Andrew Seidel to discuss ‘weaponization’ of religion in American political life


James Buckser
Staff writer

Andrew Seidel sees religion being weaponized in the political sphere.

“One of the most recent examples is, in granting the license to discriminate, we’re seeing the rollback of basic human and civil rights in the name of religious freedom,” Seidel said. “Now religious freedom is an excuse to violate or impact other people’s rights, and historically that is something we had never seen in this country.”

Seidel is a constitutional attorney, author, and vice president of strategic communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, as a part of Week Eight of the Interfaith Lecture Series with its theme “Freedom of Religious Expression.”

Seidel said he will discuss the “weaponization of religious freedom” and its implications for the country.

“Right now we are seeing the Supreme Court change what has long been a protection, religious freedom, into a weapon,” Seidel said. “Allowing the people of the ‘right’ — and I’m using scare quotes that you can’t see there — the ‘right’ kind of religion to impose it on other people, and that’s never what religious freedom was meant to be, and I really think people need to be aware of how dangerous that is.”

Seidel is aware that his speech takes place near the anniversary of the Aug. 12, 2022, attack on Salman Rushdie on the grounds. Having received threats over his work and having dined with the author several times, Seidel sees the impact of that violence.

“That is the true freedom of speech, the true freedom of religion; to criticize religion is the beginning of freedom,” Seidel said. “When you have a head of state and a religious leader ordering the murder of a British citizen for writing a book, for daring to think freely, to write freely, to publish freely, that is the extreme version of the weaponization of religious freedom.”

Seidel will discuss why we are seeing attacks on free expression like book bans, saying it comes down to the fact that “rising equality and progress” are relegating an “ever-louder and ever-shrinking minority” to the fringes.

“They’re seeing the rollback of power and privilege and deference which they believe they’re due,” Seidel said. “They’re raging against the dying of this privilege.”

Seidel’s perspective on book-banning is partially informed by his own experience as an author, and seeing his own book, The Founding Myth, burned in what he called a “gutting and visceral experience.”

“I poured my life into that book,” Seidel said. “To see this Tennessee preacher, Greg Locke, get out a blowtorch and blithely set fire to that decade of work is – I mean it’s an awful feeling, it really is. All of the more ominous overtones – not even overtones, that come with book burning and book banning and what we saw in the 20th century are just so clear when you watch that happen.”

Seidel hopes that people at his lecture gain a better understanding of the harm religious weaponization can do.

“I do not think that you can understand where we are as a country, politically or otherwise, without understanding Christian nationalism and the crusade to weaponize religious freedom,” Seidel said. 

He hopes people gain not just a better understanding of the threat that is posed by Christian nationalism, “but of our entire political environment and the threats that we are seeing and facing as we the people right now.”

2012 Effron Fellow Roderick Cox returns as guest conductor, leading CSO in Tchaikovsky, Wagner

Roderick Cox headshot 2

Sarah Russo
Staff writer

A new French horn changed the course of Roderick Cox’s musical career. 

He wanted to become a professional classical musician, but that would “take a lot of money, resources, exposure and opportunity,” he said. 

When the Otis Redding Foundation and Zelma Redding purchased the instrument for Cox, “it was like redefining my voice,” he said. 

Now, Cox – who served as the 2012 David Effron Conducting Fellow with the Music School Festival Orchestra – returns to conduct the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

“I just remember getting that instrument for the first time. I felt like I could do anything,” Cox said. “That’s what I try to do as a musician now.”  

Cox has been praised as a conductor who is “paving the way,” according to NBC News, and recognized as a “trailblazer, a conductor who will be amongst the vanguard,” as described in the Minnesota Star Tribune

Even though Cox didn’t “set out on a path” to change the industry from a historically white-dominated art, he has done just that, even if he said it is a “small role.” With the founding of the Roderick Cox Music Foundation, he has been able to provide mentorship and financial gifts to young aspiring musicians from underrepresented communities that want to pursue music on a higher level.

“It’s just been so fulfilling and gratifying to not only hear from the fellows, some who may be immigrants from Kenya or come from broken homes, and to hear how getting a new cello or new bow or being able to audition and be placed in a youth orchestra completely changes their lives and gives them more motivation, more confident in themselves,” Cox said. 

When he realized music could grant him opportunities to travel, he said it became “the first medium that helped (him) explore the outside world.” 

“It seemed like it wasn’t a job, but this sort of lifestyle where now I find myself living in Berlin, Germany, and traveling to France, Finland, to Norway and these places through music,” Cox said. “Not only do I think it’s the greatest of the arts, but it also makes me, I think, a better human being. It increases my understanding, not only of other people from other cultures and other parts of the world, but also my understanding of myself and what we are capable of as human beings and what we’re capable of through music and how it can bridge divides and bring us together.”

As a conductor, the musical path is much different than playing a single instrument. The process includes a collaborative element, being able to see the score, having everyone’s part and knowing exactly what each instrument is doing. 

“The orchestra is now your instrument,” he said regarding conducting. 

“Your range of possibilities of what you can do with that instrument is much greater than what you can do by playing a single line with the French horn or with the violin or with the flute,” Cox said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to work with everyone.” 

His return to Chautauqua includes selections from Richard Wagner and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who each hold a significance to Cox within his musical career. 

The evening will begin with Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture, based on the character Tannhauser from the composer’s opera. This overture tells the character’s story of lust, love and redemption. Like many overtures, Wagner’s piece encompasses important themes into one composition. The selection includes the Pilgrims’ Chorus, written in the chorale style of J.S. Bach, highly chromatic music associated with the sensuous world of Venusberg and Tannhäuser’s ode to Venus. 

The overture was the first piece Cox conducted at Chautauqua while he was a David Effron Conducting Fellow. Nearly 12 years later, Cox gets to conduct the piece again, but this time with the CSO. 

He said it “means a lot to me to bring back this overture” and is “delighted to meet the Chautauqua audience, the musicians and share music with them.” 

Also featured on the program is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor. Many of Tchaikovsky’s works were inspired by Wagner, making the two an ideal pairing. 

With four distinct movements, Symphony No. 5 is considered a cyclical symphony with a recurring fate main theme throughout all four movements. The feeling behind this selection includes a narrative paradigm called per aspera ad astra, or tragic to triumphant. As the theme continues to be heard, it makes a transition in the final movement from minor to major signifying triumph. 

Cox recalled that Tchaikovsky’s music inspired him all those years ago to pursue a conducting career in classical music. 

“I think it takes us into a different realm of his life as a human being grappling with fate and destiny,” Cox said. “You hear that struggle in this music so vividly – the struggle from depression and hopelessness eventually, to triumph.”

Returning to Amp, Anna Deavere Smith to champion importance of arts


Arden Ryan
contributing writer

As a performer and a dramatist, Anna Deavere Smith has spent a career looking for expressive behavior in everyday people.

Smith has been writing and performing one-woman shows for most of her life, beginning with her longtime project, On the Road: A Search for American Character, in the early 1980s. That project took her around the country, interviewing hundreds of people and creating plays to reflect their lives and individuality, in their words.

