Morning Lecture Previews

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.

Arts, humanities justify themselves, Fish argues

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Stanley Fish

Sarah Gelfand | Staff Writer

Stanley Fish likely will stand out from this week’s other speakers with his unconventional “case for the arts” at his lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Fish said his appreciation for the humanities is the antithesis of the traditional “justification” for the arts.

“I’m going to say that if you ask for justification about the arts and humanities in terms of the study of the arts and humanities, you’re not going to end up finding it,” Fish said.

As a columnist for The New York Times and a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, Fish frequently writes about university politics and policies. This morning’s lecture, he said, will focus on the arts and humanities in higher education.

Fish wrote most extensively on this topic in the wake of SUNY Albany’s elimination of its French, Italian, Russian and Classics departments. With public universities cutting their humanities departments across the board, Fish’s response is not to argue for the existence of the humanities in the terms and language of universities but rather to say there should be no argument at all.

Fish will address not just the issue of university presidents and the legislators who distribute funds, but the overall systems and structures of higher education.

Recalling an article in The New Yorker by Louis Menand in which a student questions why he needs to read or buy a specific book at all, Fish said that he will spend the most time analyzing how to answer those questions and if they need to be answered at all.

“It’s that moment of justification that interests me,” he said. “For many decades, the arts and humanities had been in a condition of being required to justify themselves. And the requirement depends on a notion of value to which the arts and humanities are not obviously connected.

“You know the value of production of more jobs, or the value of the bottom line, or the value of contributing to the nation’s defense, or any other of the values that are commonly recognized by most people. The arts and humanities, especially when they are in a university setting, and therefore using up university funds, don’t seem to connect to the usually offered justification.”

Arguments continue to circulate about the relevance of the humanities in higher education, and Fish said he plans to unpack those arguments. He said he will look at the future of higher education and the possible consequences of eliminating the study of the arts.

Fish also has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

His most recent book is How to Write a Sentence.

This is his first visit to Chautauqua.

“If Chautauquans themselves are concerned with the flourishing of the study of the arts and humanities — and the education of young people in poetry and painting and dance and music and film — if they’re interested in the study of all of these things and maintaining the traditional study of those things and want to be a part of the education of young adults, the message is that there is no traditional justification of any of it,” Fish said.

The Forerunners From The Temple (1633)
by George Herbert

Editor’s Note: This poem will be referenced in
Stanley Fish’s 10:45 a.m. Amphitheater lecture.

The harbingers are come. See, see their mark;
White is their colour, and behold my head.
But must they have my brain? must they dispark
Those sparkling notions, which therein were bred?
Must dulnesse turn me to a clod?
Yet have they left me, Thou art still my God.

Good men ye be, to leave me my best room,
Ev’n all my heart, and what is lodged there:
I passe not, I, what of the rest become,
So Thou art still my God, be out of fear.
He will be pleased with that dittie;
And if I please him, I write fine and wittie.

Farewell sweet phrases, lovely metaphors.
But will ye leave me thus? when ye before
Of stews and brothels onely knew the doores,
Then did I wash you with my tears, and more,
Brought you to Church well drest and clad;
My God must have my best, ev’n all I had.

Louely enchanting language, sugar-cane,
Hony of roses, whither wilt thou flie?
Hath some fond lover tic’d thee to thy bane?
And wilt thou leave the Church, and love a stie?
Fie, thou wilt soil thy broider’s coat,
And hurt thyself, and him that sings the note.

Let foolish lovers, if they will love dung,
And canvas, not with arras clothe their shame:
Let follie speak in her own native tongue.
True beautie dwells on high: ours is a flame
But borrow’d thence to light us thither.
Beautie and beauteous words should go together.

Yet if you go, I passe not; take your way:
For, Thou art still my God, is all that ye
Perhaps with more embellishment can say,
Go birds of spring: let winter have his fee,
Let a bleak palenesse chalk the doore,
So all within be livelier then before.

NEA Chairman Landesman to demonstrate how ‘Art Works’

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Rocco Landesman

Aaron Krumheuer | Staff Writer

As President Barack Obama’s appointee to head the largest federal arts agency, Rocco Landesman’s job is to make “A Case for the Arts.”

Landesman is the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. He will be Week Four’s first morning lecturer and will talk on “Art Works: A Conversation in Three Acts” at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

“We’ve never had the chairman of the NEA,” said Sherra Babcock, director of Chautauqua’s Department of Education. “This is really quite a coup.”

Landesman made a move from Broadway to the NEA in August 2009 after a long history with theater.

