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Buffalo Humanities Festival Examines Immigrant Experience

Buffalo Humanities Festival Examines Immigrant Experience

Posted: September 11, 2014

The immigrant story will take center stage during the first Buffalo Humanities Festival, held September 26–27 at Buffalo State, the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Presented by the University at Buffalo’s Humanities Institute (HI) in partnership with Buffalo State, SUNY Fredonia, Canisius College, and Niagara University, the festival reflects the theme “Migration Nation: Moving Stories.”

At a time when most commentary about immigration is marred by ideologically rigid formulations, the festival seeks to raise the level of civic discourse in Western New York by exploring the topic through history, literature, and the arts, said Erik Seeman, UB professor of history and director of the Humanities Institute. He plans to make this an annual event.

Seeman said he was inspired to hold a humanities festival here after learning of a similar festival in Iowa City, Iowa. Seeman said he thought holding such as festival in Buffalo would foster civic engagement and provide a meaningful collaborative project for area universities.

Buffalo State was the perfect site, he said, because the campus is easy to navigate, is accessible to the public, is next to two museums, and symbolizes the revitalization of the city. Buffalo State is providing 35 student volunteers for the festival and arranged for Saturday’s lunch to be provided by the West Side Bazaar.

The festival kicks off Friday, September 26, at the Albright-Knox with an 8:00 p.m. reading, on-stage interview, and book signing with Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure, his acclaimed memoir about growing up Jewish in the Soviet Union and New York City where he emigrated as a child. Tickets are $20; $15 for students. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for a pre-event wine-and-cheese reception with the author beginning at 7:00 p.m. They cost $60 each or $100 for two and include admission to Saturday’s events.

On Saturday, September 27, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., visitors can view the immigrant experience through the lens of literature, visual arts, music, film, personal testimony, and expert lectures. Sixteen interactive talks will take place on the first floor of Ketchum Hall and the Burchfield Penney auditorium. During each hour-long session, speakers will engage audience members on topics such as “Songs of the Dust Bowl Migration,” “Photography and Burmese Immigrants in Western New York,” and “Many Middle Passages from Africa to America.” 

Buffalo State theater professor Drew Kahn and Weigel Health Center director Theresa Stephan Hains are among the presenters. Kahn will discuss “Using Burmese Stories to Build Bridges” at 3:30 p.m. in the Burchfield Penney auditorium, and Stephan Hains will examine “How Do Burmese Refugees Find a Doctor?” at 2:00 p.m. in Ketchum Hall 118.

“Both of their presentations reflect our location on the West Side and speak to the level of community engagement we have developed with the Burmese people,” said Anthony Chase, assistant dean for the School of Arts and Humanities and Buffalo State liaison for the festival.

Additionally, Mary Jane Masiulionis, lecturer in the Theater Department and University College, will present “Polonia’s Migrant Voices” focusing on the Polish-American experience at 12:30 p.m. in Ketchum Hall 113.

A day pass costs $12 ($10 for students) and includes a boxed lunch from the West Side Bazaar, if purchased on the Humanities Festival website by September 24. A number of Saturday's events, including a puppet parade and African and Bollywood dance performances all held in the Horace Mann Quad (formerly Rockwell Quad), are free.

“This is an exciting celebration that comes at a time when some have dismissed the humanities as less valuable than other disciplines,” said Benjamin Christy, dean of Buffalo State’s School of Arts and Humanities. “In truth, the humanities are an essential lens for understanding human experience and advancing personal achievement in the complexity of our challenging world.”

For more information, including a full schedule of events, go to

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