Author, Iraq War veteran kicks off 2014 Syracuse Symposium lineup

Award-winning author Kevin Powers will open the annual series at 7 p.m. Thursday in Watson Theatre.

The 2014 Syracuse Symposium kicks off Thursday with one of the most diverse lineups to date. The annual semester-long event, which started in 2001, draws on the theme “perspective” this year by asking the question, “How do we see the world?”

The idea behind “perspective” is to prod at our natural human inquiry so that we may develop visions and forge more expansive perspectives, said Dympna Callaghan, the director of the Humanities Center for the 2013-2014 academic year. The symposium is organized through the Humanities Center. In an effort to include all disciplines, this year’s Syracuse Symposium will address the unique yet interlocking perspectives behind music, literature, art history, philosophy, drama, religion and cultural studies.

“Fundamentally to me, the idea of perspective is being open to the idea that maybe the things you think you know aren’t necessarily correct.”
- Kevin Powers

Opening the series as the keynote speaker is U.S. Army veteran and award-winning writer Kevin Powers, who will speak in Watson Theatre at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11. His novel, The Yellow Birds, and his book of poetry, Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, draw on his personal experience as a soldier in the Iraq War as well as the perspectives this experience shaped in him.

“I’m looking forward to talking and engaging with students,” said Powers, who will encourage an open dialogue at his poetry and prose reading. “Fundamentally to me, the idea of perspective is being open to the idea that maybe the things you think you know aren’t necessarily correct.”

Powers, who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, was the recipient of both the 2012 Guardian First Book Award and the 2013 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction for his novel, The Yellow Birds. He is currently working on a new novel set on the period directly following the end of the American Civil War, focusing on the country’s continued journey to achieve equality and justice.

Following Powers’ presentation, the symposium will continue throughout the semester with various events. Highlights include the Human Rights Film Festival, which is scheduled to start Sept. 18 in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium. This festival will feature groundbreaking documentaries and fiction films pertaining to worldwide human rights and social justice struggles. Moving to October, the symposium will highlight a variety of art exhibitions, symposiums and poetry readings. All will tackle the notion of perspective through history, sexuality, music and culture.

When asked about this year’s lineup, Gerry Greenberg, the interim director for the Humanities Center, said he is excited to see how the diverse disciplines of this semester-long event will trigger new and rich discussions both on campus and within the entire Syracuse community.

“Ever year I think our lineups get better and better,” Greenberg said. “Every year people have different connections to the theme and different types of people provide their input.”

The Humanities Center underwent a change of leadership earlier this year when the founding director, Gregg Lambert, stepped down to focus solely on his work as the director and principal investigator of the Central New York Humanities Corridor. Lambert will now commit 100 percent of his time to developing the corridor while the Humanities Center will be assigned a permanent director to do the same.

“Of course there will still be collaboration between the Center and the Corridor,” Greenberg said. “And with separate directors for both entities, the hope is that they will expand and grow beyond what they currently are.”

All Syracuse Symposium events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated. Check out the full series schedule.

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