Best-selling author Jill Lepore will appear Friday at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery as the keynote speaker of the Buffalo Humanities Festival. The four-day festival runs tonight through Saturday.
Lepore, a Harvard history professor and staff writer at The New Yorker, is fresh off the success of her latest non-fiction book The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
"The fact that we have her in person is quite a coup. Because she's so busy she doesn't do very many speaking engagements," said Professor Elizabeth Otto, executive director of the Buffalo Humanities Institute.
"She's a really wonderful and generous person, but she just can't do it that often. The fact that people in Buffalo will get the chance to see her live, to talk with her, ask her questions, is really a rarity."
Lepore's appearance is one of many events scheduled for the festival. It starts tonight at the Buffalo History Museum as UB history professor Patrick McDevitt presents "Do Clothes Make the Man?" It's a look at the history of the men's suit.
"The mission of the festival is to foster dialogue and idea-sharing among the public, scholars and artists, " Otto explained.
"We think of this as a conversation that takes place over several days and people can dip in for one part of the event or they can be there for all of it. And now it's actually going to be four days.
The theme encompassing the festival is "Gender Bender."
"And the questions behind that are really for us to think about, Are we bound gender? Are we our genders? Are we our sexual identities?" Otto said.
"We also see this, I think, in massive important movements like the Black Lives Matter movement where people are thinking about long histories of injustice or where conversations haven't happened. How do we talk about identity in a new way that is meaningful."
On Saturday, local scholars and artists will hold a variety of talks at Buffalo State and the Burchfield Penney Art Center. A look at the titles underscores the expansive nature of the theme.
"Allen Ginsberg Isn't Gay," "Rebellious Women in Country Music," "#BlackGirlsMatter," "the Real Eunuchs of Constantinople," are among the many talks. The variety highlights the often overlooked abundance of scholarly talent found in the region's universities.
Jill Lepore welcomes a chance to add to the dialogue.
"For a long time those conversations were really theoretical and academic. And I think there's a lot more going on culturally, in pop culture now," Lepore said.
"I can certainly say that The Secret History of Wonder Woman is such an unusual story, it reveals that these kinds of questions have a long, animated popular culture. We maybe just haven't so squarely seen them."
A schedule of events can be found at http://buffalohumanities.org/
Beyond the talks, Saturday will also feature a series of short films, child-friendly activities and music from the Alison Pipitone Band at 4 p.m.