“Anything that ends up on stage has to be more expressive than how we talk in life,” Smith said, “with the hope of also involving people emotionally.”

At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Smith will reflect on her body of work and share stories from her works in progress. Continuing the week’s Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “Freedom of Expression, Imagination, and the Resilience of Democracy,” Smith will share her experiences speaking with people during challenging times and conveying their words with theater.

The bulk of her theatrical work has been spent traveling to places of traumatic social challenge and taking first-hand accounts. Two of her most renowned plays center on racism in America, and another explores healthcare, all involving interviews and compilations of real-life stories.

In the months after the Los Angeles riots of 1992, Smith conducted 320 interviews, expressing their sentiments through her play Twilight.

In 2015, she released Notes from the Field, compiling hundreds of interviews on the school-to-prison pipeline. Her most recent stage production, the play focuses on young people in the criminal justice system and “how youth try to make it through,” Smith said.

“My work is about looking for not just what people say, but how they say it,” she said. “Hopefully, I can record something that is said in a very compelling way.”

Smith described her process as “going person to person and asking them to tell me stories about things that have affected their lives,” she said, and will take the opportunity this morning to discuss what she’s learned about the beauty and elegance of human expression.

“One of the great things about coming to Chautauqua is … it’s an audience of people who want to spend time together and share ideas,” Smith said. She will share her latest projects, surrounding youth and the challenges they face, during Chautauqua’s week on democracy, and explore the factors that inhibit it.

“A healthy democracy is an educated democracy, and (one) where there’s opportunity,” Smith said, and she often investigates democracy and peace in her socially engaged plays.

“Most theater communities are always asking the question, ‘How can we be of use to our community?’ ” she said. Smith herself has long been involved in the work of creating art that engages with society, founding the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue in 1997 as a community of artists across art forms to support projects to illuminate social problems in America, while inviting public engagement.

“The art was only one part of it. The other part of it was the nature of the discussion. Now, that’s not unusual at all,” Smith said, with audience interaction becoming more robust and expressive with each production.

In spring 2023, her first opera project, Proximity, was produced in Chicago and focuses on gun violence among young people in that city. Working on the project was “a very dynamic experience,” Smith said. “I still have that in my mind.”

Her current work in progress in Baltimore, Smith said, involves “interviewing some young ladies in high school” whom she worked with last year. Now, she’s crafting a new play with their words and stories.

In her lecture this morning, Smith will describe what she calls “performance as a way of knowing” and her work “using performance techniques to learn more about how these young people see the world.”

From conducting countless interviews across decades of work, Smith said she’s realized the simplest questions are often the best to get at the heart of a person’s struggles. Just asking, “what happened?” can elicit the most candid responses.

“If I have a theory at all,” she said, “it’s that if something did happen, this type of expressive and — what I would consider beautiful — language just comes forward.”

Nausheena Hussain to discuss freedom of expression, personal journey as American Muslim


James Buckser
Staff writer

Nausheena Hussain works to help build leadership skills in women.

“I really feel that women, if we build them up and build up their capacity, they can really build up their nonprofits and help their communities and really transform, making the world a better place,” Hussain said.

She will speak at Chautauqua at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy as a part of the Week Eight theme of the Interfaith Lecture Series, “Freedom of Religious Expression.”

Hussain is the founder and principal of Nissa Consulting, which takes its name from the Arabic word for woman and provides services to Muslim-led nonprofit groups and philanthropy.

Describing her company as “basically a one-person show,” Hussain said she uses the title principal to signify that she is the owner of the company and the decision-making lies with her.

Hussain said she first got involved in nonprofit work while working for a civil rights organization, seeing that many of the civil rights violations were happening against Muslim women.

“I felt that there was a bigger purpose in helping women lead, and so I started a nonprofit organization that had three main program goals,” Hussain said. “One was around changing the narrative around who Muslim women are, the second one was around leadership development, and then a third one is around civic engagement.”

Hussain co-founded Reviving the Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment in 2016, serving as its leader until 2022. During one of the organization’s programs, she said she realized there was “a strong need to help Muslim women figure out how to strengthen their infrastructure and build their capacity for their nonprofit.”

“Because of the success I had with my nonprofit, I really wanted to share that knowledge, and help other Muslim women be able to really grow their own nonprofit organizations and be able to give back,” Hussain said. “This is my way of giving back, is by having this sort of consulting arm of sharing that knowledge.”

Hussain is also the co-founder and a board member of the Brooklyn Park Islamic Center.

“Almost 10 years ago we realized the Muslim population in the city of Brooklyn Park was really growing, and many of us had to leave the city in order to find a place to worship,” Hussain said. “I remember just thinking like, how I can drive down the street and pass three or four different types of churches, and I was almost jealous – what is it like to have your place of worship walking distance from you? That’s got to be really powerful in building community.”

Hussain said a group of families got together and started to pool money, “to build a community first and the center second.” Now, the group has bought a building.

“We have this Brooklyn Park Islamic Center located literally a mile and a half away from my house. I could walk to it,” Hussain said. “It’s been nice to have a prayer space and meeting space.”

In her talk, Hussain said she will start by describing what freedom of expression means “in the context of what’s happening in the United States,” and looking at it within her own experiences and the Muslim community.

“I’m hoping that I can get to be able to tell stories of just how Muslims in Minnesota have been able to express their religious beliefs in the context of what the Constitution gives us a right over,” Hussain said, “as well as talk about when those freedoms have been sort of violated and challenged.”

Hussain said she also wants to discuss working with other marginalized communities and other faith groups, to “be able to preserve that freedom of expression,” give examples of positive stories, and highlight the importance of freedom of expression and its importance to our society.

Hussain hopes attendees of her talk will gain a better understanding of her experiences and how she navigates the world “being a Muslim, Indian, brown, Hijab-wearing woman, but also having a very American identity, living in the Midwest and being in the nonprofit sector.”

Relating to other people’s lived experiences invokes empathy, she said.

“Everybody should really be able to practice that form of empathy,” Hussain said, “so that we can build better bridges of understanding and continue to have a very pluralistic and democratic society.”

Alison Banjoist Brown to shine light on instrument ‘embodying American history’

AlisonBrown_Blue Couch760ret

Julia Weber
Staff writer

Banker-turned-banjoist Alison Brown is ready for her first performance at Chautauqua when she takes the stage at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Since becoming a full-time musician, she has spent time in Alison Krauss’ Union Station band and has collaborated extensively with the likes of Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan, the Indigo Girls, Taj Mahal and The Band. She’s won a Grammy Award and is the first woman to win an International Bluegrass Music Award in an instrumental category. But for Brown, beyond the accolades, the banjo has always been an important part of her life. 

“I’ve always loved music,” she said. “I love the sound of the instrument. I love the community. The bluegrass and roots community is full of so many musically generous, kind people and diverse people, and I’ve always really loved belonging to that community.”

She started playing the banjo when she was 10 years old. In college, though, she studied business and later worked in the public finance side of investment banking. 

“I just didn’t feel like I had the passion for it,” she said. “Rather than thinking about bond structures, I was thinking about ‘I wonder when I could play my banjo again.’ ”

Brown decided to take a break from her banking job to focus on her music for a little while, and she never went back.

