Coversations @ 34: The Arts of Being: Telling Life Stories Now

2010 The Arts of Being: Telling Life Stories Now

Biography was once one of the oldest and most established forms of literary scholarship, existing side by side with philology. Now it hardly exists in academic English departments, yet biographies dominate book sales, remain hugely popular, and increasingly move into other media than print: television (the biography channel), magazines (People), radio (“This American Life” and “The Moth”), theater, film, the internet, and so on. We may not teach biography (though perhaps we should), but we still think biographically, still use life stories to organize ourselves and one another, and we consume life stories in ever great quantity. What is the fate and status of life stories in the year 2010? What opportunities –and challenges – do new media pose for the telling of a human life? How, most effectively, can those media and arts be combined to tell life stories which move us and create social change?

On April 20th, 2010, the Humanities Center and Conversations @ 34 sponsored a discussion on The Arts of Being: Telling Life Stories Now. The distinguished panel of guests included playwright, professor, and actor Anna Deavere Smith, New York Times columnist Dr. Lisa Sanders, painter Dorothy Braudy, and award-winning biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook.

Watch the videos below, and submit your comments to the Humanities Center:


Opening Remarks by Carla Kaplan
Carla Kaplan, Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University, is the founding director of the Humanities Center. Her forthcoming books include Miss Anne in Harlem: the White Women of the Black Renaissance and Queen of the Muckrakers: the Life of Jessica Mitford, both with HarperCollins. Watch Kaplan’s Opening Comments>>
Comments by Anna Deavere Smith
Anna Deavere Smith pioneered a new form of theater with her arresting hybrid of journalism and performance art. Smith fuses the personal with the political, illuminating racism, justice, and identity in her acclaimed one-woman shows, such as Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and Let Me Down Easy. She has received a MacArthur “Genius Award” Fellowship and two Obies, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and two Tony Awards, and has appeared in The West Wing, Nurse Jackie, and in films. A regular contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, and The New Yorker, Smith is a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Watch Deavere Smith’s Comments>>
Comments by Lisa Sanders
Dr. Lisa Sanders writes the New York Times column “Diagnosis,” the basis for the television show House, for which she serves as technical advisor. Sanders’s groundbreaking, detective-like approach to diagnosis insists on a multidisciplinary approach to the patient as a whole person. She looks beyond statistics and symptoms to uncover life narratives. An internist at Yale School of Medicine, Sanders’s most recent book is Every Patient Tells a Story. She is also an Emmy Award–winning news producer. Watch Comments by Sanders>>
Comments by Dorothy Braudy
Dorothy Braudy is a painter whose works explore both the freezing of a moment via photography and the deep meditation on that moment allowed by painting. Her most recent series, “Double Feature”, captures freeze-frame images from classic film noir – fleeting moments that might evade consciousness – and turns them into oil paintings. “Marking Time”, at Northeastern’s Gallery 360 until May 11, 2010 features boldly colored paintings, based on black-and-white family snapshots, that present a vibrant visual memoir both historical and re-imagined. Watch Braudy’s Comments>>
Comments by Blanche Wiesen Cook
Blanche Wiesen Cook is a biographer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. Her recent work, Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933–1938, follows an equally popular first volume, which remained on the New York Times bestseller list for three months in 1992, and received numerous awards, including a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for biography. Cook is a frequent reviewer, columnist, radio producer and host, and guest on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Booknotes,” and “PBS NewsHour.” Watch Comments by Wiesen Cook>>
Q & A Session
Watch the Question and Answer Session from Conversations @ 34: The Arts of Being: Telling Life Stories Now. See the Q & A>>
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