The first Buffalo Humanities Festival runs this Friday and Saturday with an impressive, long list of events at the Albright-Knox, Buffalo State College and the Burchfield Penney.
Professor Libby Otto, executive director of UB's Humanities Institute, admits there was some skepticism about adding a busy event to Buffalo's already busy social calendar.
"We decided that one more festival would fit in the schedule and that this is the one that it should be," Otto said. The effort has been supported by many of the area's academic intuitions: SUNY Fredonia, Buffalo State, Canisius College and Niagara University.
The presentations and talks planned for the festival follow a theme: "Migration Nation: Moving Stories."
On Friday night, best-selling author Gary Shteyngart will appear at the Albright-Knox as the festival's keynote speaker.
His recent work is "Little Failure," a memoir that recalls his youth in Soviet Russia and his days growing up as a Russian Jewish immigrant in Queens.
"It's a lot about family and growing up and coming to grips with all kinds of issues. Though it's serious, it's also quite funny," Otto said.
A VIP session begins at 7 p.m. A reading and on-stage interview with the author begins at 8 p.m.
On Saturday, an extensive lists of talks, performances and presentations will run throughout the day in the Burchfield Penney Auditorium and Buffalo State's Ketchum Hall.
Those attending Saturday can purchase day passes for $12 ($10 for students), Otto says.
"You'll get a lanyard around your neck, and you can walk in, walk out, go see some films, go pop into another talk. There are four talks going on simultaneously."
Talks start at 10:30 a.m. and last an hour. The final talks begin at 3:30 p.m.
"Outdoors, there are performances happening at the same time. It's really going to have this festival flavor with food, local merchants," Otto explained.
"It will be impossible to see it all at once and that's part of the design of it, that you can dive deep into certain aspects of it or just float around and see different things."
Those purchasing tickets by Wednesday will get lunch provided by the West Side Bazaar.
Topics focus on the migrations and immigrations of many groups in America: Poles, Cubans, Tuscaroras, African-Americans, just to name a few.
One talk explores a surprising experience for one group of American immigrants: "KKK Attacks on New England's Franco-Americans."
It's presented by Canisius College Professor of French, Eileen Angelini.
"In the 1920's the KKK in New England was larger than any group in the South," Angelini said.
The KKK targeted French Catholic schools in the mill towns of New England. Some were burned to the ground. The group's influence in the region eventually subsided, but the lessons remain.
"When the economy is bad, people tend to attack the person that is most vulnerable. And that's what we need to be careful of," Angelini said.
Her talk begins at 10:30 a.m. in Ketchum Hall, Room 118.
"Songs of the Dust Bowl Migration and the Great Depression" offers a multi-media presentation, including live music performed by The 198 String Band. The presentation begins at 2 p.m. in the Burchfield Penney Auditorium.
"A lot of the material we found was about homesickness and about kind of being on the edge," said Michael Frisch, Professor of American Studies, emeritus, at UB. He, Peggy Milliron and Tom Naples form The 198 String Band.
The songs, Frisch said, come from the general experience of the Midwestern migrant of the Depression: "I'm in a migrant camp and I don't want to be here, but thank you very much because I was down and out. If this hadn't been provided, I don't know what would have happened."
Frisch is also an enthusiastic booster of the Buffalo Humanities Festival.
"It seemed an idea just right for Buffalo," said Frisch.
"Grouped around this theme (Migration Nation: Moving Stories), this is a chance to mobilize a great deal of expertise and put it in dialogue with a diversity of community experience."