J.D. Vance

‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author, others coming to Springfield for Witt Series

The author of a recent New York Times Best Seller, an award-winning Iraqi poet, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, a Pulitzer Prize winner and a service for the anniversary of the Reformation will be among the highlights when the Wittenberg Series marks its 35th season beginning Tuesday, Aug. 22.

The 12 cultural programs including lectures, concerts and convocations are admission-free and open to the public courtesy of several endowments.

While retaining the format that has made the series a mainstay of the Springfield arts scene, the 2017-2018 season also has a fresh feel as series coordinator Lisa Watson and programming committee chair Katie Warber, beginning their second years in their positions, are hitting their strides.

“This year we’re ready to jump in,” said Warber, also an associate professor of communication at Wittenberg. “This season really speaks to the mission of liberal arts and the support of our donors.”

One of the biggest draws each year is the Fred R. Leventhal Family Endowed Lecture, which has brought in Pulitzer Prize winners, best-selling authors and journalists.

Watson and Warber are particularly excited about their Oct. 30 program.

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Ohio native J.D. Vance’s book “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” has topped New York Times Best Seller list twice since its June 2016 release.

The book traces Vance’s family’s challenging Appalachian roots and his fortune to take his life in a different direction, graduating from Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

He explores the region’s social impact and his observations of how culture influences life decisions. “Hillbilly Elegy” became one of the most talked-about books of the last several years.

“We’re very excited to have gotten him at the right time just as the book was coming out,” said Warber. “He’s very much in demand right now.”

Poet Dunya Mikhail escaped Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule after being questioned for her writings, became a U.S. citizen and earned awards for her work.

She’ll be the featured Koppenhaver Literary Lecture speaker on Nov. 14 and stay around the campus to attend classes and participate in a colloquium before the lecture.

Documentary filmmaker Elisabeth Haviland James will be the second film arts lecturer the Visual Arts Residency has had. She’ll show two of her films at the John Legend Theater – “Althea” about one of the first female African-American tennis players, Althea Gibson on Feb. 5 and “The Loving Story,” which earned her an Emmy for Best Historical Program on Feb. 6.

James will discuss her work following the screenings.

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Another special highlight will be a festival choral service on Oct. 29 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. There is also the annual Martin Luther King Convocation on Jan. 15, and the series will wrap up with the Kinnison Endowed Lecture in History with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annette Gordon-Reed on March 26.

Some programs will feature question and answer and colloquium sessions prior to the lectures. Events will be on the Wittenberg campus at the Bayley Auditorium, Weaver Chapel or Pam Evans Smith Arena at 7:30 p.m. except where noted.

“I feel we have a good array of diverse people – authors, history, arts, science,” Watson said. “Our big goal is to draw in the Springfield community.

“This is not just academic; we’ve really tried to help it evolve. We hope it gets people out of their homes, away from televisions to learn about something they didn’t know about on our campus.”

For more information on the series, go to www.wittenberg.edu/about-wittenberg/art/wittenberg-series.

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