2021 Tucson Humanities Festival

Once upon a time, humans began telling stories. Heroes journeyed far and wide, kings led armies to battle, peasants fought oppression. Gods intervened, sorcerers conjured magic, demons haunted the lands. Great minds brought new inventions, grand cities rose, people yearned for the good life. And the action rose to a climax! In the end, humans crave stories. We read, we write, we speak and we listen. We invent, we imagine. We connect.

INFLECTION POINTS: A Gallery Talk on Poetry in Translation


As we emerge from this time of crisis, how might the field of literary translation chart new trajectories and imagine new narratives of possibility? Four translators of poetry—Kareem James Abu-Zeid (Arabic, French, German), Alex Braslavsky (Polish, Russian), Jein Han (Korean), and Farid Matuk (Spanish)—will discuss how this question informed their process of curating works for Inflection Points, a digital exhibition presented by the Poetry Center in collaboration with the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). Curators will highlight pieces from the exhibit and explore the potential for poetry to cross boundaries of language, culture, place, and time.

A LIFE IN STORIES: Visions & Journeys in the Land of Mystery

Writingbear, Mike Lindsey
Library & Information Services Coordinator at the Center for English as a Second Language (retired)


Cherokee storyteller Writingbear learned his people’s stories at his grandmother’s knee, but it wasn’t until after her passing, while recovering from a chronic illness, that he began to have visions and dreams which reawakened the values and stories instilled years before. Ever since, he’s brought his stories to audiences at workshops, schools, colleges, museums, festivals and pow-wows. Writingbear will weave together stories, family heritage and personal anecdotes from decades as a storyteller traveling, living and working in Indian Country. With a special blessing from Miguel Flores, Jr.

BORDER MEDICINE: Origins & Diversity of Mexican American Religious Healing

Brett Hendrickson, PhD, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lafayette College

Michael M. I. Abecassis, MD, Dean, College of Medicine – Tucson
Karen Seat, Director, School of International Languages, Literatures & Cultures (SILLC), Head, Department of Religious Studies & Classics
Ada Wilkinson-Lee, PhD, Associate Professor, Mexican American Studies, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences


Religious healing in the U.S. Southwest, particularly among Mexican Americans, has a multi-faceted profile including pilgrimage, prayer, saint veneration, channeling spirits, herbal remedies, and energy manipulation. How did the diversity of Mexican American religious healing traditions come into being? The origin stories of religious healing practices tell us as much about the present as the past. From curanderismo to the miraculous Santuario de Chimayó in New Mexico, current-day Mexican American religious and ethnic identities are tied to stories of healing and healthcare from long ago, suggesting that religious and political ‘wellness’ continues to be tied to how we remember what has come before.

An expert University of Arizona panel will follow with a discussion on “Health, Culture, and Religion on the Arizona Border.”

Inaugural event of the Fred & Barbara Borga Lecture Series. This event is the first in the College of Humanities Department of Religious Studies and Classics Borga Lecture Series and is sponsored by the Fred and Barbara Borga Endowed Fund for Religious Studies, established by Dr. Ross Schwartzberg (B.G.S. 1985, M.D. 1990) to foster understanding and dialogue regarding religious traditions and their impact on health and medicine, and to support undergraduate students pursuing Religious Studies for Health Professionals.

ANGELS & DEVILS: An Evening with Luis Alberto Urrea


Luis Alberto Urrea is the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of 18 books of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. He’s a Pulitzer finalist, a Guggenheim Fellow, has won an Edgar, an American Book Award and is an inaugural fellow for the Borchard Foundation. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, Urrea uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph. Hailed by NPR as a “literary badass” and a “master storyteller with a rock and roll heart,” Urrea has lived and written in Tucson and received the 2019 Tucson Festival of Books Founders Award. His most recent book is The House of Broken Angels, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and NY Times Notable Book.

This event is the first in the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s 2021-22 Reading & Lecture Series and is sponsored by the Borchard Foundation Center on Literary Arts, established to create a community of literary artists from across the Americas to foster meaningful connections between people, culture, and the natural world.

