Chicago Humanities Festival Highlights

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November 19th, 2012
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Illustration by Sierra Nicole Wilson.

Dorothy Allison — November 3

“By the time I was 10 I had figured out that my hope chest wasn’t aimed in the same direction as everyone else’s and that life was going to be hard and complicated,” explained author Dorothy Allison on growing up gay in South Carolina. Allison, author of popular and critical successes “Bastard out of Carolina” (1992) and “Cavedweller” (1998), writes about growing up poor and different in the South and all of the impossible hurdles that come along with those designations.

Allison’s novels don’t have happy endings; they present portraits of people and communities working to define survival in an environment that wants nothing more than their termination. Full of grit, sincerity, and impudence, she works with difficult subjects like incest with gall and intricacy. While discussing the significance of writing she elaborated, “[literature] is a place where people make sense out of things that don’t make sense. That’s what stories are for.”

When asked about how she feels about young women who won’t identify as feminists, “It makes me sad,” she confessed in her deep southern accent, bowing her head theatrically and looking at her hands. “You should at least access the weapons you have,” she attested, looking back toward her sparse but rapt audience.

Reflecting on the state of contemporary publishing toward the end of the lecture, Allison pointed out that with web-based publishing opportunities there are more places to circulate work than ever. Still, she explained, it is harder for young writers to make a living and to find an audience with the glut of work available. Yet, she made sure to emphasize, “there is no diminishment in the passionate engagement with literature.”

Illustration by Sierra Nicole Wilson.

Eric Klinenberg — November 9

“Why do the most privileged people on earth use their resources to get away from each other?” asked author, professor of sociology, and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge Eric Klinenberg on Friday November 9. During his lecture, he led the audience through the main points of his new book “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.”

Klinenberg explores the rising number of single-person households in the United States while paying attention to the social implications of living alone. He questions whether it is as negative a condition as it is sometimes made out to be. “Living alone can give us the opportunity to make better and deeper connections,” he emphasized.

According to Klinenberg, about 35 percent of Chicago residents live solo. This is comparable to other urban centers such as New York (32%), Portland (34%), and San Fransisco (40%).

His first hypothesis was that the increase in these statistics had something to do with American individualism, but the U.S. actually trails Sweden, Norway, Germany, and most other Industrialized nations. Klinenberg determined that it has more to do with the “welfare state,” noting that “when you invest in each other you create conditions for people to come together but have the safety to live alone. … It is our interdependence that makes our independence possible.”

Klinenberg briefly pointed out that single-person households are not evenly distributed in urban settings like Chicago. Rather, for obvious economic reasons, they occur most often in wealthier neighborhoods with an active night-life. The important racial and class implications of this were glossed over in the lecture in favor of appealing to the older, wealthier audience. Instead he discussed age-related issues, such as the threat of declining social services and choosing how to live after losing a spouse. It appeared that his research and ensuing conclusions would have been greatly strengthened by an examination of privilege in this growing trend.

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