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Buffalo Humanities Festival to explore gender issues

Humanities Festival headliner Jill Lepore will talk about her best-selling book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman."  

By BERT GAMBINI

Published September 17, 2015

“The festival’s mission is to foster dialogue and idea-sharing among the public, scholars and artists.”
Erik Seeman, director
UB Humanities Institute

Noted scholar and critically acclaimed author Jill Lepore is the featured speaker at the second annual Buffalo Humanities Festival, taking place Sept. 23-26 at cultural and educational centers throughout the community.

Sponsored by UB’s Humanities Institute, this year’s festival theme, “Gender Bender,” explores whether individuals are bound by gender.

Presentations, performances and conversations will investigate gender issues beyond the traditional oppositions of male-female and gay-straight.

The festival is a collaboration among UB, Canisius College, Niagara University, SUNY Buffalo State and SUNY Fredonia.

A complete schedule of events, including ticket information and a downloadable program, is available online.

Organizers say the festival seeks to raise the level of discussion locally by exploring sex and gender through history, literature and the arts.

“The festival’s mission is to foster dialogue and idea-sharing among the public, scholars and artists,” says Erik Seeman, professor of history and director of the Humanities Institute.

Jill Lepore

Lepore’s headline event at 8 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is a discussion of her best-selling book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” winner of the 2015 American History Book Prize.

A VIP reception with the author precedes the talk at 7 p.m.

Tickets for Lepore’s lecture are $20 for general admission and $15 for students.

Wonder Woman is no ordinary superhero, according to Lepore.

Along with Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman, is a superhero that has remained popular for decades. But unlike Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman has a secret history that stretches from the women’s suffrage movement of the 1900s to mid-20th century feminism.

“Superman owes a debt to science fiction, Batman to the hard-boiled detective. Wonder Woman’s debt is to the fictional feminist utopia and to the struggle for women’s rights,” Lepore writes in her book. “Wonder Woman has been fighting for women’s rights for a very long time, battles hard fought but never won. This is the story of her origins — the stuff of wonders, and of lies.”

Seeman says Lepore is the perfect featured speaker for this year’s theme, which looks at how gender norms are constantly changing.

“Jill Lepore is America’s most engaging historical writer. Her books and articles crackle with wit, even as they explore crucial historical topics with great sophistication,” he says.

“She is a dynamic and funny public speaker, but she rarely gives talks. It is a great honor that she has chosen Buffalo as one of the few venues where she will speak about her latest book, The New York Times-bestselling ‘Secret History of Wonder Woman.’”

Lepore is a professor of American History at Harvard University and affiliated faculty at the Harvard Law School. In addition to her research and teaching, she has been a contributor to the New Yorker since 2005. Her essays and reviews also have appeared in The New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the Journal of American History, the Yale Law Journal, American Scholar and American Quarterly.

Lepore is a past winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, the Berkshire Prize and Time magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of the Year. She also is a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist.

A book signing follows her presentation.

On Sept. 24, the day prior to Lepore’s talk, Susan Cahn, UB professor of history and an expert on gender history, will lead a discussion of “The Secret History of Wonder Woman.” The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Sweetness 7 Café, 301 Parkside Ave., Buffalo. Admission to the book group is $8, which includes appetizers and one glass of wine, beer or a soft drink.

The festival opens on Sept. 23 with a free lecture, “Do clothes make the man?” by Patrick McDevitt, UB associate professor of history. The lecture will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Buffalo History Museum. A reception will precede the lecture at 7 p.m. McDevitt’s exploration of the men’s suit is accompanied by a pop-up exhibit of men’s fashions.

Day passes for events on Sept. 26 — $15 for adults and $10 for students — include admission to any of the 15 talks and performances by local experts and artists, plus a screening of short films about gender and free admission to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Burchfield Penney Art Center. Day passes purchased by Sept. 23 also include a free lunch from the West Side Bazaar. Choices include Ethiopian vegetarian combo, Burmese chicken curry and vegetarian pad thai.

For tickets, visit the festival’s website.

Saturday also features a number of free, outdoor events on Rockwell Quad behind Rockwell Hall between the Burchfield Penney and Ketchum Hall. A “Drag Break” during lunch will feature some of Buffalo’s favorite gender-bending performers.