Despite not returning to her career in finance, Brown finds her understanding of business, economics and finance to be very helpful because it helped her to start and run her record label, Compass Records.

Brown started the label with her now-husband Garry West, deciding it was the logical step given her expertise in business and West’s expertise in music production. Brown said that the two started the label by “sketching it out on the back of a cocktail napkin while we were on tour and then writing the business plan at the kitchen table.”

Brown’s newest album was released in May of this year through her label, Compass Records. For the bluegrass musician, the album came primarily out of her desire to work with other artists whom she admires.

“I was thinking about people that I wanted to collaborate (with) and write tunes for, so that’s what I did.”

Brown’s latest project was conceptualized and recorded in the midst of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that although the pandemic presented many challenges for musicians, it also opened up opportunities to collaborate.

Many artists who might normally have been very busy found themselves at home with time on their hands to create. Through phone calls and Zoom meetings, Brown was able to collaborate with others, writing music and working out new material together virtually.

For Brown, part of the allure of the banjo is the rich history of the instrument.

“The banjo is a fascinating instrument because it really embodies so much of American history,” she said. “If you start off with just its construction, (it’s) basically a drum with a neck attached. That in itself reflects African influences in the drum and European influences with the strings. It’s a mini, little sample of America.”

She’s particularly interested in how its purpose and regional popularity have both shifted so much throughout history. She said that she is interested in how the instrument has been adopted by different communities throughout its existence, and how the instrument has changed from being associated with both the south and the north historically.

“It’s endlessly fascinating,” Brown said. “To me, it’s not just an instrument, it’s telling the story of America at the same time.”

She’s excited to bring her music and the rich legacy of the banjo to Chautauqua this evening. She especially loves when attendees experience a newfound enjoyment of the banjo during her shows. 

“One of my favorite things is that people come to one of our shows and say ‘I didn’t know I liked the banjo, but I love the banjo,’ and that’s always my goal,” she said. “To me, it’s such an incredible instrument; its history is so deep; its musical breadth is so much more broad than most people realize. I like to shine a light on what is special about the banjo through a show that combines my original tunes with cover tunes and some songs so that there’s music people recognize, there’s new music, and all of it highlights the amazing versatility of the five-string banjo.”

Mchangama to trace history of free speech, our ‘most important human right,’ for CLS


Kaitlyn Finchler
Staff writer

From Socrates to social media, free speech has been a topic of democratic thinking since its origin — and has simultaneously been under attack since.

Jacob Mchangama, Danish lawyer and CEO of think tank Justitia, will deliver his lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, where he will contextualize the current controversies surrounding free speech.

“The idea that is gaining traction that there’s a tension between free speech and equality is wrong,” he said. “With that, free speech (and) equality values are mutually reinforcing rather than individually.”

He wants Chautauquans to reinforce the commitment to American free speech exceptionalism in “a world where free speech is in retreat.”

Democracy, he said, is meaningless without free speech. All the way back to the Athenian direct democracy, resilience has “gradually accustomed human beings to tolerate ideas” previously seen as dangerous or needing to be suppressed.

Mchangama was inspired to found Justitia, which focuses on human rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law, following controversy surrounding cartoons depicting the prophet Muhhamad published by Jyllands-Posten in Denmark. On Sept. 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper published 12 editorial cartoons, most of which depicted the prophet in order to contribute to the debate regarding criticism of Islam and self-censorship. 

This led to objections from Danish Muslim groups, then protests around the world — which sparked violence and riots in some Muslim countries.

“Right now, there’s a new debate in Denmark about whether to reintroduce the blasphemy laws due to Quran burnings,” Mchangama said. “I thought (to set) up a think tank because I really believe that a thriving culture of free speech is essential to a better future for all of humanity.”

While working as a lawyer has informed Mchangama of the legalities of free speech, he said lawyers shouldn’t have a “monopoly on speaking about or understanding free speech.” Everyone needs to be involved — historians, anthropologists, engineers, data scientists and more — to “build a resilient culture of free speech in the 21st century,” he said.

As the author of Free Speech: A Global History From Socrates to Social Media, published in 2022, Mchangama traces and outlines the ancient roots of free speech, how it spreads across the globe and connects speech controversies of the past with digital ones of the modern era.

Using Free Speech and his work, Mchangama will frame his lecture with instances of history repeating itself for the Week Eight theme, “Freedom of Expression, Imagination and the Resilience of Democracy.”

“A lot of the arguments that we use today to discuss free speech really are built on centuries — sometimes millenia-old — discussions about the role of free speech,” he said. 

Often people think they have started a new narrative on these issues, he said, but these arguments follow patterns — especially to those who argue to limit free speech.

The next battleground, he said, is whether democracy is willing and able to stand up for free speech, both in America and abroad.

“We’re living in a time where liberal democracy is in retreat across the world,” Mchangama said. “A lot of democracies feel a lot less confident about their own systems of governance, and feel that they are on the defensive and therefore can’t be as assertive about their values.”

He said it’s crucial to “counter this development” by challenging democratic governments and citizens to stand for the “value that is the precondition for free speech” to thrive globally.

Democracy has no “meaningful sense” without freedom of speech. Mchangama said as a citizen, there’s the right to vote and elect representatives, but if those representatives can’t debate or have different ideas, there can’t be a democracy.

“If the political party that comes into power is given the right to censor, then it becomes much more difficult to peacefully transfer power,” he said. 

In these “polarized and divided” times, Mchangama said even though free speech allows extremists to spread false ideas, free speech also underpins American society.

“Using censorship and restrictions is a cure that is worse than the disease,” he said.

Otis Moss returns to Chautauqua to discuss power of faith traditions

Moss III_Otis_Interfaith_photo_8-14-23 !

James Buckser
Staff writer

The Rev. Otis Moss III feels we have a duty to work against harmful systems for the good of future generations.

“Systems of destruction, suffering and evil are like a virus,” Moss said. “It’s our responsibility to continue to inoculate our nation against the virus that mutates, and that is a virus that seeks to shrink, destroy and marginalize human potential and possibility. I believe that the faith tradition, at its best, has the ability to inoculate.”

Moss will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy to open the Interfaith Lecture Series’ Week Eight theme, “Freedom of Religious Expression.”

Moss, a graduate of Morehouse College and the Yale Divinity school, serves as senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. His early experiences at Trinity while Barack Obama, a member of the church, was running for president helped to inform his latest book, Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times.

“I kept copious notes in my journal of some of the experiences, and those experiences ended up in the book,” Moss said. “What are the virtues that are necessary to thrive in difficult moments? What do you hold on to when it seems that you cannot see the possibility of morning coming? What do you do when you feel completely alone, and what action should you take when you see that the world seems to be in complete chaos? What is our responsibility as human beings, and what is our responsibility as people of faith?”

Moss said he began writing his book before COVID-19, about “six, seven years ago,” stopping and starting several times in the process.

“It’s a reflection on where we are as a nation, and what are the spiritual virtues that we need in order to thrive,” Moss said. 

