Written Word.” His lecture will also serve as the season’s first CLSC Roundtable.

“From the earliest planning, we intended this week to celebrate Chautauqua’s literary traditions while also declaring that the literary arts are core to the way Chautauqua engages the world going forward,” Matt Ewalt, chief of staff, said about bringing Jess’ “groundbreaking work” to the Amp stage.

In Olio, Jess focuses on the “underappreciated” time period between the Civil War and World War I that cultivated artistic and innovative contributions to church hymns, ragtime, blues and work songs. Singing, “a full and total expression of the soul,” was sustenance, Jess told Literary Hub.

Both fact and fiction, poetry and prose, Olio is a collage of sonnets, letters and line drawings that traces the history of American music and performance art through the voices of first-generation-freed artists such as Scott Joplin, Sissieretta Jones and the McKoy twins. Olio presents and pays tribute to these artists — performers, pianists, thinkers and singers — who “resisted, complicated, co-opted and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them,” according to the book’s description.

“Jess’ work in Olio speaks not only to the new life and form that is possible with the written word, but also the power of such innovative work to move us in unexpected ways,” Ewalt said. “That through revisiting and reclaiming cultural history, we also confront our present.”

For his work in Olio, Jess received the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the 2017 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Poetry, and an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Additionally, he is an English professor at the College of Staten Island. This is his second book of poetry; he published Leadbelly in 2005.

Griffith said Olio is a duality of experiences in its content and structure. Although the book is delineated in a way readers would expect for a poetry book, further exploration reveals perforated pages and foldable spreads. The book’s ability to be manipulated, folded, cut, torn, undone and redone insinuates a changing relationship between the text and the reader. With scissors in hand, the reader becomes both a collaborator and disruptor in the book’s overall project. Much of Olio must be read and re-read: the final pages provide origami-like instructions that reveal new imagery and understandings previously hidden in the poem’s original structure.

“(Olio) tears and folds and spins around,” said Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts. “You can read backwards and forwards and diagonally — literally.”

In his LitHub interview, Jess described his type of poem as a “syncopated sonnet.” The poem’s contrapuntal and polyphonic structure allows for two voices to engage in conversation with each other while still remaining individual.

The book defines “olio” as “a miscellaneous mixture of heterogeneous elements; hodgepodge” and “the second part of a minstrel show which featured a variety of performance acts and later evolved into vaudeville.”

The layout of Olio is reminiscent of a program for an artistic performance. The book begins with an “Introduction or Cast or Owners of this Olio,” connoting a minstrel show pamphlet. For example, an alliterative sequence introduces Scott Joplin as: “Ruler of Ragtime. Professor of Piano Prestidigitation. Saint of Syncopation. Ace of Ivory 88s.” The end of the “Introduction” features a promise of contortionism to come: “Fix your eyes on the flex of these first-generation-freed voices … Weave your own chosen way between these voices …”

Atkinson said the book’s very fabric weaves the reader into an intricate relationship with the text.

“I think that the content of the book is something that makes it impossible for you to resist the acknowledgement of your position in relation to what is being discussed,” Atkinson said. “It’s so dynamic. … Anyone is challenged to consider where they’re situated in terms of the range of voices in the texts.”

Atkinson pointed to “Mark Twain v. Blind Tom” as an example. The poem has two columns, the left side quoted from Twain’s letters and the right embodying the voice of Blind Tom. The extent of Twain’s racism is not “produced in certain ways … until Twain’s language is paired with the other column,” Atkinson said.

When read across, the poem shifts voices. This shift is denoted by slashes, beginning with Twain’s own words: “Some archangel, / I’m sent from above — / cast out of upper Heaven / like rain on blue prayers.”

Atkinson said this metamorphism forces readers “to suddenly start speaking in ways that feel uncomfortable,” particularly because readers were led to this uncomfortable voice by such a “revered” author.

“(It’s) not necessarily this clear moral,” Atkinson said. “It’s a completely uncomfortable space to exist inside that forces you to think about how you exist inside all of these shifting dynamics in the poem.”

Most of the voices Jess presents are unrecorded — both in their contributions to American art and in the literal sense; few tapes of their voices exist. Driven by the desire to know, Jess spent eight years researching and completing Olio.

“It’s about deconstructing our received history and reconstructing it in a way through poems and through prose in a way that helps us better understand it,” Jess said in an interview with NPR.

This revisiting and repurposing of history will be discussed in his master class “Show the Receipts: Historical Documentation in Poetic Form” at 3:30 p.m. today.

The history Jess incorporates — from stories of the McKoy twins enduring doctors’ probes to Joplin enduring dementia, mockery and plagiarism — reveals the urgency of knowing.

“To be able to sing under that kind of oppression I think, in a lot of ways, is the very essence of survival, of a people, of the ability to have, to the hope to make, something beautiful amongst so much wretchedness,” Jess told LitHub. “That’s critical to the concept of human survival.”

By ripping the seams of and embroidering history, Olio stories the inherent humanity of singing through struggle:

“It is signifying that you are still alive,” Jess told LitHub, “and you still have some human potential.”