ASIAN AMERICANS: A History of Identity, Contributions & Challenges

Renee Tajima-Peña


Filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña’s award-winning PBS docuseries Asian Americans is the most ambitious chronicle of the Asian American story in the United States. Told through individual lives and personal histories, Asian Americans explores the impact of this group on the country’s past, present, and future. The series traces the significant role of Asian Americans in shaping American history and identity, from the first wave of Asian immigrants in the 1850s to the social and cultural turmoil of the twentieth century to modern refugee crises in a globally connected world. Tajima-Peña will share the details of her journey crafting this groundbreaking series.

Sponsored by Arizona Humanities.

TRANSFORMATION: Story, Character & Meaning Across Time & Space

Jennifer Donahue, Associate Professor of Practice, Africana Studies
Faith Harden, Associate Professor, Spanish & Portuguese
Kaoru Hayashi, Assistant Professor, East Asian Studies
Arum Park, Assistant Professor, Religious Studies & Classics


Stories of transformation abound in our world—in mythology, folklore, literature and real life. Shapeshifters alter form, disguises alter appearance and journeys alter character. But over time, through telling and re-telling, stories themselves transform as well. And perspectives can shift understanding, so a hero in one land becomes a monster in another. In this presentation, explore stories of transformation and stories that transform, across the globe, from ancient to modern times, and consider what our ever-changing stories reveal about human nature.

SEQUINS & STORIES: Drag Queens & Kids Learning From Each Other

Lil Miss Hot Mess


Drag Queen Story Hour was created in 2015 to bring together two seemingly incompatible constituencies—drag queens and children—to read books, sing songs, and more. In just a few years, DQSH events have been replicated in hundreds of libraries, schools, and community spaces, provoking enthusiasm as well as backlash. In this presentation, Lil Miss Hot Mess will draw on her experiences as a DQSH performer and scholar to discuss what children and drag queens can learn about the world from each other. Moving away from introductory lessons on gender or diversity, she argues that drag is a form of performance rooted in play, transformation, and alternative world-making that opens up possibilities for children and adults of all identities.

IN SEARCH OF FRIGHT: Tales of Monsters, Ghosts & the Undead

College of Humanities Faculty Panelists:
Joela Jacobs, Assistant Professor, German Studies
Colleen Lucey, Assistant Professor, Russian & Slavic Studies
Lucy Swanson, Assistant Professor, French & Italian
Eddy White, Associate Professor of Practice, Public & Applied Humanities

Musical accompaniment by Suzanne Thompson, Assistant Professor of Practice, Russian & Slavic Studies


The dark recesses of human imagination have always been haunted by scary and shadowy figures. Zombies, vampires and ghastly spirits emerge in story and legend, across different cultures and times, representing fear of the unknown. But they also become forbidden thrills, taboos that indulge our sense of mystery and danger. Why do we seek out the spine-tingling, the eerie, and the uncanny? What do they tell us about ourselves and our world? And what happens to monsters when they go Hollywood?

LUCI, TELECAMERA, AZIONE: An Acting Life from Broadway to Milan

Jessica Polsky
College of Humanities 2021 Alumna of the Year
(’98, Italian and Dance)


Beginning her acting career in New York and on tour throughout the world as a Broadway and musical theatre performer, Jessica Polsky (’98, Italian and Dance) found her niche when her Italian major came into play. Her Italian proficiency ultimately combined with her performing career when Polsky was invited to move permanently to Italy to star on a hit Italian primetime sitcom, Camera Café. Success and awards followed and established Polsky as a popular actress and TV personality within the Italian showbusiness industry. In a lively insider’s interview, the College of Humanities 2021 Alumna of the Year, Polsky will relate stories from her bi-national, bi-lingual and bi-cultural career on stage and screen. Magnifica!


PechaKucha presentation by Albrecht Classen, University Distinguished Professor, Department of German Studies


PechaKucha presentation by Fabian Alfie, Professor, Department of French and Italian

LOVE CONQUERS ALL: The Unfamiliar Story of a Familiar Phrase

PechaKucha presentation by Sarah McCallum, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies and Classics


PechaKucha presentation by Tani Sanchez, Professor, Africana Studies Program