Each November the Chicago Humanities Festival brings to town an embarrassment of intellectual riches for ten days (plus some bonus events in October) of lectures, discussions, performances, and more. In honor of this year’s theme—”Animal: What Makes Us Human”—we posed to some of these thinkers an embarrassment of a question, which you may remember from summer camp: If you were an animal, what would you be, and why?

A few of them even responded.

Delia Ephron, author, screenwriter, playwright
I don’t want to be a wild animal because I’d have to live in the wild. The wild is overrated. Zoos are captivity, basically a life sentence and I don’t want that for sure. So then something domestic, but . . . I don’t even want to be my own dog, although my dog has a very good life, still he does have to sit and stay. I don’t want to be bossed around. A cat’s life seems closest to a writer’s life, sort of introverted and independent. But I’m a dog person. How can I want to be a cat?

“Delia Ephron: Sister Mother Husband Dog,” Sun 10/13, 2-3 PM, Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium, $15

Junot Diaz, author
I’d be a mongoose of course. Because they’re immigrants like me and supercurious too. And they don’t fear snakes.
“Junot Diaz: This Is How You Find Him,” Sun 10/13, 6-7 PM, Northwestern University, Cahn Auditorium, $15.

Gil Stein, Oriental Institute director
I have to admit that I don’t have a personal favorite animal I would like to be. But I can tell you what Winston Churchill said: “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
“Different Foods = Different Dudes: A Primer in Zooarchaeology,” Sun 10/20, 5-6 PM, University of Chicago Law School, $8.

Holly Hughes, performance artist
I’m definitely the smallest of the working terriers. That would be the Norfolk terrier, BTW, but I’m known for getting myself dirty, for going to ground, which is to say I like to follow a trail of something ugly and smelly down a deep dark hole and I like to make a lot of noise while I’m doing it.
“On the Edge of Your Seat With Holly Hughes and Deke Weaver,” Mon 11/4, 7:30-10 PM, venue TBD, $25.

Martina Navratilova, tennis pro and gay rights activist
I would want to be a duck—I could walk reasonably, swim like a penguin, and fly extremely well 🙂
“Martina Navratilova: Match Point,” Sat 11/9, 10-11 AM, UIC Forum, $20.

Susan Orlean, author
I have a slightly embarrassing answer. I always imagined I’d be a squirrel. Not a glamorous animal, but 1) they jump so well it’s almost as if they can fly, but they aren’t birds (I like birds, but I think it would be exhausting to be a bird). 2) Clever, if somewhat annoying. 3) Bushy tails.
“Susan Orlean on Rin Tin Tin,” Sun 11/10, 11 AM-noon, Art Institute of Chicago, Fullerton Auditorium, $8.

Nicholson Baker, author
(1) I’d like to be an ancient tree with hundreds of inner rings, but that isn’t the question, is it? I guess I’d like to try out being one of those crazy communal sponges that are really whole civilizations, but I’d like to be a bit smarter than a sponge—maybe a sponge but with the agility of a mountain goat, and the patience of an orangutan, and the body of a heron, and the morals of Lassie, always doing good works.

(2) I’d probably end up being a chicken laying eggs all over the place—a free-range chicken. Seems creative. And when the time came they’d chop off my head and I’d run around and freak everyone out.
“Nicholson Baker: Delighting in the Details,” Sun 11/10, 1:30-2:30 PM, Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, $10.

Find a full schedule, plus venue information, online at chicagohumanities.org.

—Compiled by Aimee Levitt and Sam Worley