Even before Tuesday, a handful of speakers at this fall's Chicago Humanities Festival had been announced: comedian Paula Poundstone, writer Colm Toibin, former Brown University president Ruth Simmons, rocker-poet-autobiographer Patti Smith, conservative columnist David Brooks, “Girls” star Lena Dunham.
But Tuesday's announcement lays out the whole schedule of 112 events comprising the festival's 25th anniversary season, and the new names are impressive, too. They include Chaz Ebert, Wallace Shawn, Renee Fleming, Mark Bittman and Anne Rice.
“We're happy,” is where artistic director Matti Bunzl settled, after searching for words to describe how he feels about this year's lineup.
Other potential highlights of the festival, which runs from Oct. 25 to Nov. 9, are novelist and memoirist Gary Shteyngart, writer Jamaica Kincaid and University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, who'll be speaking on the NSA. The full list of speakers, topics and times can be found at chicagohumanities.org.
Bunzl is also happy that planners were able to pull off a new organizational plan, one that groups a day's events in a “hub,” an area of the city, to make it easier for festival goers to get from one to another.
“Say you're an ideal viewer who wants to see as many events as possible,” he said. “The number you could have done last year was 30 out of a possible total of over 100. With the hub concept in place that number has risen to 45, which is a huge difference. It dramatizes how much easier it will be.”
Also new: The festival's 1,500 members will join students and teachers in receiving discount ticket pricing. This joins members’ previous key perk — the chance to buy tickets ahead of the general public, valuable because last year, for instance, more than a quarter of the programs sold out.
For this fall, members can buy tickets beginning Sept. 2, the general public Sept. 8. Public tickets cost $10-$50 and can be bought at chicagohumanities.org or by calling 312-494-9509 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. (The Dunham event, set for Oct. 6, is sold out; Brooks also speaks early, on Oct. 21.)
The theme for the festival is “Journeys,” a rubric into which pretty much anyone who's ever expressed an idea can fit.
But CHF planners see the theme also as an expression of their organization's own voyage, from one-day event to multi-week crash course in current cultural thinking.
“We wanted a theme that articulates the fact the organization has been around for so long,” Bunzl said. The CHF is, he pointed out, the first such event in a country where, now, dozens of them are held annually.
“There is a hunger,” he said.
‘Journeys: the 25th Chicago Humanities Festival’
When: Oct. 25 to Nov. 9
Where: Various venues in Hyde Park, Evanston and Chicago
Tickets: $10 to $50 beginning Sept. 2 (members) and Sept. 8 (public); 312-494-9509 or chicagohumanities.org