Published February 8, 2018
Novelist, literary critic and environmental activist Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the best-selling novel that inspired the television series of the same name, will deliver the keynote address on March 9 to open “Humanities to the Rescue,” a weekend of programming presented by UB’s Humanities Institute (HI) that also includes an environmental film series that continues through the remainder of that weekend.
Atwood’s talk, “An Evening with Margaret Atwood,” will take place at 8 p.m. in the Mainstage theater in the Center for the Arts, North Campus.
Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at the CFA box office or online. Discounted $8 student tickets are not available online and must be purchased at the CFA box office.
“Humanities to the Rescue” is HI’s forward-thinking continuation of the institute’s event schedule this academic year — which began with last September’s Humanities Festival — that challenges critical perception of a crisis within the humanities by offering programming that positions the humanities to address the global crises that surround its various disciplines.
“The humanities provides new ways of shedding light on our biggest challenges by linking its disciplines to the social and physical sciences,” says David Castillo, professor of Romance languages and literatures and HI director. “This allows us to create dialogues that lead to clusters of collaboration, not only within UB but within the much larger local, national and global communities.
“The emphasis today is on science-based reasoning, yet we cannot forget that Albert Einstein famously said ‘imagination is more important than knowledge,’” notes Castillo. “But we might also say that ‘knowledge is impossible without imagination.’”
Atwood, the author of more than 50 volumes of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s literature, is the 2017-18 Eileen Silvers Visiting Professor in the Humanities at UB. She is the recipient of the Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, the PEN Pinter Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.
Atwood’s prophetic, often dystopian work is steeped in her rich knowledge of history and culture that creates cautionary tales in fictitious worlds whose problems seem hauntingly similar to many current environmental issues facing today’s world. She dramatizes the human predicament, “like a shaman evoking her subject,” says Kari Winter, professor of transnational studies and HI executive director.
“The purpose of storytelling is to delight and instruct, but how do you accomplish that if the story you want and need to tell is depressing? One way is by being faithful to historical truth while also being beautifully witty and richly imaginative,” says Winter. “That’s what Atwood does. Through her speculative fiction she manages to create forms of delight that help us face and address bleak human experience. This approach can transform our minds and inspire us to action.”
Atwood’s Friday night talk will provide the foundation for a subsequent three-day film festival curated by Adam Rome, a professor in the Department of History.
“This festival showcases five talented documentary filmmakers who try to spark environmental activism, but they do that in very different ways,” says Rome. “What works and what doesn’t? That’s the critical question.”
The festival’s feature films will be presented March 10-12:
Details on each of the films is available on the HI website.
Castillo says the events that are part of “Humanities to the Rescue” illustrate what he calls “the ethics of empathy.”
“The humanities are needed more than ever at a time when our political, economic and social structures seem to discourage considering value in ways other than what can be monetized,” he says.
That kind of compassion vacancy was painfully evident hours before President Donald Trump delivered his first official State of the Union Address when he expressed the mentality that concerns Castillo.
“When you’re a businessman, you don’t have to worry about your heart … You really do what’s best for you … you make money,” Trump said, as quoted in The New York Times.
But Castillo envisions a humanistic response to this kind of thinking.
“I know the corporation has an ethical mandate to maximize profits for its shareholders, but we need new ways of broadening the conversation and re-imagining productive activity.
“Stories and narratives can create that vision,” he says. “Instead of thinking primarily about money, we could start in a different place and ask is this in my best interest and does it also allow future generations the opportunity of a good life.”