“Love plus justice is a central theme of the book” with Dancing in the Darkness, Moss said, using Martin Luther King Jr.’s analogy of “what do you need for a complete life?”

“A life that is rooted in developing oneself, one’s community, one’s family,” Moss said. “You’ve got to have these three dimensions at an area of spiritual growth and development.”

Moss’ preaching often features progressive themes, calling attention to issues like economic inequality and mass incarceration, which is different from the faith tradition popularized by the media, which he calls white evangelicalism.

“White evangelicalism has close ties to capitalism; in many ways it’s capitalism in the ecclesiastical garments,” Moss said. “The Black faith tradition has always been centered on the alleviation of suffering, the liberation not only of Black people, but of all people.”

The “true heart of the Christian tradition, of the Judaic tradition,” Moss said, has always been seeing how people can live out their full potential.

“Rome ends up crucifying Jesus because he was against the Roman Empire. The prophets of the Old Testament were pushed and marginalized and persecuted because they were raising questions about collective systems, and how do we as a community operate to ensure that everybody flourishes,” Moss said. “The heart of every faith system is always about how we flourish together, and not just simply how we flourish by ourselves.”

Moss said his lecture will address “how we as a nation experience the turbulent moments that we’re in and how we thrive in these moments,” and how we can create a cultural “mixtape.”

“Bringing together people of different faiths, different cultures, different ethnic backgrounds, different racial backgrounds, to create a movement … will collectively transform not only our nation, but our world,” Moss said.

Moss hopes Chautauquans at his lecture will think about the similarities across different groups.

“I hope they will learn that there’s a lot of commonality between different communities,” Moss said, “but also, the uniqueness of the African American spiritual tradition and what it offers for us to build a community collectively in this nation.”

Moss has spoken at many venues, but he sees Chautauqua as a particularly good forum for discussion.

“In other spaces, some of these ideas may be brand new to the community that I’m speaking to,” Moss said. “The beautiful thing about being at Chautauqua is you’re speaking to people who are well-read and well-informed about the issues, and they raise such wonderful questions, and they want to be part of the solution, and not just be sideline pessimists.”

Moss said every person can be a part of the solution, “part of transformation,” by working with their connections and communities “pushing for an agenda that seeks to alleviate suffering.”

“Wherever you are across the globe, the alleviation of suffering is a universal value we should all hold dear.” Moss said.

While he has been at Chautauqua many times, Moss is looking forward to returning.

“It’s been a few years, and the Chautauqua community has always been kind to myself and to my family,” Moss said. “I’m very excited about the conversation we will have on Monday.”

When imagination is targeted: Henry Reese delivers long-awaited talk on City of Asylum

Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill and Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh, hold a conversation on Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy — one year after the Aug. 12, 2022, attack on Reese and author Salman Rushdie. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Alton Northup
Staff writer

On Aug. 12, 2022, Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, and prolific author Salman Rushdie were set to close Week Seven’s theme, “More than Shelter: Redefining the American Home,” with a discussion on persecuted writers – the lecture never happened after an attacker stormed the Amphitheater stage, injuring both men.

On the one-year anniversary of the attack, Reese sat down with Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill to ensure Chautauquans were not robbed of that discussion. On Saturday afternoon in the Hall of Philosophy, the two reflected on the attack, the persecution of writers and the work of City of Asylum to support them. They were introduced by Sony Ton-Aime, the Michael I. Rudell Director of Literary Arts, who was also on stage with Reese and Rushdie that day.

In 1989, Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of Rushdie after he deemed the author’s book, The Satanic Verses, “blasphemous” and a misrepresentation of the Quran and Islam. The novel explores the stresses and transformations of Indian expatriates in England. Rushdie spent nearly a decade in hiding after the fatwa, which promised a bounty for his death, was issued.

In recalling the attack last summer, which left Rushdie without sight in one eye and the use of a hand, Reese said that, “it’s not just the material impact on him, which is obviously terrible, but it’s an attack on the imagination.”

It was this imagination that first inspired Reese and his wife Diane Samuels to create City of Asylum. Launched in 2004, the nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provides exiled writers with financial support, medical coverage, short- and long-term housing, lawyers and the freedom to create.

Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh, hold a conversation on Saturday on on persecuted writers. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Reese said he first met Rushdie through his books where he used rich imagery to portray what it means to not only lose one’s home but to plant new roots themselves. This struggle stood at the forefront of Reese and Samuels’ minds when starting City of Asylum.

“If all we do is put the person back into another dangerous situation or just a migratory life without the ability to continue, we can’t accomplish our purpose,” Reese said. “So, we began to think about how do we build a community around a writer?”

The first writer-in-residence at City of Asylum was Huang Xiang, a Chinese poet and calligrapher. The Chinese government first arrested Xiang in 1979 after he founded The Enlightenment Society, the country’s first underground writer’s society, according to PEN America. By the time he arrived at City of Asylum in 2004, Xiang’s works had been banned in China, and he served 12 years in prison.

“He was not allowed to publish,” Reese said. “He began to perform on streets so they broke his mouth in terrible ways so that he couldn’t actually perform in public. So, when he came he wanted to celebrate his freedom.”

Xiang initially said he wanted to carve a poem into a mountain; ultimately, he settled for painting one on the facade of his Pittsburgh rowhouse. Titled “House Poem,” the work has become a neighborhood icon and inspired City of Asylum to decorate all seven of their artist homes with written artwork.

The exiled writers were creating a culture themselves. The next step was to connect them with the new Pittsburgh culture. When a resident arrives, one of the first things the organization does is translate previous works by the artist into English.

“It’s critically important to restore the character of being a writer,” Reese said. “You’ve lost your identity – language is your identity.”

Supporters of City of Asylum Pittsburg listen as Director of Literary Arts Sony Ton-Aime introduces Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill and Henry Reese for a conversation in remembrance of the 2022 attack on Salman Rushdie. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

He said it is particularly important to support exiled literary writers because their works outlive political power and controversy, often making them the target themselves.

“Writers themselves are threatened, endangered, wiped out – it’s very different to say a book can’t be circulated, than (to say) a writer is now going to be killed,” Reese said. “In effect, we’re talking about the imagination itself being the target.”

To restore the autonomy of City of Asylum residents, all writers and artists complete a full-length work during their stay. Reese said while the impact of this on the residents is hard to describe, he can feel them be “reborn.”

City of Asylum is in a Pittsburgh neighborhood known as the Mexican War Streets, named for generals and battles from the Mexican-American War. On the corner of Sampsonia Way, a fence made not of chainlink, but handwritten letters, lines the Alphabet Reading Garden.

In 1994, Rushdie wrote a piece for The Independent on the nature of writers to resist barriers. Titled “Declaration of Independence for Those Without Frontiers,” Rushdie wrote: “Writers are citizens of many countries: the finite and frontiered country of observable reality and everyday life, the boundless kingdom of the imagination, the half-lost land of memory, the federations of the heart which are both hot and cold, the united states of the mind (calm and turbulent, broad and narrow, ordered and deranged), the celestial and infernal nations of desire, and – perhaps the most important of all our habitations – the unfettered republic of the tongue.”

