BUFFALO, N.Y. – Attention lifelong learners! In a town
well-known for its conferences and festivals, here’s one
dedicated to the thousands of migrants — many of them
refugees — from all continents who continue to globalize the
country, change its face and contribute to the cultural life of
Buffalo as they have for 200 years.
That history, along with their personal stories, music, dance,
literatures and arts, will be celebrated this year at the first
annual Buffalo Humanities Festival, “Migration Nation, Moving
Stories,” being held Sept. 26-27.
A detailed discussion of festival events, the program schedule,
festival background, and descriptions of speakers, performers and
other guests are available at the festival’s website: http://buffalohumanities.org/
The festival will open Friday night in the Albright-Knox Art
Gallery with a reading and discussion of his most recent work, the
memoir “Little Failure,” by acclaimed author and
Russian immigrant Gary Shteyngart.
On Saturday, the festival will feature performances, lectures by
scholars and other experts, a series of short films, open
discussions, market vendors, receptions and
The festival is a presentation of the UB Humanities Institute in
the College of Arts and Sciences in partnership with the
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Burchfield Penney Art Center,
Canisius College, SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Fredonia and Niagara
University. Additional sponsorship has been provided by the John R.
Oshei Foundation, the UB Office of the Vice President for Research
and Economic Development, the New York State Council for the
Humanities and The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies and Jewish
Venues include the Albright-Knox, the SUNY Buffalo State campus
and the Burchfield Penney Art Center, all in the city’s
“Buffalo is shedding its Rust Belt image and is now known
as an ‘eds and meds’ city — one in which
education and medicine drive the economy,” says Erik Seeman,
director of the UB Humanities Institute. “An influx of
educated citizens, combined with Buffalo’s thousands of
lifelong learners and the extraordinary cultural infrastructure,
make this an ideal location for a humanities festival.
“It is designed to bring the community together to discuss
a controversial topic and learn about migration and immigration
through history, literature and the arts,” Seeman says.
“We expect that it will encourage people to examine their
assumptions and preconceived notions.”
Visitors can purchase online: https://www.ubevents.org/event/bflohumanities14
- Tickets to the Shteyngart reading and interview ($20, $15 for
- A Day Pass ( $12, $10 for students) that will cover admission
to all Saturday events, including films, performances, discussions,
puppet parade, lectures and Saturday’s Migration Nation
reception at the Burchfield Center. Passes purchased before Sept.
24 include a Saturday boxed lunch.
- A Combo Pass ($30, $20 students) that covers admission to all
events on both Friday and Saturday.
- VIP Combo Pass ($60) that includes all of the above, plus a
wine and cheese reception with Shteyngart at 7 p.m. before his
There are numerous free events, requiring neither ticket nor
pass, including all events in the performance space, discussions at
the conversation station, the puppet parade and vendor stations.
Day passes to Saturday events also will be available at the
Burchfield Penney on that day.
Among the related pre-festival events are a pop-up book club
discussion of Shteyngart’s book and a free screening of Marc
Silver’s unforgettable film “Who is Dayani
Highlights of the festival program
Friday, Sept. 26
- Opening: Special guest Russian émigré Gary
Shteyngart, author of three acclaimed novels and the much-praised
poignant, hilarious (if self-immolating) memoir “Little
Failure,” will kick things off at the Albright-Knox at 8 p.m.
with a reading, on-stage interview and book signing.
A VIP ticket includes an invitation to a wine-and-cheese
reception with the author at 7 p.m. Talking Leaves Books will be on
hand with copies of “Little Failure” and
Shteyngart’s three novels for purchase and signing by the
Saturday, Sept. 27
- Festival Speakers: Humanities scholars and speakers from
area colleges, universities and community groups will discuss the
experiences of immigrants, including refugees, from Africa, Asia,
Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, many of whom came to
Buffalo seeking refuge from oppression, war and terrorism, as well
as new opportunities for education and employment.
