In 2023, CLSC encourages big thinking, big reading

Screenshot 2023-06-29 at 3.34.10 PM

Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

Imagine this: someone is reading a book about nothing, another person is reading a book about a 100-year-old Holocaust survivor, another is reading classic literature. 

On the bench next to them is someone reading about racial disparities in healthcare, while beside them is a reader exploring a fictional perspective on the nonfiction topic of climate change.

Next, imagine a person learning about disease outbreaks, right next to someone traveling the first transcontinental highway. After that, the readers might creep into darkness with the inability to embrace each other during wartime. 

A little bit further down in this imaginary space, they’ll encounter a family who will sacrifice everything to further each person’s life. However, it ends with the unruly tenderness of human nature.

All of these people are reading Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle authors, whose work will present varied perspectives for their audience to consider and apply in their own lives. To frame these perspectives, the CLSC vertical theme for 2023 is “Imagination.”

“We were thinking about the importance of imagination right now, not only for writers and readers, but for us as a society,” said Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts at Chautauqua Institution. “We are very much in an unprecedented situation for us right now.”

In 2021, literary arts programming was virtual and authors taught from a Zoom screen. In 2022, they broke out of the pandemic with the theme “Home.” Now, Ton-Aime wants readers to come out of the pandemic with imagination.

“The CLSC this year is asking us ‘How do we use our imagination?’ (and) ‘How do we use our creativity to bring about solutions that will give us answers?’” Ton-Aime said.

When everyone’s ideas and questions are included, Ton-Aime said their solutions and answers should be included as well. 

The purpose of a vertical theme is to combine with the Chautauqua Lecture Series and Interfaith Lecture Series themes, and present an overarching theme for the season’s reading materials.

“(Selecting books is) very much work that is done in tandem with the Interfaith Lecture Series and the Chautauqua Lecture Series,” Ton-Aime said. “We’re always in conversation with each other and continuing the work that we’re doing or adding to the work that we each have a story.”

The CLSC authors are chosen based on books that will always have some aspect to do with the theme.

This idea can be exemplified by Week One’s CLSC author Michael Frank and his book One Hundred Saturdays, where he paints his picture of six years’-worth of conversations and a budding friendship with Judeo-Spanish Holocaust survivor Stella Levi.

Ton-Aime said the CLSC is “very lucky” to have the caliber of writers coming in this summer — even writers of different stripes, like Kate Hamill, who presented a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Inspired by the original era, the play faces new-day challenges, perspectives and ideals. The main character, Lizzy Bennet, is determined to never marry despite societal pressure. The adaptation will be put on by Chautauqua Theater Company.

Also in Week Six is the CLSC graduation, one of the most anticipated events for the CLSC, which Ton-Aime said he is “always excited” for.

“We have a vibrant community group with the CLSC Alumni Association and they are putting on some great events to celebrate the graduates this year,” Ton-Aime said.

Looking beyond the season, the Institution is planning the Forum on Democracy put on by the CLSC with “contemporary authors, thinkers and scholars,” Oct. 20 to 22 at the Athenaeum Hotel.

Speakers for the event include Sayu Bhojwani, David Blight, Suzanne Nossel, Michael Waldman, Michele Bratcher Goodwin and more to be announced at a later date.

“It’s a continuation of the season, especially for folks who will stay until October or folks who will go home and then we’ll return and be in conversation with the thought leaders when it comes to democracy here on the grounds,” Ton-Aime said. 

The forum is in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice, The Authors Guild Foundation, PEN America and Ideos Institute working to make sure the importance of imagination is implemented at the end of the forum. 

The forum would serve as a pilot to determine the feasibility and potential for a similar annual CLSC program, as part of year-round engagement via the CLSC Beyond initiative.

“Here is the importance of imagination at the end of this forum; every participant will come together in a brainstorming session,” Ton-Aime said. “They come up with solutions, not for Chautauqua, but for a solution that this country can use to help save democracy or to maintain democracy.”


The author Kaitlyn Finchler

Kaitlyn Finchler is a journalism and public relations graduate from Kent State University as of May. This will be her second summer at Chautauqua where she will cover literary arts, serving previously as the Interfaith Lecture Series preview reporter. In her free time, you can find her reading, cooking or flipping between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Gossip Girl.” She’s most excited to see how many times she can slip the word “plethora” into her stories before Sara makes her stop again.