Illuminations director Julia Lupton (center) is flanked by (from left) Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the School of Humanities; Stephen Barker, dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts; and Lorelei Tanji, university librarian. Van Den Abbeele and Barker co-chair IlluminationsÂ’ community council, while Tanji oversees the library sites where the Illuminations Authors SeriesÂ’ book clubs will convene. Steve Zylius / UCI

Illuminating the power of the arts

Chancellor’s initiative celebrates third anniversary, brings authors to campus

Three years ago, Chancellor Howard Gillman proposed a program to expose students from all majors to the power of the arts and strengthen UCI’s connection with local cultural institutions. Helmed by English professor Julia Lupton, associate dean for research in the School of Humanities, Illuminations: the Chancellor’s Arts & Culture Initiative has funded more than 400 activities and events and has served over 20,000 students and community members. Through innovative programming such as “Shakespeare Goes to the Opera,” a master class with actor James Franco, gallery tours and more, Illuminations brings the arts to the campus and the campus to the arts.

For the 2017-18 academic year, Lupton has organized the first Illuminations Authors Series, in which a lineup of powerful writers will visit UCI to read from their works, each followed by an audience Q&A and book signing. Angie Thomas, who penned the best-selling young adult novel The Hate U Give, will kick off the series on Thursday, Oct. 26.

Here, Lupton discusses Illuminations’ three-year anniversary and new slate of events.

Q: How did the Illuminations Authors Series develop, and how did you choose each writer?

A: UCI has a wonderful tradition of showcasing major authors. I wanted to build on this tradition by creating a series featuring great writers, all of whom work in different genres and address issues that are timely, important and significant to both our UCI community and the broader Orange County community.

Q: Why did you decide to precede each author talk with a book club led by an English department faculty member?

A: I want to make our authors’ visits as meaningful as possible. When we engage with a text, we can more fully appreciate the author who produced it. We have great faculty members here who are invested in these authors and eager to build reading communities. I believe a book club is a great way to bring our UCI community together in a shared activity.

 Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from each author?

A: Writers use their imaginative powers to address issues of major concern, from how and why black lives matter (Angie Thomas) to the shape of things to come (Ted Chiang). UCI alumna Alice Sebold ’98 will talk about campus rape. Colson Whitehead, a Pulitzer Prize winner and this year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow, will take a speculative approach to the history of slavery. Historian Jill Lepore is interested in our country’s founding documents and what they mean today. What’s the biggest takeaway? Writing is alive and urgent, and reading books is a transformative and lifelong endeavor.

Q: As you reflect on what Illuminations has accomplished in the past three years, what stands out?

A: I loved hosting Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer and last year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow. It was exciting having so many members of the Vietnamese American community show up to hear him read. That event was really the inspiration for this year’s series.

Q: What do you hope Illuminations achieves this academic year?

A: This year, I want Illuminations to reach and impact more students. I also want to build stronger connections between public events and other learning experiences. That’s why we’re working with the rhetoric and composition program to get these books [featured in the Illuminations Authors Series]into the hands of students. That’s why we’re adding book clubs. A great author’s event will involve not only reading and listening, but also discussing and responding. All of these pieces add up to transformation.

Q: Why are you so passionate about bringing arts and culture groups to UCI and vice versa?

A: The arts create a space for shared experience. We are in the room together, hearing, feeling, watching, thinking, responding. What better way to promote the values of the university and become a stronger place to live, learn and work?

– Annabel Adams, UCI School of Humanities

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