First-ever humanities festival coming to Pittsburgh

January 28, 2015
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Azar Nafisi
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John Sayles
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Anthony DeCurtis

PITTSBURGH – There’s a new festival coming to Pittsburgh.

And this time, there won’t be a mammoth rubber duck floating in the rivers near downtown.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the Humanities Center of Carnegie Mellon Unversity unveiled the first-ever Pittsburgh Humanities Festival Wednesday, saying the four-day festival this March will be filled with “smart talk,” but not necessarily so highfalutin’ that you’ll need a Ph.D. to wrap your brain around it all.

“All of the talks are designed to be informative and entertaining,” said Kevin McMahon, the president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. “We shouldn’t think of knowledge as being spinach. We should think of it as cake.”

Scheduled to take place at various venues in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District March 26-29, the premier event in the festival will be a talk at the Byham Theater by Azar Nafisi, the Iranian author whose 2003 book, “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” was a runaway bestseller. Other guests will be filmmaker and author John Sayles, whose work includes the movies “Matewan” and “Brother From Another Planet”; Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine who is currently at work on a biography of the late singer and songwriter Lou Reed; and Kiron Skinner, a social and decision sciences professor at Carnegie Mellon, who will discuss the legacy of President Ronald Reagan. Additional participants will be announced in February. Art, politics and science also will be among the subjects explored at the festival.

The inspiration for the festival came from the Chicago Humanities Festival, according to David Shumway, the director of Carnegie Mellon’s Humanities Center. Now in its 25th year, the Chicago festival “has become a major part of civic life in that city,” Shumway said.

There will be 18 different sessions that will happen over Saturday and Sunday, and none will last longer than one hour, McMahon explained. He emphasized they would be discussions and not PowerPoint demonstrations, lectures or readings.

“My biggest hope is that people will challenge themselves,” McMahon said.

Tickets to the festival will go on sale at 9 a.m. Feb. 16. Full festival passes, single tickets and student pricing will be available. For a listing of events and updates, go online to or call 412-456-6666.

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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