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UC Berkeley Press Release

Robert Pinsky launches new humanities forum

– In the first program of a new "Humanities and the Public World" forum being launched Feb. 1 by the University of California, Berkeley's Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, Robert Pinsky, a U.S. poet laureate and public ambassador for poetry, will talk about the national Favorite Poem Project he initiated.

Keynote speakers in this spring's series include prominent artists, political leaders, writers and scholars who represent a unique discipline, viewpoint and medium, and who are active in discussions about critical contemporary issues.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said the forum reaffirms the central role of humanities in democratic societies. "Now more than ever it is crucial that we recognize the importance of the humanities to any society committed to educating its citizens, to enriching their lives, and to sustaining the cooperative contexts in which controversial ideas can be aired," he said.

Series participants and topics include:

  • Robert Pinsky, the U.S. poet laureate from 1997-2000 who began the Favorite Poem Project, which has collected thousands of favorite poems from people across America. His talk is set for 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 1, in Wheeler Hall Auditorium. This is the only program in the series requiring tickets. Free tickets will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis at the Wheeler Hall box office starting at 6 p.m.
  • Robert Reich, professor at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and former U.S. Labor Secretary in the Clinton Administration, speaking Wednesday, Feb. 21, on "The Four Narratives of American Public Life." The event begins at 5 p.m. in Room 315 of Wheeler Hall.
  • Robert Post, a Yale University law professor and author of "Civil Society and Government," talking at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, March 13, about religion and freedom of speech, cartoons and controversies. Post is a former professor at UC Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall)
  • Alfred Brendel - classical pianist, acclaimed essayist and poet - with Townsend Center Director Anthony J. Cascardi acting as moderator at 5 p.m., Friday, May 16, at the Great Hall of the Bancroft Hotel, 2680 Bancroft Way.
  • Panel discussions at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 3, and at 5 p.m., Monday, April 9, will take place in conjunction with the American Conservatory Theatre's (ACT) production of "After the War," a play about internment of Japanese-Americans from San Francisco's Japantown. Panelists will include playwright Philip Kan Gotanda; ACT's artistic director Carey Perloff; UC Berkeley Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures Duncan Williams; and Colleen Lye, a UC Berkeley English professor and author of a book about the "racialization" of Asian Americans. The April 3 program will take place at ACT, 415 Geary St., while the April 9 program will be held at the Townsend Center, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley.

"The forum is designed to underscore the crucial importance of the humanities in an increasingly complex and troubling world," said Cascardi. "It is up to humanists to raise questions about the values we hold, both as individuals and as a society. The forum will provide a much needed opportunity for the public to re-engage with the humanities as they are practiced today."