Reese said if their discussion happened one year ago, he would have asked Rushdie “what he thought it was to be grounded himself, and after all these experiences in life – the threats, the movements from country to country – where he felt at home.”

Continuing the work of healing: Institution, community to mark year since attack

Chautauqua Insitution President Michael E. Hill, Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer Deborah Sunya Moore, Director of Sacred Music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist Joshua Stafford, Vice President of Religion Melissa Spas, Rabbi Samuel Stahl, Dr. Shahid Aziz, and Interim Senior Pastor Natalie Hanson hold hands in prayer at the opening of a vigil service Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, following an attack on Salman Rushdie during the morning lecture in the Amphitheater. Dave Munch/Daily File Photo

Alyssa Bump, Kaitlyn Finchler & Arden Ryan
Staff writers

Saturday Aug. 12, 2023, will be a day of remembrance and healing — and one honoring the resilience of free expression — marking the anniversary of the attack on prolific author Salman Rushdie on the Institution’s Amphitheater stage.

Reese and Hill

One year ago, Henry Reese, co-founder of City of Asylum Pittsburgh, was invited alongside Rushdie, a Booker Prize award-winning author, to host a 10:45 a.m. lecture closing 2022’s Week Seven theme “More than Shelter: Redefining the American Home.” The pair planned to explore the protection of persecuted writers and “the importance of the literary arts in an age dominated by the false narratives of the powerful,” Rushdie told the Daily in 2022.

Rushdie himself is a persecuted writer — in 1989, Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him, claiming his book The Satanic Verses was “blasphemous,” misrepresenting the Quran and the Muslim faith.

Reese was prepared to moderate the morning lecture with Rushdie when a New Jersey man allegedly stormed the Amp stage and stabbed Rushdie several times during the opening remarks.

Confusion and chaos erupted in the moments after the attack. With a community in shock and national media attention swarming the Institution, the attack on free speech witnessed by thousands of audience members was “unlike anything in our 150-year history,” Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill said hours later that day, at a vigil ceremony quickly organized at the Hall of Philosophy.

This week, Hill said the one-year anniversary of the attack means different things to everyone — whether they were present at Chautauqua on Aug. 12, 2022, or not.

“There are some that are still healing,” Hill said. “Almost everyone had a different experience of that day.”

A series of events have been scheduled for Saturday in order to help navigate those experiences, and to continue the work Reese and Rushdie were set to discuss in 2022. The day begins with a Community Grief Processing  session at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall’s Garden Room, led by Amit Taneja, senior vice president and chief IDEA officer. Mental health counselors from the Chautauqua County Department of Mental Hygiene will be available for this session that’s private and confidential, yet open to whoever may want or need to attend.

Not only were there people who witnessed the attack, Hill said, who had a “very understandable and acute” response — there are also those who did not witness the event but felt it still “pierced a pretty solid sense of safety that exists here.”

This Saturday’s events, he said, encourage “another step in that healing,” in which some of the leadership team may not have been able to take part of last year due to administrative and security responsibilities.

“Our responses as community members really had to be pushed off and delayed because there was too much,” Hill said. “Whether that was intense media scrutiny, trying to provide counseling services for anyone (who) was directly impacted,” or those not in attendance who were affected.

To observe the anniversary of the attack on Rushdie, Hill will be in conversation with Reese at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy. He said he is looking forward to being in conversation with Reese and “bringing back” what was taken from the community.

“What Henry and his wife Diane have done in Pittsburgh, has had far reaching implications for writers and for voices that need to be heard,” Hill said.

Reese will be sharing his experiences with City of Asylum, how and why he got started with the program, and where he sees it going from here, Hill said.

“We’re completing the conversation that didn’t happen,” Hill said. “We’re giving that conversation back to Chautauqua and then teeing up the broader issues that we’re going to explore for the week.” 

The day after the attack, the alleged assailant Hadi Matar was charged with second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault without bail of Rushdie and Reese, respectively. Ned Barone, Chautauqua County public defender, entered a not-guilty plea on Matar’s behalf. After a year of court hearings, the trial is expected to take place in January or February of 2024. 

Rushdie survived several near-fatal stab wounds sustained on Aug. 12, 2022; he was airlifted to a hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he was in surgery for hours and placed on a ventilator. Recovering, he is now blind in his right eye and struggles to write at times due to nerve damage in his hand. A recent public appearance at the PEN America gala, where he was honored with the organization’s Centenary Courage Award, drew renewed attention to freedom of speech issues — issues that Rushdie and Reese have long worked toward.

Hill said Reese’s work with City of Asylum Pittsburgh is “worthy of being elevated,” and the events of Aug. 12, 2022, are important to commemorate and come back together as a community. They hope to do this through the week’s theme, “Freedom of Expression, Imagination and the Resilience of Democracy.”

“I’m there to help remember the events and to try to help the Chautauqua community to come to terms with it, to move on, (while) not forgetting,” Reese said.

Reese was first inspired to support persecuted writers when he and his wife attended a 1997 lecture by Rushdie in Pittsburgh.

“He was first beginning to go public after the fatwa, (since) he had been in hiding,” Reese said. “In the course of the talk, he mentioned the program City of Asylum that was then only in Europe.”

Reese and his wife, longtime and committed readers of Rushdie’s work, were “impressed at the need” to provide threatened writers a safe space to live and work. They began using their rental unit to house writers in need. 

After a few years of City of Asylum’s expansion to the United States, its work was integrated into the larger organization, and City of Asylum Pittsburgh became official in 2003.

Reese said he was moved by Rushdie’s proclamation of “the power, the need and the meaning of fiction, in particular, to engage the imagination of communities and to bring together unlike communities into a spirit of hopefully understanding.”

At Chautauqua, Reese said, “it’s obvious that people are convening in the spirit of shared understanding, commitment to the value of arts and culture … engaging and living a life where value is represented by that commitment.”

Reese said it’s important to support oppressed authors and controversial books by reading the works and talking about their meanings.

Movements like City of Asylum, which support “freedom of expression, and defend it in the simplest way,” are foundational to supporting oppressed authors, Reese said.

A panel of such oppressed authors, provided refuge by City of Asylum, were to share their experiences with Chautauqua later in the day on Aug. 12, 2022; like most other events that day, it was canceled. There was only one program held on Aug. 12 after the attack: a vigil in the Hall of Philosophy with Chautauqua’s interfaith leaders, facilitated in large part by the Rev. Natalie Hanson, the Institution’s interim senior pastor at the time.

In the hours and days that followed Aug. 12, Hanson led several community-wide prayers and countless conversation. She’ll lead such a gathering again, one for remembrance and healing at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church. 

Despite the circumstances, Hill said he’s looking forward to commemorating the event with colleagues such as Hanson.

“(She) will always be a hero in this narrative,” Hill said. “Her work as our interim senior pastor was among the most brilliant expressions of what it means to be a minister.”

Whether in big ways or small, Aug. 12 “has been on our hearts and in our minds the whole year, accentuated maybe by the amount of violent incidents there have been throughout the last 12 months,” Hanson said. “And that doesn’t always diminish an experience of violence — sometimes it’s an echo chamber.”

