Contemporary Thoughts Speaker Series (CTSS) hosted a conversation with Pulitzer Prize winning essayist and author Hilton Als, moderated by E. Patrick Johnson, the Carlos Montezuma Professor of African American Studies and Performance Studies, on Monday at Harris Hall. The speakers sparked an engaging dialogue about the relationship between gender, sexuality and race and the arts

Photo by Kalen Luciano / North by Northwestern

CTSS brings speakers such as Als and Johnson to campus each year. These speakers are meant to foster a stronger intellectual community among Northwestern undergraduates.

“Our goal is to bring speakers to campus that we think would spark interesting dialogue among students,” said Medill junior and CTSS co-chair Amanda Gordon. “We really love having the chance to bring speakers that we think Northwestern students would be excited about and speakers who are really on the cusp of intellectual thought and social change.”

Als used his background in reporting, curating exhibits and writing novels about the intersections between race, gender and sexuality to develop a conversation around these ideas. This was illustrated in Als’ discussion of two of his books: The Women, a story about both famous women and women in his personal life that analyzes the role of sexual and racial identities, and White Girls, a story that explores these identities through the art of diverse figures such as Flannery O’Connor and Malcolm X.

Beyond the exploration of sexual and racial identities in his work, Als discussed his role as a Black theater critic at The New Yorker, a predominantly white publication. “To have the magazine make room for different voices was how I used my race,” he said. “I made the institution pay attention to race.”

“I think it’s really important to be able to hear other Black writers come to the community, and I think it’s really important to show up, show support and just try to learn as much as possible,” said Quinn Hughes, a sophomore from Evanston Township High School.