John Irving and Pamela Paul to open for Week One with conversation on writing process


John Irving is certainly familiar with the written word — but he’s trading the pen for the lectern.

Irving, joined by writer and The New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, will open the 2018 morning lecture series at 10:45 a.m. Monday, June 25, in the Amphitheater with a conversation about “The Life of the Written Word.”

“The conservation will likely be about my process as a writer, both as a novelist and as a screenwriter,” Irving said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Irving’s first work, Setting Free the Bear. Since then, his 14 novels have earned literary — and motion picture — accolades.

His 1978 international best-seller, The World According to Garp, received a National Book Award and became an Academy Award-nominated film featuring the late Robin Williams. Irving’s sixth novel, The Cider House Rules, took to the screen and in 2000 won Irving the Oscar for the Best Adapted Screenplay.

An accomplished author and former correspondent for The Economist, Paul is also keen on the written word and will accompany Paul during today’s lecture.

“The life of the written word is everything,” she said.

Her five books range from investigations into the “baby business” in Parenting, Inc., matrimony in The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, and pornography, to a memoir about her relationship with literature titled My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. The two writers share similar expectations for their conversation.

Paul said she hopes to discuss how Irving’s reading relates to his writing and how his themes have evolved over time.

“It would be interesting to talk about his trajectory and the themes that he’s gone back to and returned to and the ways in which his novels have often changed overtime. I always think it’s interesting to talk to writers who don’t have one, or two, or five books under their belt, but a dozen.”

Pamela Paul, writer and editor, The New York Times Book Review

Although his writing features contemporary motifs — like sexual politics in In One Person and A Widow for One Year, to war in A Prayer for Owen Meany — Irving said he draws inspiration from early 19th-century novels.

“Dickens was the novelist who made me want to be one,” he said. “Melville was the writer who showed me how to end a novel.”

The influence of such writers is rejected in his “ending-driven” novels, Irving said, a point that Paul reiterated.

“Irving is a writer that has a lot of admiration for the great writers of the 19th century,” Paul said. “I think that is something he is conscious of — sort of continuing certain traditions and being a writer that people return to.”

This is Irving’s first visit to Chautauqua Institution, and he hopes the audience is, at the least, entertained by his conversation.

“I don’t want to burden the audience with my expectations,” he said. “I hope they’ll be entertained. Despite the worst-case scenarios, I am a comic novelist.”

Paul is no stranger to the Institution — this is her second time on the Amp stage. In 2016, she joined then-editor-in- chief of The Paris Review Lorin Stein and editor of The Kenyon Review David Lynn in a panel led by author Roger Rosenblatt about technology’s impact on literature. She also hopes the audience finds value from their conversation.

“I want to inform, enlighten and entertain,” Paul said. “If I could do even one of those that would be great; if I could do all three, that’s great, too.”

Americans for the Arts’ Lynch to cover importance of creative instruction

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Robert Lynch

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

A musician who also is a writer who also is a wood carver who also is a CEO — that’s Robert Lynch.

Lynch is the president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, a national organization that promotes the arts in communities and education. In the last of Week Four’s lectures, Lynch will discuss the current state of the arts in America, the state of support for non-profit arts organizations and what direction the art world should go in the future.

The lecture, titled “America at a Cultural Crossroads,” will be at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Lynch launched his career in the arts as a musician, though he also carved wood and maintained a passion for poetry. But five years after getting his degree, he said he realized it wasn’t just the arts that interested him but politics and business as well.

Lynch then joined the organization that would lead him to Americans for the Arts. He spent 10 years with that group, promoting creativity in New England communities. The movement spread, he said. This job felt right.

“I just became excited about that kind of work,” Lynch said.

Through this organization, Lynch connected with the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, which now is Americans for the Arts.

He began as a volunteer, was promoted to a board member and then, in 1985, Lynch was asked to be the agency’s executive director.

The next 25 years became a period of significant growth for the non-profit organization. When Lynch began, Americans for the Arts was a several-hundred-thousand-dollar operation with a few staff people, he said. It now is a $14 million organization with 5,000 organizational members and a network of about 300,000 citizen activists.

Lynch said the growth came from a variety of sources.

Americans for the Arts merged with seven other organizations devoted to the awareness of creativity, including the American Council for the Arts and the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies.

The new organization herded arts councils and commissions together, causing information about the arts and education to spread through communities across the country. They also lobbied for the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts, which has furnished the art world with billions of dollars. The NEA then assisted in creating more state arts councils by offering a matching grant to any state that had a council.

“It was a combination of a good idea, people nurturing and informing and helping one another and then some incentives like the NEA and the state governments,” Lynch said of the growth.

And though much of what the organization is doing is part of a national movement, Lynch said he most appreciates knowing the work of Americans for the Arts is having a local impact.

“Hearing stories of what organizations are doing at the local level against a lot of odds, without a lot of resources and the benefit that it brings to the local people — that’s probably the most rewarding thing,” he said.

