Maltz Performing Arts Center exterior at night

CWRU announces 2017-18 Think Forum lecture series schedule

Composite photo of four scheduled speakers

Lineup features storytelling biologist, award-winning authors, education pioneer

From a scientist who studied human behavior by living among African baboons, to a pioneer in providing access to college and developing young leaders, to an award-winning author on American history, to the first Jamaican author to win a prestigious literary award, Case Western Reserve University’s Think Forum lecture series schedule for 2017-18 covers a vast and entertaining range of important and timely issues.

Think Forum, presented annually by Case Western Reserve, allows the campus community and Greater Cleveland residents to engage with prominent academic leaders and national experts; each presentation allows for a lively question-and-answer session with the audience.

All lectures are free and begin at 6 p.m.

The series returns this season to Silver Hall, the restored jewel inside the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, an iconic cultural center on the Case Western Reserve campus in University Circle.

Reserve tickets online at or by calling the box office at 216.368.6062.

The 2017-18 Think Forum schedule consists of two lectures this fall and two in March:

Thursday, Oct. 19: Robert Sapolsky

Photo of Robert Sapolsky
Sapolsky (Photo credit: Thompson McClellan Photography)

As a boy in New York City, Robert Sapolsky dreamed of living inside the African dioramas in the Museum of Natural History. By age 21, he made it to Africa and joined a troop of baboons to learn about stress and stress-related diseases in humans—because, like stressed-out people, stressed-out baboons have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hardened arteries.

And like people, baboons are good material for stories. Sapolsky’s gift for storytelling led The New York Times to suggest, “If you crossed Jane Goodall with a borscht-belt comedian, she might have written a book like A Primate’s Memoir,” Sapolsky’s account of his early years as a field biologist.

Sapolsky’s recently published book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (2017), explores the question of why humans are the way we are, and relates to the subject of his talk, “The Biology of Good and Evil.”

Tuesday, Nov. 28: Deborah Bial

This semester, Case Western Reserve welcomed its first group of “Posse” scholars, 10 first-year students from New Orleans enrolled in the university as part of a national program focused on youth-leadership development college access.

Photo of Deborah Bial

A trailblazer in educational access—especially for underserved communities—Deborah Bial is president and founder of The Posse Foundation in New York City. The title of her talk is “Diversity and Higher Education: Its Complicated Context.”

The Posse Foundation, a national initiative with chapters in Atlanta, the San Francisco area, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York and Washington, D.C., identifies public high school students with academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by the traditional college selection process. The organization sends groups of students to college together—as a Posse—for mutual support, with spectacular results.

Nearly 7,000 scholars have been chosen to attend top-tier colleges and universities nationally since the program began in 1989. In 2016, Case Western Reserve partnered with the foundation to recruit the 10 Posse students from New Orleans, who received full-tuition scholarships to enroll as part of the Class of 2021.

Joining Bial in conversation is Ithaca College President Shirley Collado, the first Posse alumna to become a university president. Case Western Reserve Trustee Scott Cowen, president emeritus and Distinguished University Chair at Tulane University and former dean of the Weatherhead School of Management, will moderate the discussion.

Wednesday, March 7: Jill Lepore (Callahan Lecture)

Photo of Jill Lepore
Lepore (Photo credit: Dari Michele)

Jill Lepore, the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker, teaches classes in evidence, historical methods, humanistic inquiry and American history. Lepore’s presentation is the F. Joseph Callahan Distinguished Lecture, presented with support from the Callahan Foundation.

Much of her scholarship explores absences and asymmetries in the historical record, with a particular emphasis on the histories and technologies of evidence and of privacy. As a wide-ranging and prolific essayist, Lepore writes about American history, law, literature and politics.

She is the author of many award-winning books, including The Name of War (1998), which won the Bancroft Prize; New York Burning (2005), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history; The Story of America (2012), which was short-listed for the PEN Literary Award for the Art of the Essay; Book of Ages (2013), a finalist for the National Book Award; and The Secret History of Wonder Woman (2014).

Thursday, March 29: Marlon James 

Marlon James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for A Brief History of Seven Killings, making him the first Jamaican author to take home the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary award.

Photo of Marlon James
James (Photo credit: Jeffrey Skemp)

He explores Jamaican history through the perspectives of multiple narrators and genres: the political thriller, the oral biography and the classic whodunit confront the untold history of Jamaica in the 1970s, with excursions to the assassination attempt on reggae musician Bob Marley, as well as the country’s own clandestine battles during the cold war.

The book also won the American Book Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Prize, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the Minnesota Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. James is adapting the work as an HBO television series.

In his presentations, James addresses topics related to writing and the writing process, issues related the history of the Caribbean, race and gender in the United States and United Kingdom, and youth subcultures in literature and music, such as hip-hop and reggae.

The Think Forum 2017-18 lecture series is presented with support and partnership from Marjorie and Scott Cowen, The City Club of Cleveland, the Callahan Foundation and Facing History and Ourselves.