Every institution has emergency plans for tragedies, Hanson said, but there isn’t an emergency plan for community-wide trauma.

“The community really needed to gather,” Hanson said. “(So we) very quickly put the vigil together for that evening so that people could see each other’s faces — for the reassurance that we still cared for each other, that the relationship still held.”

Saturday’s service of healing is a “chance to gather the community so that the community can remember — not in a maudlin or tragic way — but to think about the way that memories are healed,” Hanson said. 

The service will include a ritual of stones. When Chautauquans enter the service, they will pick out a small stone to carry with them throughout the ceremony. 

“(The stone) symbolizes what they’re feeling or the burden they’ve been carrying or the experience they’ve had since then,” Hanson said. 

Once the service concludes, participants have the choice of keeping their stone or letting it go. If an attendee chooses to keep their stone, they can have it blessed in the church. 

“(The stones are) a way to physically symbolize the way we work through stuff,” Hanson said. “We carry it for a while, and there comes a time to learn from it and give it away.”

For Chautauquans who are not on the grounds that still want to observe the service, the event will be live streamed on Hurlbut’s Facebook page, YouTube and website. 

The service will be followed by a reception at the church, which Hanson believes is “equally as important as the service itself,” allowing Chautauquans to talk and heal with each other in the present moment, in their own way. 

Hanson said it is important to honor the one-year anniversary of the attack “to remember it, not to relive it” and “to mark what we’ve learned from it.”

“(The attack) did not break the community at Chautauqua,” Hanson said. “In fact, (the way) people responded to each other and to the situation affirms the power of what a community can be. We need to hold that dear and rejoice in that.”

Houston Ballet II, CSO to join forces in Saturday performance

Company members of Houston Ballet II perform “Play” Wednesday in the Amphitheater. Houston Ballet II returns to the Amp, with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, at 8:15 p.m. Saturday. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Julia Weber & Sarah Russo
Staff writers

Houston Ballet II is getting ready to leap back onto stage at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater.

Saturday’s performance, wrapping the company’s Week Seven residency, will welcome four company dancers, three of whom trained in the Houston Ballet Academy and danced with Houston Ballet II, said academy director Jennifer Sommers.

Following the group’s performance Wednesday evening performance, Houston Ballet II will return to the Amp stage, this time joined by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Music Director and Principal Symphonic Conductor Rossen Milanov. 

As a conductor, Milanov said performing with a ballet is different from traditional orchestra programs. He highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation for performances such as this one.

“(There’s) collaboration with the dancers and vision of the choreographer,” Milanov said.  “And in any collaborative art form, the orchestra is one of the essential parts.”

In order to fully prepare for a performance like this, Milanov said he needs to “familiarize (himself) with the choreography” along with the music and needs to understand the dancers’ ability.

Sommers said the program will have a classical pas de deux and two group dances, which will include solos, pas de deux and smaller group sections within them.

Chautauquans can expect another night of dynamic, skilled performances from the Academy’s dancers. Saturday’s performance will include the Swan Lake White Swan pas de deux, choreographed by Stanton Welch.

In addition to this piece, the dancers will perform Clear and A Time to Dance, also choreographed by Welch. Visiting company dancers will join the Academy for these two pieces.

A Time to Dance will usher in a new section of the ballet, choreographed by Welch specifically for the performance at Chautauqua Institution, Sommers said. This section will be performed with dancers from the Institution.

Sommers said she believes that Chautauquans will be impressed by the simultaneous emphasis on classicism and boundary-pushing approach to ballet. She said she hopes audience members will enjoy all that Houston Ballet II has to offer and expects that attendees will leave with a range of favorite pieces.

Sommers is excited for Chautauquans to experience the Houston Ballet II, which she called “a choreographer’s Eden” quoting Welch.

“We maintain tradition while creating the future,” she said.

School of Dance to grace Amp stage for final gala of ’23 season

School of Dance Festival students rehearse “Time To Dance” under the instruction of Artistic Director Sasha Janes on July 31 in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studios. HG Biggs/Staff Photographer

Julia Weber
Staff writer

Students in Chautauqua’s School of Dance will take the stage for their final performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. The dancers will perform a variety of pieces, including Donizetti Variations, Tarantella and Union Jack choreographed by George Balanchine, and Nutcracker’s Grand Pas de Deux and Mother Ginger as well as Wildflower, which were choreographed by School of Dance Artistic Director Sasha Janes.

Patricia McBride, former distinguished prima ballerina with New York City Ballet and Director of Ballet Studies and Principal Repetiteur at Chautauqua, is thrilled to be bringing students back to the stage to commemorate the end of the dance season.

“We’re just so looking forward to this,” she said. “It’s bittersweet because it will be our last show and we’ve seen them progress from the beginning to doing all different styles,” 

For McBride, it’s bittersweet to see the growth of the dancers through the summer but have to say goodbye to them as the season wraps up.

“You see the growth and the confidence that they have, you can see their own presence and their personality is stronger, and the technique is stronger, the musicality – everything,” McBride said.

She is immensely proud of how the Festival and Pre-Professional dancers have grown this summer, and she is excited for Chautauqua to experience the same growth that she has witnessed during their performance at the Amp. She’s looking forward to the School of Dance bringing a diverse, energetic mix of pieces to the stage.

“They’re all stunningly energetic – lots of energy, musicality, speed and it’s amazing to see the dancers do these wonderful ballets,” she said.

McBride said Chautauquans will be able to experience the dancers’ athleticism and talent. She particularly enjoys the confidence she sees from the dancers and their ability to let go and perform to their fullest potential.

McBride hopes attendees will leave the performance with a sense of joy surrounding all that dance can be, and she emphasized the importance of being moved by the performances. 

“You want to be moved or touched or feel joy when you watch it,” she said.

She wants the audience to find joy and relaxation in the performance so as to fully enjoy it.

“Live performances have to touch you,” she said. “If they’re good, you will feel joy or you will feel something. You have to feel – the mood of the piece, or something, has to touch you. If one piece touches you, then it’s wonderful.”

Metropolitan AME’s William Lamar to preach from Book of Revelation for Week 8

Lamar IV_William H. _Chaplain_photo_Week8

Mary Lee Talbot
Staff writer

The Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor of Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., will be the chaplain of the week for Week Eight at Chautauqua. 

He seeks daily to extend Metropolitan’s nearly two centuries-long legacy of bearing witness to and ushering into this world the reign of the living God. Under his leadership, Metropolitan remains committed to worship, liberation and service. 

Lamar will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship in the Amphitheater. His sermon title is “An Open Door.” He will also preach at the 9:15 a.m. Monday through Friday morning worship services in the Amp. His sermon titles include “Take Your Scroll,”  “We’ve Got Some Difficult Days Ahead,”  “Universalism?,” “The Fall” and “The New Jerusalem.” 

On the night of Dec. 12, 2020, the Proud Boys attacked the “Black Lives Matter” sign outside the Metropolitan AME Church and destroyed it. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Lamar wrote, “The mythology that motivated the perpetrators on Saturday night was the underbelly of the American narrative — that white men can employ violence to take what they want and do what they want and call that criminality justice, freedom and liberty.”

