Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Convene Reads: Life Itself

One of the fascinating things about this industry is that it's seemingly impossible to find its boundaries; there's always another epic, high-profile conference that's gone on for years but that somehow you've never heard of. Such as the Conference on World Affairs, which is the subject of an entire chapter in Roger Ebert's warm, generous new memoir, Life Itself:
For sixty-six years, this annual meeting at the University of Colorado has persuaded a very mixed bag of people to travel to Boulder at their own expense, appear with one another on panels not of their choosing, lodge with local hosts who volunteer their spare rooms, speak spontaneously on topics they learn about only after they arrive, be driven around town by volunteers, be fed at lunch by the university and in the evening by such as the chairman, Jane Butcher, in her own home. For years the conference founder Howard Higman personally cooked roast beef on Tuesday night. The hundreds of panels, demonstrations, concerts, polemics, poetry readings, political discussions, and performances are and always have been free and open to the public.
This reminds me of two things: the cover story in our January 2011 issue, which was all about "big-tent, big-idea conferences"; and the One on One interview with TED founder Richard Saul Wurman in this month's issue, in which Wurman discusses the importance of operating outside your comfort zone, because "you don't get your best work when you pursue comfort." That seems to be the approach that the big-tent, big-idea Conference on World Affairs inflicts on its speakers, and it resonated strongly enough with Roger Ebert that he attended -- and spoke there -- for 40 years.

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