1. The Chicago Humanities Festival was really a wonderful experience for any number of reasons, chief among them the way it asked me to present my research to a lay audience, a task that is not the equivalent of "dumbing it down," but rather broadening its appeal. What fabulous questions they asked, too! My first session (a talk on my first book--the festival theme was "The Body"), was a total blast.
2. At lunch with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, my interlocutor for the second event ("program" as the CHF folks call them), he seemed a little distracted at first until I started talking about my presentation as a way to answer his agent's question about what the CHF is all about, and then he sat forward in his chair.
3. [With apologies to FB friends for the repeat]: as I explained that I presented on my first book about the intersections between rhetoric and athletics and ancient Greece, how training in oratory resembled training in wrestling, KAJ cocked his head and said, "you mean like when Demosthenes put gravel in his mouth to practice his speeches?"
6. The time leading up to the interview--from the dead time in the "green room" to final instructions from the walkie-talkied production assistant to turn on our mikes-- gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to be on television. And it was not unlike waiting to run out for warmups before a big game (except I was waiting with KAJ who was wearing a tie and sportcoat, and there were no basketballs in sight).
7. The interview was a total blast. The audience was riveted by this KAJ, and not just because he is a basketball legend (though there is that), but because he had so many thoughtful things to say about bodies: Eastern v. Western approaches to them; what he learned about Apache culture when he coached for a season at a Reservation High School; how John Wooden taught him that great things could be achieved without belittling people (LOVED that part of the discussion); how he made a deliberate decision to model his game on Bill Russell instead of Wilt Chamberlain (because Russell had the championships); how he researched his book on a battalion of black WWII veterans who uncovered grizzly scenes at Nazi camps; and how he started working on his skyhook in the fifth grade. (FIFTH GRADE.)
8. I had a hard time finding my "interview face." I think it looks a lot like the facial expression I have when graduate students talk in my seminar. But fortunately, people were not there to look at my interview face.
9. One of my favorite moments came during the Q&A when a woman asked him to talk more about his acting experience, e.g., the movie with Bruce Lee and his role in the Star Wars film. (He was not in a Star Wars film.) His response--"I think you might have me confused with another dashing black man, Samuel Jackson"--was both charming and hilarious, and even in its own way, humble. Great things can be achieved without belittling people, indeed.
10. After it was over, I got the motion from his agent to "get him out of there." Which meant I had to play the bad guy and wrest him away from the sweet little ladies showering him with presents and taking his picture.
11. And then it was back to my hotel, to my sweet, sweet baby girl (who loves to travel, incidentally), and home to a pile of work.