Metropolitan AME was founded in 1872 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Frederick Douglass worshiped there; Ida B. Wells and Booker T. Washington spoke there. 

“We tell people it is indeed the longest continuously held piece of property with unbroken African-American ownership in the District of Columbia,” Lamar wrote.

The congregation sued the Proud Boys and last month on July 3, a judge awarded the congregation about $1 million in compensation. 

“The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church has a long, esteemed history of standing against bigotry and hate,”  Lamar wrote. “Our courage and determination to fight back in response to the 2020 attack on our church is a beacon of hope for our community and today’s ruling showed us what our collective vision and voice can achieve.” 

“While A.M.E. refused to be silenced in the face of white supremacist violence, that does not mean real trauma and damage did not occur – merely that congregants and the church have and will continue to rise above it. Our church is rooted in the theological vision that humankind is one family. Institutions like ours must continue to lead the way toward a new narrative and white supremacist institutions must be an erased element.”

Before becoming pastor at Metropolitan, Lamar was the managing director of Leadership Education at Duke University Divinity School, from 2008 to 2011. Through his association with Duke, he convened and resourced executive pastors of large churches, denominational finance executives, young denominational leaders, Methodist bishops, and the constituency of Lilly Endowment’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence Program.

He previously served congregations in Monticello, Florida; Orlando, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; and Hyattsville, Maryland.

For 20 years, Lamar has been actively involved with Direct Action Research Training, Industrial Areas Foundation, and the Washington Interfaith Network to organize for justice in local communities. Most recently, he has collaborated with Repairers of the Breach, Poor People’s Campaign – A National Call for Moral Revival, Center for Community Change, and People Improving Communities through Organization to enact social and economic justice and to exhibit a real embrace of the beloved community.

Lamar earned the bachelor’s degree in public management with a minor in philosophy and religion and a certificate in human resource management (magna cum laude) from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1996. In 1999, he earned a master of divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School. Lamar is currently a doctoral student in the inaugural cohort of Christian Theological Seminary’s doctor of philosophy program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric and has published articles in a wide range of outlets.

In tradition of father’s famous sound, Louis Prima Jr. and Witnesses to perform in Amp

Louis Prima Jr. & The Witnesses

Alton Northup
Staff writer

After a last-minute change, members of Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses are swinging their way to Chautauqua for a night of jazz.

“We have band members flying from New Orleans, from Las Vegas and early in the morning, other band members will start driving at about 5 a.m. from New York City to bring Chautauquans a great show,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the originally scheduled headliners Big Bad Voodoo Daddy canceled due to a family emergency. But Chautauquans looking forward to a night of big band jazz and swing need not worry – Louis Prima Jr. and the Witnesses will take the stage at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. 

The group is an energetic, horn-driven 10-piece band known for “over-the-top performances” with a “boisterous New Orleans-style,” according to TulsaPeople. Heading the group is Louis Prima Jr., the son of jazz and swing legend Louis Prima Sr., whose hits make up a core piece of the band’s set.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, Prima Sr. embraced the Italian language and his Sicilian heritage at a time when ethnic musicians were discouraged from incorporating their identity in their music.
His 1956 rendition of “Buona Sera” reached No. 1 in the singles charts of several countries, and he helped popularize jump blues. 

Prima Sr. — known for other hits like “Pennies from Heaven,” “Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” and “Oh Marie” — also voiced King Louie in the 1967 Disney film “The Jungle Book,” and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010, the centenary year of his birth. He died in 1978 at age 67.

“Many people will know the song ‘Jump, Jive An’Wail,’ ” Moore said. “That would have been a feature for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and now we will hear the son of the man himself sing it. So, out of some unfortunate news has come something really beautiful.”

Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses released its debut album in 2012, and since then has been dedicated to preserving the vintage “Prima Sound” that came to define Vegas lounges in the 1950s. Prima Jr. has a few hits of his own under his belt, including “New Orleans,” “Go Let’s Go” and “Blow.”

“If you were ready for a night of swing and joy, that night will still be delivered,” Moore said. 

Dipesh Chakrabarty to examine perspective on human impact in nature


James Buckser
Staff writer

As an accomplished, prize-winning academic, Dipesh Chakrabarty is interrogating the impact of human modernization on the natural world.

“In some ways we’re facing the underside of our having done so well,” Chakrabarty said. “The question is, how do we keep the benefits of modernization, that actually help poor people or help bigger sections of society, but at the same time, make sure that we don’t imperil our own existence?”

Chakrabarty will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, closing out Week Seven of the Interfaith Lecture Series and its theme “Nature as Sacred Space.”

He serves as the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the College of the University of Chicago and is the author of several books including The Climate of History in a Planetary Age.

The book raises the idea of a planetary age, which takes into account the role of all aspects of the planet as opposed to a humanity-centric global age.

“We should take a planetary view, talking about the role of microbes, for instance, in changing the atmosphere of the planet, in maintaining the oxygen balance in the atmosphere,” Chakrabarty said. “In other words, to understand that the planet really is the condition for our living here and being here, it’s really other forms of life that maintain the oxygen balance in the atmosphere, we don’t, we are just beneficiaries of it.”

Mankind, Chakrabarty said, has developed a control over the planet “unbeknownst to most human beings.”

“We now have the capacity to change the cycle between glacial periods in the planet’s history,” he said. “We have fended off the next Ice Age by anything 5,000 to 50,000 years, so we’ve become planetary without knowing so. We’ve developed technology that affects the state of the planet, it affects the processes on the planet that support life.”

At his lecture today, Chakrabarty said he will discuss the question of whether people should let nature be, or take it over.

An example he gave was using planes and aerosol particles to “geoengineer the climate of the whole planet,” to dim sunlight by a small amount, which he said is “taking over things that happen naturally.” While you may be able to calculate the effect on humans, Chakrabarty said, “you wouldn’t be able to calculate the impact on all other forms of life.” 

“Already from India to Indonesia, we have a pollution cloud called a brown cloud, which dims sunlight by about 8%, and for that reason, most people in India grow up with the deficiency of vitamin D,” Chakrabarty said. “That, for me, is not treating nature as sacred at all, and treating it as my backyard.”

Chakrabarty said he felt the question of sacredness was not necessarily religious, rather a question of “whether we should be a little bit in awe of nature and its forces.” In the face of forces like tsunamis and earthquakes, Chakrabarty said, we “only want to survive, like other animals.”

Chakrabarty hopes Chautauquans come to understand what it means to be “planetary.”

“We have become planetary,” Chakrabarty said. “So the question is, whether we continue to be planetary in a way that actually increases the risks for us or whether we remain plane tary in a way where it’s less risky for us.”

Chakrabarty said the main part of his lecture will try “to explain to people why we haven’t been able to act faster than we have,” due to the “profoundly difficult nature” of the problem.

“I don’t have an easy solution, but I want people to go back with a deeper understanding of the problem that we face,” Chakrabary said. “The problem has to be addressed in multiple ways because people are differently placed in different parts of the world, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but on the other hand, we are in it all together.”