But the growth of Americans for the Arts isn’t enough for Lynch. He said art education has a long way to go. The economy’s current condition has caused poorer communities to have less access to creative instruction.

Those communities are missing out on a chance to offer lessons in creativity, discipline and divergent and convergent thinking through the arts, Lynch said. And arts programs simply draw more students.

“We see business leaders saying that,” he said. “We see government saying that, but we don’t necessarily see that reflected universally in policy at the local level.”

But Lynch has some thoughts on how to improve, and he said he’d share them today.

Opera singer Conrad fought racism with song



Barbara Smith Conrad

Josh Cooper | Staff Writer

Growing up in the segregated south, Barbara Smith Conrad knew firsthand the pain racial discrimination brought. She also knew firsthand the healing power of music.

“Music absolutely saved my life,” Conrad said.

Conrad grew up in a very musical environment, and singing was her passion. She came to the forefront of national attention in 1957, when she was forcibly removed from the cast of an opera production at the University of Texas.

She was cast opposite a white boy in the school’s production of Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. Segregationists in the Texas legislature threatened to pull the school’s funding if she was not removed from the production. The university gave in and replaced Conrad with a white student.

It was then that Harry Belafonte stepped in and offered to send Conrad to any university in the world. She stayed at the University of Texas.

“For me, it was a matter of pride,” Conrad said. “Why should I go someplace else just because you can’t handle the fact that our skin is different?”

Ultimately, Conrad went on to an illustrious opera career, performing with the Metropolitan Opera Company and the New York Philharmonic, as well as venues throughout Europe and North America.

Conrad said that music not only helped her get through the “opera incident,” as the local newspaper referred to it at the time, but also to keep a positive mindset in the segregated environment in which she grew up.

“No matter how you shape it, it was a segregated part of the world,” Conrad said. “Luckily for me, I was stupid enough to think I didn’t have to worry about anything because I had music. So I didn’t.”

She reminisced that while she felt racial discrimination outside of the music school at the University of Texas, there was a completely different mindset among the music students and teachers.

“Musicians have a whole different philosophy,” Conrad said. “It had nothing to do with anything except, ‘Can you play?’ or ‘Can you sing?’ Nothing else made any difference. It never occurred to me that I needed to do anything special to garner the love of those around me.”

“That says something about the power of music to bring people together,” she said.

Her journey is the subject of a documentary film titled “When I Rise.” The film will be screened at 12:15 p.m. Friday at the Chautauqua Cinema.

Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education, said Conrad’s story fits in well with this week’s theme.

“I invited her to come because of her story,” Babcock said. “We’re doing a week on ‘a case for the arts,’ and her life story is the arts. We asked her to come talk about her life in the arts and how the arts have come to define her life.”

Chautauqua is an exemplary setting, Conrad said, and one she has been looking forward to visiting for years.

“I’ve always talked about coming here,” Conrad said. “This is my ideal scene. I have traveled many miles to get to a place like this, and I’m happy to really discover it firsthand.”

She said Chautauqua offers a unique community connectedness.

“What’s immediate is what a warmth there is,” Conrad said. “People automatically know that you’re going to fall in love with this place, so they don’t have to do much to convince you.”

Conrad will be keeping very busy this week. She not only is giving today’s lecture, but she also will be screening her film and speaking with and coaching the voice and opera students here.

She said Chautauqua bears some resemblance to her hometown of Pittsburg, Texas.

“What is very reminiscent of my hometown is the quietude, the sweetness of the air around you, and friendly people smiling and saying hello,” Conrad said.

“It’s not very much different from what home is like.”

Stamberg to advocate for museums, says art is thriving



Susan Stamberg

Ellie Haugsby | Staff Writer

Susan Stamberg has asked questions since 1972.

As the host of such NPR programs as “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” and “Weekend Edition Saturday,” it was her job to pick the brains of her guests. When she comes to Chautauqua, however, it will not be to question but rather to answer.

“If I have talks, I need to give answers,” she said. “I talk a great deal about the things I learn. It’s a mutual circle.”

Stamberg will give a lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, where she will add to the week’s theme, “A Case for the Arts.”

“Art is thriving, and all the evidence is on the Internet,” she said. “All this new technology has given creative people opportunities they’ve never had.“

Despite these successes, she said, there still exists a fundamental problem.

“I’ve spoken with (English artist) David Hockney, who now makes art on his iPhone. He’s very successful, but he still asks, ‘How do I make money from it?’ If David Hockney is having that problem, what is Joe Smith going to do?”

Stamberg said because of this, she lectures to help bring attention to artists like “Joe Smith.”

“Museums and art matter,” she said, “and when I speak at museums, that’s what I talk about.”

Stamberg’s roles at NPR have brought her voice into the homes of millions. She was the first female journalist to host a nightly news program, “All Things Considered,” and has since been elected to both the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Her experiences have led her to speak with such people as Rosa Parks and Luciano Pavarotti.

In addition to her work with NPR, she has hosted multiple PBS television series, moderated three Fred Rogers television specials and narrated performances with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra.

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