St. Louis Humanities Festival April 13 and 14

Local institutions partner to launch first event

Reluctant community activist Daniel Goldstein fights New York’s massive Atlantic Yards project in Battle for Brooklyn. The controversial documentary will be screened April 14 as part of the first annual St. Louis Humanities Festival.

In 1990, the Illinois Humanities Council presented a daylong event on the theme “Expressions of Freedom.” And so was born the Chicago Humanities Festival, today one of the nation’s premier celebrations of the liberal arts.

Novelist and Yosemite National Park ranger Shelton Johnson will speak April 13 on “Gloryland: Literature and Interpretive History as Tools for Social Change.”

Now, it’s St. Louis’ turn.

Later this month, the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis — in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council, Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) Center for the Humanities — will present the first St. Louis Humanities Festival. Organizers plan to make it an annual event.

The two-day event, which takes place Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14, will feature talks by Shelton Johnson, a novelist and Yosemite park ranger, who is featured in Ken Burns’ film series The National Parks; and Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran-turned-poet.

Rounding out the schedule will be a screening of the controversial documentary Battle for Brooklyn, followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Michael Galinsky.

“The Chicago Humanities Festival, which we are trying to emulate, started out in just this modest way,” says Gerald L. Early, PhD, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters in Arts & Sciences and director of the Center for the Humanities. “But I think this is a pretty important effort of bringing institutions together to do something for the good of the city and region.”

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, call (314) 935-5576, email or visit

The festival will begin at 10 a.m. Friday, April 13, with a lecture by Johnson in the Century Rooms of UMSL’s Millennium Student Center.

Titled “Gloryland: Literature and Interpretive History as Tools for Social Change,” the talk will feature a reading from Gloryland, Johnson’s 2009 novel about 19th-century “Buffalo Soldiers” — African-American members of the U.S. Calvary. Published by the Sierra Club, the book is largely based on Johnson’s research at Yosemite, where he has worked since 1984.

In addition, Johnson, who was born and raised in Detroit, will discusses his concerns about the low numbers of minority visitors to the National Parks and why we need to work to ensure that all Americans feel welcome and at home in the parks and other natural areas of America.

Soldier-turned-poet Brian Turner will read from his work April 13. Photo by Kim Buchheit.

Brian Turner

Events will continue at 2:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, with a reading by Turner in Room 253 of Webster University’s East Academic Building.

The author of two poetry collections, Phantom Noise (2010) and Here, Bullet (2005), Turner served seven years in the U.S. Army, including one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division.

Turner’s poetry has been featured in numerous journals and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology, published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. Turner also was featured in Operation Homecoming, a documentary collecting firsthand accounts of American servicemen and women in their own words.

Also on the program will be poetry readings by veterans who have participated in a project, sponsored by the Missouri Humanities Council, to teach creative writing to veterans as a part of their re-acclimation process. Missouri poet laureate and Webster professor David Clewell will be master of ceremonies.

Battle for Brooklyn

Events will conclude at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 14, with a screening of Battle for Brooklyn in Washington University’s Brown Hall.

Exploring the erosion of individual rights amidst corporate and political maneuvering, Battle for Brooklyn relates the very public and very passionate fight between residents of Brooklyn’s historic Prospect Heights neighborhood and developers behind Atlantic Yards, a massive plan encompassing 16 skyscrapers and a basketball arena for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.

The film focuses on graphic designer Daniel Goldstein, a reluctant activist whose apartment sits at what would be center court of the new arena.

Battle for Brooklyn is produced and directed by Galinsky and Suki Hawley, who previously collaborated on the documentaries Horns and Halos (2002), Radiation (1999) and Half-Cocked (1994).

In attendance will be Galinsky and Bruce Lindsey, the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration and dean of architecture in WUSTL’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.