• Paul Brissman
  • Marcus Samuelsson is one of the first speakers confirmed for this year’s Chicago Humanities Festival.

The Chicago Humanities Festival, to many minds (including this one) the very best of Chicago’s many, many festivals, announced this year’s theme this morning: Journeys.

“We’ve been wanting to do Journeys for a while,” says Matti Bunzl, the festival’s artistic director, via phone from Champaign where he’s a professor of anthropology and director of Jewish studies. “It’s our anniversary year, and we were thinking of the journey the festival has taken, from one day in 1990 to the biggest event of its kind. We’re very, very excited.”

There will be more than 80 events at this year’s festival, which will take place between October 25 and November 9, mostly in various cultural institutions downtown, but also at Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Bunzl and his team are currently researching, tracking down, and confirming the roster of speakers, which includes academics, novelists, artists, and chefs. The process, Bunzl says, involves a lot of wrangling in order to accommodate everyone’s schedule.

Bunzl and his team have already confirmed several major presenters, including graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (whose autobiographical Persepolis tells the story of her journey from Tehran to Paris), novelist Colm Tóibín (who has written about the journeys of Irish immigrants to America), jazz pianist Vijay Iyer (who incorporates musical elements from his journeys around the world into his work), and scholar Mary Louise Pratt (who has written the definitive study on travel writing). Bunzl, who is a big fan of the Food Network, is particularly excited about Marcus Samuelsson, the chef who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and now cooks in Harlem. “He embodies what we want to convey with the idea of journeys,” Bunzl says.

The full schedule of events will be released in August.

This will be Bunzl’s fifth festival. “I admired it for so long,” he says, “and now I’m part of it. It’s like a dream.”