National Parks Conservation Association’s Theresa Pierno to discuss history, future of parks


Mariia Novoselia
Staff writer

History doesn’t stop. 

That’s why National Parks Conservation Association President and CEO Theresa Pierno said it is important to keep creating national parks. 

Pierno’s morning lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater will include a little history lesson about the establishment of the National Parks System and NPCA, as well as the relationship between the two. 

In addition to some trivia, Pierno said she will discuss the role that national parks have played over the years and the relevance of continuing to set up new sites. 

National parks, Pierno said, “preserve our history, our stories and are an important part of our democracy.”

In 1872, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park, which Pierno said was groundbreaking. Since that time, the National Park Service has established 425 sites. 

The latest addition to the long list of national seashores, parkways and recreational areas is the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument. 

Located in three sites — Sumner and Glendora, Mississippi, and Chicago — the monument tells the story of Till, a 14-year-old Black boy visiting Mississippi who was kidnapped, tortured and lynched for whistling at a white woman. 

Till-Mobley, his mother, insisted on keeping an open casket during his funeral in Chicago, “so the world would see what happened to her son,” igniting the civil rights movement in the United States, Pierno said. 

Chesapeake Bay, which holds a special place in Pierno’s heart and story, might be the next landmark to join the sites overseen by the National Park Service. 

Prior to joining NPCA in 2004, Pierno worked as the director of Chesapeake Bay programs at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and as the vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“I spent more than a decade focused on restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, so I’m very excited to see this opportunity coming forward to create a Chesapeake Bay National Recreation Area,” Pierno said, noting that she feels lucky to have been able to align her love for nature and water with her work. 

During her first years at NPCA, serving as the vice president of regional operations, Pierno opened offices across the country, including the Midwest and the Southwestern United States. She said the organization doubled in size, going from about 12 offices to 24 in just a few years. The position, she said, allowed her to travel all over the country and visit a variety of national parks. 

“I always joke – the one I love the most is the last one I went to,” Pierno said. 

Right now, this happens to be the Grand Teton National Park. The landscape there, she said, is extraordinary, and the mountain range is spectacular. Visitors to the site, Pierno said, have a high chance of seeing bears or moose.

In her current role, Pierno spends a lot of time advocating for national parks, working on policy issues that impact them, meeting with leaders and more. She said 19 years after she started working at NPCA, the organization has grown not only in terms of its budget, but also the number of people who are involved in it, with more than 200 staff members and hundreds of volunteers.

Some of the challenges that NPCA faces, Pierno said, are closely connected to climate change, which affects national parks in a devastating way. Intense wildfires, for example, are endangering giant sequoia and redwood trees, which the organization strives to protect, she said. 

Pierno said with parks being “a common ground” in a world with many divisions, she hopes her lecture inspires people to have important conversations and continue finding ways to “solve some of our most challenging problems, including climate change.” 

While Pierno hasn’t been to all 425 sites, she said the count is in triple digits. Some of her colleagues, on the other hand, are very close to “reaching that magic total,” she said. 

In order to keep track of all the national parks she has visited, Pierno said has set up a box, which she uses to store maps of those parks. She said she also tries to get stamps from visitor centers, which “helps bring back memories” and “is a great way to remember the year and the date” of the visit.

In November, Pierno said she plans to travel to the National Park of American Samoa. She said she is looking forward to the opportunity to see coral reefs, as well as explore a new culture and pristine nature.  

“Natural parks are fabulous,” Pierno said, noting that some sites have captured her heart, making her come back with second and even third visits. 

The first big national park that Pierno said she visited was Shenandoah, spread along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

“I remember staying in one of those cabins that was very rustic, and it was a great experience,” Pierno said. “We loved it.”

Growing up on the East Coast, she said she was “always trying to find a patch of woods or a swamp or something to play in nature (and) was very fortunate to be able to have opportunities like that” by frequenting county and city parks.

Her parents, Pierno said, would take her to places like Gettysburg, where they would stay for just an afternoon or a day. Connecting young people to national parks, Pierno said, is crucial. Without experiencing national parks, she said, the younger generation will not have the motivation to keep protecting them in the future. 

“It just brings joy to my heart to take (my grandchildren) into the parks and to see how much they love it,” Pierno said. “I think that’s really what it’s all about – it’s about a place to connect and bring joy. The more we bring our young people into the parks, (the more), I think, it’s going to be beneficial for families and for our future as a nation.”

Guest conductor Carolyn Kuan to make Chautauqua debut with CSO program of ‘Symphonic Fireworks’

Members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra take a bow after their performance on July 27 in the Amphitheater. Carrie Legg/Staff Photographer

Sarah Russo
Staff writer

Working with top-tier ballets, operas and orchestras, Carolyn Kuan is a conductor of versatility. 

Kuan will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra this evening as the guest conductor for a program titled “Symphonic Fireworks.” The CSO will perform at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. 

Kuan and the CSO will only have one rehearsal together before the concert tonight, and Kuan said the “music will have to be put together very quickly.” 


The program includes four selections Kuan described as a mix of  “audience favorites” and “the best of classicals” with just one piece on the program people might not know. 

Chautauqua’s Performing and Visual Arts Department worked with Kuan to develop the “Symphonic Fireworks” program. The night begins with Bedrich Smetana’s Vltava (The Moldau) and will continue with Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Huang Ruo’s Folk Songs for Orchestra, and concludes with  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Español. Kuan said she’s very familiar with all the pieces on the program and has lost track of how many times she’s performed some of them.

Kuan has been a conductor for more than 20 years performing with groups across the world including New York City Ballet, the Santa Fe Opera, the Florida Orchestra, West Australian Orchestra, the Symphonic Orchestra of Yucatan, and many more. 

Over the course of her career, Kuan said her passion for music has only deepened throughout her experiences. 

“When I was younger, it was just about music. But as I get older, it really becomes more and more clear to me,” Kuan said. “What drives me more than anything is that feeling of making a difference as artists. … How do we try to make sense of the world and how do we try to make a difference, even though our form is music?” 

Using her career as a conductor, Kuan has cultivated an expertise in Asian music and contemporary works. She helped launch the Celebrate Asia! Program with community leaders representing eight Asian cultures and led sold-out performances for three years in a row. 

Kuan said she frequently gravitates toward music selections that reflect issues she cares about such as environmental rights and LGBTQ+ issues. 

“It’s always very important to me to try to bring awareness to issues,” Kuan said. “This is much easier when I’m the music director,” like using Tchaikovsky — a composer Kuan said “struggled tremendously with mental health” — to brig awareness to mental health issues.

Kuan said that “music has a very special ability to bring people together.” The program tonight has “big variety” to allow many people of all backgrounds and interests to come together to “enjoy the joy of music.” 

The world, she said, “is full of struggles right now, full of inequality. But when all of us come together to enjoy music and just block out the rest of the world … and let the music kind of bring us some peace and joy, there is something very special about it.”

“I think it’s important to use music through (an) issue,” Kuan said, “through the things that connect people … so that people can have a deeper experience.”

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