CHICAGO—School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) alum and New York Times-bestselling author Sarah Vowell (MA 1999) spoke on campus on October 29 as part of SAIC’s Visiting Artists Program. The lecture was presented in partnership with the Chicago Humanities Festival.
Vowell’s irreverent and hilarious explorations into American history and politics have won her a large and devoted readership—and Vowell wasn’t shy on Thursday about delivering quips about politics, art school and researching the French to the audience of nearly 900 people.
Vowell read from her new book, “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States,” a lively and insightful portrait of Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette who crossed the ocean as a teenager to join George Washington’s army.
Whether it’s her pull toward historical figures like Lafayette, her love of Star Wars or the bold decision to write her SAIC thesis on the anti-art movement Fluxus, Vowell said she is “drawn to the unruly group.”
“I guess the fancy way would be to say that these things are about freedom and community,” she says.
Vowell is the author of six nonfiction books, including “Assassination Vacation,” “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” and “The Wordy Shipmates.” By examining the connections between the American past and present, she offers personal, humorous accounts of everything from presidents and their assassins to colonial religious fanatics as well as thoughts on Native Americans, utopian dreamers, pop music and the odd cranky cartographer.
Vowell was a contributing editor for the public radio show “This American Life” and was one of the original contributors to McSweeney's. She has been a columnist for Salon.com, Time and San Francisco Weekly and continues to write occasional essays for the opinion page of The New York Times. Vowell has also made numerous appearances on the “Late Show with David Letterman, “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” She is the voice of teen superhero Violet Parr in Brad Bird's Academy Award–winning “The Incredibles,” a Pixar Animation Studios film.
About the School of the Art Institute of Chicago
For 150 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has been a leader in educating the world’s most influential artists, designers and scholars. Located in downtown Chicago with a fine arts graduate program ranked number two by U.S. News and World Report, SAIC provides an interdisciplinary approach to art and design as well as world-class resources, including the Art Institute of Chicago museum, on-campus galleries and state-of-the-art facilities. SAIC’s undergraduate, graduate and post-baccalaureate students have the freedom to take risks and create the bold ideas that transform Chicago and the world—as seen through notable alumni and faculty such as Michelle Grabner, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Hunt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cynthia Rowley, Nick Cave and LeRoy Neiman.