They also will discuss internal U.S. migrant experiences,
including the 18th-century Tuscarora migration from the Carolinas
to New York State; early 20th-century Ku Klux Klan attacks on
Quebecois immigrants in New England; revelations found in letters
and literature written by immigrants to the U.S.; and the 1916-1970
“Great Migration,” in which 9 million African-Americans
relocated from the rural south to cities in the North, Midwest and
- Conversation Station (free): An interactive discussion
station will give visitors the opportunity to meet and converse
with local residents about their personal, and sometimes harrowing,
immigrant experiences. Participants include Sudanese political
refugee Awadiya Ahmed Yahia, now a PhD candidate at UB, a gender
scholar and activist in pursuit of peace and conflict-resolution;
and Aung Kaung Myat, who arrived here from Burma via a Thailand
refugee camp. He is a Buffalo State graduate who today owns his own
cell phone and computer service and is a leader in Buffalo’s
considerable Burmese community.
Other participants are Emmanuel Johnson, who will receive his
bachelor’s degree from SUNY Buffalo State in December, a
seriously injured victim of Liberia’s civil war who waited 13
years to acquire refugee status that made his emigration possible;
and Kristine Assue, a native of Trinidad, who migrated to Buffalo
in 2007 and today is a senior at SUNY Buffalo State.
- Performance Space (free): The Performance Space
on Rockwell Quad between Rockwell Hall and Ketchum Hall at SUNY
Buffalo State will host performances by Guinean-American
drummer and dancer Mohamed Diaby, Indian-American Bollywood dancer
Gaitrie Devi, the locally based African dance and drumming troupe
Le Ballet Touba, and Buffalo’s 198 String Band, a group
comprising area musicians, historians and researchers whose
multimedia performance introduce rarely heard narrative music tied
to the migration and dislocation that marked the Dust Bowl and
- Puppet Parade (free): At noon, look for
“Papier-mache Persona,” a startling, poetic,
situation-specific response to the notion of traveling, arriving
and leaving again as a cyclical practice of contemporary global
citizenship. It is the work of performance artist and large-scale
puppeteer Kyla Kegler of Buffalo and Berlin and her troupe of
wandering and attention-getting performers.
- Film Room: Four screenings of a 90-minute cycle of short
films will take place in 315 Ketcham Hall, SUNY Buffalo State. They
include Ron Douglas’ “Unseen Tears,” which
examines the impact of the Thomas Indian School and the Mohawk
Institute on the lives of boarding school survivors in Western New
York and Ontario; “Battle of the Jazz
Guitarist,” another award-winner about a famous Fiji Island
émigré-musician; “The Mayor,” about the
Republican mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, who stood up against
anti-immigrant laws adopted by Georgia; “The Job,”
Jonathan Browning’s award-winning satire about the plight of
American day workers; “Sin Pais” (Without Country), the
devastating story of a family who emigrated to California only to
face devastation years later at the hands of immigration agents;
“The Caretaker,” a story of the deep bond between a
95-year-old Japanese-American woman and her live-in caretaker, an
illegal immigrant from Fiji; and “Home,” the multiple
award-winning and powerful short film about filmmaker Matt
Faust’s childhood home, which was flooded in Katrina.
- Vendors: Several vendors from the West Side Bazaar, an
international small business incubator on Buffalo’s
ethnically diverse West Side, will sell their wares outside Ketchum
Hall. Rain location: inside Ketchum Hall (day passes will be
required for entry to Ketchum Hall).
- Lunch and reception: Those who order day passes by Sept.
24 will receive boxed lunches prepared by the West Side Bazaar in
the Dining Tent on Rockwell Quad.
- The Humanities Festival Book Group will discuss
Shteyngart’s “Little Failure” over food and wine
from 7:30-9:30 p.m. at Betty’s restaurant, 370 Virginia St.,
led by UB Professor of English Joseph Conte. $8.
- A free public screening of Marc Silver’s masterful
documentary “Who is Dayani Cristal?” will
take place at 5 p.m. Sept. 25 in the Screening Room, 112 Center for
the Arts, UB North Campus. A revelation of the tragic results of
U.S. immigration policy and related human stories so often ignored,
Silver’s film retraces the steps of one Latin-American
migrant found in the deadly, sun-blistered Arizona stretch of the
Sonora desert known as “the corridor of death.”
Introduction by Tanya Shilina-Conte, UB Department of Media Study;
post-screening discussion will be led by Joseph Conte.