His father and uncle operated a cabaret theater in his hometown of St. Louis, and Landesman studied dramatic literature and criticism at Yale School of Drama. In 1987, he became president of Jujamcyn, a company that owns and operates five Broadway theaters, and he also has produced a number of Tony Award-winning shows, including “Big River,” “Angels in America” and “The Producers.”

Not only an arts worker, Landesman has had a varied career as an entrepreneur, operating a mutual fund in the 1970s and owning two minor league baseball teams. He owned racehorses for a time and once hit the trifecta at the Kentucky Derby.

His is the 10th chairman of the NEA since the independent federal agency was created by an act of Congress in 1965. Throughout the years, the agency has awarded $4 billion in grants to support the arts. In 2011, it was given $167.5 million to distribute to not-for-profit organizations, artist communities, local arts agencies and arts education.

NEA’s mission covers a broad array of mediums, including visual arts, dance, design, literature, opera and theater.

The new motto for Landesman’s NEA is “Art works,” a phrase with three meanings:

“The works of art themselves, the ways art works on audiences, and art as work — are the intrinsic values of the arts, and they are at the center of everything we do at the National Endowment for the Arts,” Landesman wrote in the 2011 Guide to the NEA.

His three-fold approach is at the heart of the NEA’s “Our Town” program, a new initiative to bridge local government and arts organizations, produce public art and stimulate local economies. Its initial funding was announced July 12 of this month and will grant $6.575 million to 51 different communities in 34 states, many to areas with less than 200,000 residents.

Funding to the NEA took a large hit in the mid-1990s in response to the “culture wars” of the previous years. Conservative groups like the American Family Association took offense to a number of NEA-funded artists, most notably the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The ability to fund individual visual artists was taken away from the NEA after the controversy and still remains disallowed.

Don Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, was an artist when he witnessed the attacks on the NEA in the 1980s and still defends their right to support challenging art.

“Art that is significant — when I think of late Titian or I think of Rembrandt or the Florentine painters who were all supported by the government, [they] would not have been able to do what they did without that support,” Kimes said.

However, the current NEA has seen an expanded budget from previous years, and Landesman is outspoken about his desire for more increases.

Before arriving at Chautauqua, Landesman visited the League of Historic American Theatres in Schenectady, N.Y., and met with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter to survey the art scene in western New York, Babcock said.

“People come to Chautauqua for an immersion in learning and the arts,” she said. “Theirs is a different kind of vacation … they’re going to participate in the arts in a way you really can’t do in any other place.”

Former CIA director to speak on Middle East solutions

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R. James Woolsey

Catherine Pomiecko | Staff Writer

Three weeks before President Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969, R. James Woolsey attended a friend’s engagement dinner party.

A man well versed in politics, Woolsey unsurprisingly entered into a discussion about the Vietnam War that evening. Somehow, that conversation managed to turn into a loud and rather angry argument with none other than Paul Nitze, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and father of the bride-to-be.

As they were standing in the middle of the reception area and surrounded by a few hundred people at the black-tie event, their dispute did not go unnoticed. But with just three weeks until the new administration came into office, Woolsey wasn’t worried about any lingering consequences.

Two months later, Woolsey’s boss at his ROTC-commissioned position at the Pentagon presented a job referral with arms control. The job was an assistant position drafting statements and researching strategic weapons negotiations. It sounded like the perfect job for Woolsey, save for the fact that the hiring boss was, in fact, Nitze, who had been reappointed by the Nixon administration to head up the department.

“I only met Nitze once, and it didn’t go very well,” Woolsey said to his boss, who replied, “That must have been what he meant — when I mentioned your name to him, he paused for a second, then he grinned and said, ‘Send Woolsey on up. He may not know what the hell he’s talking about, but at least he’ll speak up.’”

The reputation for speaking up not only elevated Woolsey’s job in arms control but has also followed him throughout his career. In the words of Peter Earnest, the founding executive director of the International Spy Museum and Monday’s morning lecturer, “a man who has continued to speak up” will speak out to Chautauquans about the current strategic problems and their relation to energy and oil at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.

Woolsey is chairman of Woolsey Partners LLC and serves on a range of government, corporate and non-profit advisory boards, including the National Commission on Energy Policy and the Clean Fuels Foundation. Woolsey also has served in the U.S. government on five different occasions, most recently as director of Central Intelligence.

Woolsey began work with energy issues after 9/11 as an officer, and later vice president, of Booz Allen Hamilton. He spent about five years there working to make the country’s energy systems and electric grid more resilient and less vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Woolsey also taught an energy course at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs that summarizes his views on energy policies today.

