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New Humanities Festival kicks off Friday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 12, 2012 - The inaugural Saint Louis Humanities Festival happens this weekend with three events in three locations. The programming focuses on "A Sense of Place" and celebrates art, community, education and knowledge. The festival also marks a collaboration among Webster University, Washington University, University of Missouri-St Louis, Cinema St. Louis and the Missouri Humanities Council.

“We think it has great potential as an annual event that can really give the city a positive image or add to the positive image it already has,” said Gerald Early, the Merle Kling professor of modern letters in the English Department at Washington University and director of its Center for the Humanities. “We think it has great potential as an annual event that can really give the city a positive image or add to the positive image it already has."

Early said the idea for the festival came from a Celebrating the Humanities day at Washington University last April.

“Richard Franke, the businessman who started the Chicago Humanities Festival over 20 years ago, was our luncheon speaker in 2011, and Geoffrey Harpham, the director of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, was the afternoon speaker. It went very well," said Early. "The main thing we wanted to see accomplished at the 2011 event was to inspire people to think about starting a humanities festival here in St. Louis." 

The Saint Louis Humanities Festival features one event each at UMSL, Webster University and Washington University. Events are free and open to the public.

"We are not charging anything and we hope to keep the festival free or very low cost," said Early. "Just support us through attendance. We hope that people will attend, write about it, blog about it, celebrate it and feel proud of it.”

The festival kicks off at 10 a.m., Fri., April 13, at UMSL with a presentation "Gloryland: Literature and Interpretive History as Tools for Social Change," by Yosemite park ranger Shelton Johnson. Johnson appeared in Ken Burns’ national park documentary series and published his first novel, "Gloryland," in 2009.  Call 314-516-5698 for more information.

The festival then shifts to Webster University. At 2:30 p.m., poet Brian Turner, a former soldier, does a reading. Turner served in the Army for seven years, including tours of duty in Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina. He appeared in Richard Robbins’ 2007 documentary, "Operation Homecoming," which featured interviews with American returning servicemen.

Turner has published two anthologies of poetry, "Phantom Noise" (2010) and "Here, Bullet" (2005). "Here, Bullet" won the prestigious 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award. Missouri poet laureate David Clewell will host Turner’s reading. Call 314-968-7054 for more information.

The Saint Louis Humanities Festival closes on Sat., April 14, with a 1 p.m. screening of "The Battle for Brooklyn," a documentary focusing on the attempted development of the Atlantic Yards Project through the use of eminent domain. After the film, director Michael Galinksy will answer questions. 

Early believes the collaboraton among the sponsors has been something special. “The partnership has been working really well,” he noted. “We are all very pleased to bring our schools together for this enterprise. We are also really happy to be working with Cinema St. Louis and the Missouri Humanities Council. They've been great and we couldn't do this without them.”

Early believes, though, that the festival has the potential to show “how important the humanities and the liberal arts can be in our everyday lives and in the fabric of our civic life. It is nice if we can publicly celebrate being a city of learning that celebrates learning and the human spirit and shares learning. We are an enlightened city, and that is what we hope the festival will show.”

For more information on any of the events, email cenhum@artsci.wustl.edu.