Humanities lecture series to explore ‘Innovations in Storytelling’

Yearlong series opens Sept. 20 with historian, cartoonist B. Erin Cole

KINGSTON, R.I. – Sept. 12, 2023 – Marking its 30th anniversary in 2024, the University of Rhode Island Center for the Humanities is devoting its annual lecture series to storytelling—a practice at the heart of the humanities.

During the fall and spring semesters, the series, “Innovations in Storytelling,” will bring to URI a diverse group of storytellers—cartoonists and musicians, historians and novelists, anthropologists and quilters—to discuss their work and the innovative ways in which they tell their stories. The series is free and open to all. Registration is required. (Lectures will also be livestreamed. Go to the individual lecture pages to register or view the livestream.)

The year-long series’ commitment to the many ways of storytelling starts right out the gate. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, B. Erin Cole opens with a presentation entitled “Cute Drawings of Terrible Things: Graphic History and Visual Storytelling as a Historian and Cartoonist.” The discussion starts at 4 p.m. in the Hope Room of the Higgins Welcome Center.

Based in Denver, Cole is an independent public historian and cartoonist who blends an expertise as a trained historian with their talent as a cartoonist. Also a museum professional, Cole has developed exhibits on such topics as the environmental history of Colorado, the Chicano rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s, and the Minneapolis music scene. Their comics have covered such topics as mental health, disability, and living in the modern American West.

Cole will discuss both sides of that bridge, focusing on how history and cartoons mix, her journey as a historian/cartoonist, and sharing examples of graphic storytelling. (At 2 p.m. on Sept. 20, Cole will also offer a workshop for history majors and graduate students on creating a career as a public historian. Seating is limited so please register here.)

“The humanities are fundamentally about the stories, words and ideas that help us understand our lives and our world,” said Evelyn Sterne, director of the Center for the Humanities. “In putting this series together, we wanted to move beyond the most obvious ways of storytelling to provide examples of people in a wide variety of fields and media. With the broad scope of this series, we feel we’ll appeal to a diverse set of audiences both within and outside the URI community.”

On Thursday, Oct. 5, Kwame Dawes will provide a poet’s view of storytelling, reading a selection of his works at 4 p.m. in the Welcome Center’s Hope Room. This event was organized by the English Department and College of Arts and Sciences and is being cross-promoted by the Center for the Humanities as part of its storytelling series.

Dawes, who teaches at the University of Nebraska and the Pacific University MFA program, is the author of 20 books of poetry and numerous books of fiction, criticism and essays. He is the recipient of such honors as the Forward Poetry Prize: Best First Collection in 1994; an Emmy for New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming: Arts, Life & Culture; and Literary Person of the Year by Brittle Paper, which recognizes an artist’s contributions to the advancement of the African literary industry and culture.

On Wednesday, Oct. 11, anthropologists Akeia de Barros Gomes and Jason Mancini will present “Telling Stories About the Ocean” at 5 p.m. in the Higgins’ Hope Room.

A former college professor, de Barros Gomes is the senior curator of maritime social histories at Mystic Seaport Museum and has worked on projects about race, Indigeneity, ethnicity and diversity in New England’s maritime history. Mancini is executive director of CT Humanities where his work includes engaging diverse audiences and anchoring Connecticut’s placemaking, public history, and integrative digital initiatives.

They will discuss their efforts to re-indigenize public history and education and how maritime history can be used as a basis for studying historical injustices and generate insights on the past and the present.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, alumni Jesse-Ray Leich and Nicholas Jemo will perform and share stories about their transition from URI music majors to Broadway musicians at 3 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center Lecture Hall. 

Leich ’17 has been a drummer and percussionist on numerous Broadway shows, along with performances on the “Today Show” and Tony Awards. In 2022, he made his Broadway debut drumming for the musical “Mr. Saturday Night,” starring Billy Crystal and Shoshana Bean at the Nederlander Theater. 

A Rhode Island native, Jemo ‘06 has played trumpet in the orchestras of Broadway productions of “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Bad Cinderella,” along with performing in productions of “Sweeney Todd,” “Les Miserables,” “Evita,” “Mary Poppins” and the “Christmas Spectacular featuring the Radio City Rockettes.” He has also performed with the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera.

On Thursday, Nov. 2, Jeffrey Yoo Warren wraps up the fall lectures at 4 p.m. in the Higgins’ Hope Room with a presentation on “Seeing Providence Chinatown: Relational Reconstruction of Erased Histories.” Warren, a Providence-based artist-educator, community scientist, illustrator and researcher, investigates how people build identity and strength through their interactions with artifacts and history, and the ways objects tell stories that people can be part of in the present. “Seeing Providence Chinatown” is a virtual 3-D model of the small Chinatown neighborhood that existed in Providence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The lecture series continues during the spring semester, concluding April 11 with a presentation by Ruth Ozeki, a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest, as part of the spring humanities festival. 

“Innovations in Storytelling” is sponsored by the Center for the Humanities, with help from the URI College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Provost, Rhode Island Sea Grant, Office of Research and Economic Development and the Kingston Chamber Music Festival.