The course, called, “Energy in the 21st century: Could Muir, Patton, and Gandhi Agree on a Program?” begged energy decision makers to satisfy the environmental considerations of John Muir, the security considerations of George S. Patton and the considerations of the third-world countries where energy grids don’t reach, represented by Mahatma Gandhi. Later, the idea was adapted and published in The World Affairs Journal, replacing John Muir with Rachel Carson, the founder of the contemporary environmental movement.

Woolsey’s career experiences epitomize the collaboration of many disciplines and are in some ways an example of the way America must respond to its current problems. In today’s world, many intelligence affairs are interrelated with energy and oil consumption, Woolsey said.

“This 21st-century world we are in requires us to look at intelligence and strategy together, and not just regard intelligence as some sort of a separate category,” he said.

Woolsey ends the week on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances” to spur discussion about the most current threats the U.S. faces, said Sherra Babcock, director of the Department of Education at Chautauqua Institution.

“Woolsey will talk about weapons of mass disruption, infrastructure, electricity, water, utilities, connectivity, banking systems, etcetera.” Babcock said. “All of those things could really create havoc in our culture if they were disrupted by a cyber enemy.”

In his lecture, Woolsey plans to focus on what the U.S. can do to overcome the problems it faces in the Middle East.

“In terms of intelligence, today’s world is so different than that of the Cold War,” he said. “The enemies that we have to deal with are so very different than what we had to deal with then, and that impacts the way that we need to operate to effectively collect intelligence and deal with them.”

Further viewing:

  1. Conversations with History – R. James Woolsey

Ignatius to present writer’s view of global espionage

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David Ignatius

Nick Glunt | Staff Writer

David Ignatius, 30-year foreign affairs journalist and espionage novelist, will speak at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater as Week Three’s fourth speaker on “American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage and Alliances.”

Ignatius has spent time with The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune in Paris. He has been a reporter, columnist and editor, though he is most widely known as a columnist for The Washington Post.

Ignatius also is a successful novelist, having written such novels as Body of Lies, which was later adapted into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.

“I have a few friends — one friend in particular — who’ve said there’s so many things that are more truth in my fiction than in my fact,” Ignatius said.

He said he does not find it difficult to be both a journalist and a novelist, because he uses what he learns as a journalist to write his novels. As he covers Middle East foreign affairs, he comes up with ideas for his novels. He encounters those ideas and then “reshapes” them for his novels, he said.

Ignatius said being a novelist wasn’t always his calling.

“In truth, I had taken a college course in fiction but wasn’t very good at it,” he said. “Like a lot of people, I had a lot of snippets of fiction I had tried to write, but I pretty much decided I was cut out to be a reporter, not a creative writer.”

After a series of events occurred regarding a story he had written for The Washington Post, the idea for his first novel, Agents of Innocence, began to mold in his mind. He said it was a story he couldn’t tell in any other way.

The publishing company accepted his book because its employees wanted a nonfiction book from him, and this was how they thought it could happen.

Ignatius said Agents of Innocence could almost be considered historical fiction. He tried to make that novel as accurate as possible, even going so far as to research what movies were playing at a particular theater at the time the novel was set. His other novels aren’t quite as historical, as he said he invents a lot more in them.

He is still on contract to write one more novel, he said.

“A week ago, I was in Afghanistan for 10 days wandering around the country,” Ignatius said, “and I have to confess, a part of me was not there doing journalism.”

He had his eyes out for something that could make a good story. He still isn’t sure what the subject of that novel will be.

Ignatius grew up in Washington, D.C., where many people who lived in his neighborhood worked for the CIA. When he was younger, he traveled regularly and even studied at King’s College in Cambridge, England. An interest in international affairs came naturally.

“(The Middle East) is such a complicated mess that it invites — novels love ambiguity; they love situations that are dark and murky and mysterious,” Ignatius said. “That’s what the Middle East is.”

He said one particular theme present in his novels set in the Middle East is that the U.S. doesn’t know enough about that area to be able to work effectively.

Ignatius said the lecture he will present today will cover many topics of his newest novel, Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage. These topics include the relationship between U.S. and Pakistani intelligence, as well as the “marriage of need and convenience” on the part of both parties after Osama bin Laden’s death. He also will address the CIA and what he sees in the CIA as a novelist.

Ignatius had a bit of advice to offer to other aspiring writers.

“Keep writing,” he said. “For the skill to improve, it’s learned by doing. The second thing would be, if you want to have something to write — whether it’s journalism or fiction — you need to get out in the world and see it. I have very little patience for journalism written while sitting in front of a screen … or novels written from the faculty lounge.”

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