Great Books Chicago Online 2021

Participants drove the success of this first-ever online event!

We held Great Books Chicago: Exploring Beauty online the weekend of February 26–28, 2021, and reviews were overwhelmingly positive. As participant Karen Hough said:

Great Books Chicago is such a unique experience. I participate in many other classes and groups. Nothing else measures up.

Dave Shafer (a participant and presenter) said:

The entire weekend was a stimulating three days while we wait for summer. I wondered, Why do this in February?, and now see that the timing was perfect.

We hosted 31 Great Books enthusiasts over three days, discussing novels, stories, and poems centering on the concept of beauty. Readings we considered in depth included:

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  • Appalachian Elegy by bell hooks
  • “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” by William Shakespeare
  • “An Essay on Aesthetics” by Roger Fry

Mining the Museum by Fred Wilson, a slide from Catherine Craft’s powerful presentation on beauty in art

Experienced Great Books trainers led all of the discussions, facilitating deep, thoughtful exchanges among participants. Eden Pearson remarked:

Both my discussion leaders were fantastic!

The weekend also featured three presenters, who spoke to aspects of beauty in different media:

  • Dave Shafer, on Euclid and mathematical concepts
  • Richard Cahan, on photography and perception
  • Catherine Craft, on modern artists’ responses to the idea of beauty

These presentations added new layers of meaning for participants to consider, and connected in multiple ways with the weekend’s readings. Participants worked together in both the discussions and presentations to ask questions and entertain multiple perspectives.

Participant Alissa Simon highlighted the importance of events like Great Books Chicago at this time:

These kinds of discussions are what America needs most right now. They provide a sort of cohesion and balance even when everyone is so different. Listening to a variety of ideas about a shared text is a simple way of forming respect for others. I look forward to the next one.

The next Great Books Chicago is scheduled for April 29–May 1, 2022, and we hope to be able to host it in person! We are planning to shape an unforgettable theme and weekend for you. We at the Great Books Foundation can’t wait to see you and to continue the great conversations we’ve been having for almost 75 years!