Published September 10, 2019
Christina Milletti, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of English and a 2019 Juniper Prize for Fiction winner, has been named executive director of UB’s Humanities Institute.
The institute is a multidisciplinary center within the College of Arts and Sciences that serves as one of the most important entities supporting and promoting the humanities in Western New York.
Milletti, whose three-year term began in July, succeeds Libby Otto, associate professor of art history and visual studies, whose term recently expired.
Milletti’s research interests include creative writing, the contemporary American novel, and experimental fiction, but this new role also brings her public humanities expertise to the institute and provides a broader vehicle to expand on the campus and community programming she has developed over 10 years curating the English department’s Exhibit X Fiction Series.
The series is a showcase for innovative fiction writers that brings the UB and Western New York communities together for a variety of programs that combine student meetings with visiting authors in class and free public readings at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center.
“My mission as a creative writer in the English department has been to take students into the community while, at the same time, inviting the community to meet the nationally renowned authors we bring to Buffalo,” says Milletti.
“Now, in my new role at the Humanities Institute, I have a chance to perform a similar pedagogy on an amplified scale. It’s fitting that, in my first year, the HI theme is ’Democracy.’ For me, it’s fundamentally important to find ways to pull communities together around educational opportunities that strengthen the public good.”
That experience and drive follows the creative arc HI Director David Castillo, a professor of Romance languages and literatures, has been developing since assuming directorship of the institute in 2016. The HI themes for the next three years are “Democracy,” “Utopia” and “Life.”
“Our democracy, simply put, is in crisis,” Milletti says, “and through events like the Humanities Institute Festival in September, we encourage campus and community representatives to collaborate and create a public think-tank like environment that considers art, philosophy, history and literature as critical platforms that can help make us all more self-aware citizens.”
For Milletti, the HI inspires a free flow of ideas and interests. It recognizes common activities and inspires unique conversations as a crystalized version of what cooperative groups can accomplish.
“The humanities are not separate from the community; they are the community,” she says. “Both campus and community, together, can offer critical interventions in a crisis or a challenge – that’s the core of the HI’s public humanities project, ‘Humanities to the Rescue.’”
Milletti particularly hopes to encourage participation in the HI from artists of all stripes during her term. As a working artist serving in an administrative capacity, she feels well equipped to do so.
Her fiction, articles and reviews have appeared in many leading journals and anthologies. Her novel “Choke Box: a Fem-Noir” received this year’s Juniper Prize for Fiction, an award presented annually by the University of Massachusetts Press to honor outstanding works of literary fiction.
“My specific corner of the arts is fiction, and I hope to highlight the critical perspective artists bring to the table,” she says. “One of the HI’s greatest assets is bringing scholars and artists to campus who fully captivate their audiences, encouraging them to venture creatively toward new perspectives and to embrace new ideas.”