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The Walrus Talks about being human

By Lee Pepper on April 28, 2015

The magazine The Walrus, which presents commentary on Canadian culture and its place in the world, is bringing the latest installment of its Walrus Talks events to Ottawa this week.

At the National Gallery this Wednesday evening, eight speakers, including Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes, will speak for seven minutes each on various topics related to the evening’s (admittedly broad) theme, Being Human.  Past Walrus Talks have tackled themes including Energy, Play, and The Art of Conversation.

The series challenges audiences to look at a topic from a myriad of diverse points of view.  The format is a challenge for speakers, as well.  Zeynep Arsel, a Concordia professor who will be speaking on Wednesday about consumption and markets as aspects of the human condition, commented that “the challenge was to find a story that I could fit in a seven minute talk and and keep it relevant, interesting and not get overly academic”.  The Walrus has described the series’ goal as “for audience members to think “I never thought about it that way” when the Talks are over”.

Other speakers at Wednesday’s event include Mercédes Benegbi, a Canadian survivor of the thalidomide tragedy and executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, and Steven Mann, who has been described as the father of wearable computing and self-identifies as a cyborg.

The Walrus Talks events have drawn both praise and criticism since the series began. Some have praised the events’ lively and thought-provoking mixture of perspectives, while others have expressed concern that the corporate sponsors of the Talks, such as Labatt for the “Water” talk and Suncor, for the “Energy” talk, could affect the freedom and direction of the conversation.

The Walrus Talks series has proved to be an important aspect of The Walrus magazine’s continued survival in an age that has proved punishing for print publications.  In a 2013 Globe and Mail  article, Shelley Ambrose, co-publisher of The Walrus and executive director of The Walrus Foundation, commented that in that year, events such as The Walrus Talks generated about $1.3 million in revenue, with the annual budget of the foundation then being approximately $4.8 million.

The Walrus Talks: Being Human will take place at the National Gallery of Canada (380 Sussex Drive), Wednesday, April 29th, 2015, at 7pm.  Tickets for the event are $20, or $30 with a years’ subscription to The Walrus, and are available through Eventbrite.  At time of writing, the event is close to being sold out, but will also be live-streamed at thewalrus.ca/live.