Some 30 years have passed since that day, but Dan Atkinson still remembers heading to UC San Diego as a young man and listening to famed Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes speak on campus. While Atkinson was already intrigued by the rich art and culture of Mexico, Fuentes provided the spark for his never-ending attraction to the land south of the border.

“Fuentes opened a window into the life and psyche of contemporary Mexico,” Atkinson said. “This began a lifelong fascination for me with what we as Americans share with Mexico and what makes Mexico different from us. In this sense, Fuentes provided an essential lesson in how to approach understanding any other culture.”

Atkinson said it was “a very rich gift.” Now, he’s passing the power of intellectual thought to new generations as director of UCSD Extension’s Helen Edison Lecture Series.

Speakers throughout the past three years include luminaries such as author Pico Iyer, scientist J. Craig Venter, former Irish president Mary Robinson, and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Previous speakers include author Henry Louis Gates Jr, neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks, and social activist and actress Jane Alexander.

“These events are designed to give the general public and the UCSD campus community access to world leaders and leading artists and thinkers in a format that is lively and compelling,” Atkinson said.

The late philanthropist Helen Edison established the lecture series in the 1980s. Edison is perhaps best known for her tireless efforts to restore Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theatre after it was destroyed by an arson fire in 1978.

“She made a very generous gift that’s grown in size over the years,” Atkinson said. “It’s allowed us to host an incredibly distinguished set of speakers on the UCSD campus.”

The Helen Edison Lecture Series will welcome three remarkable speakers throughout the next several months:

Frank Bruni

7 p.m. on Oct. 29
UC San Diego Mandeville Theater

Frank Bruni wrote for The New York Times for almost two decades and is the author of a 2009 memoir titled “Born Round” and 2002’s “Ambling into History” about George W. Bush’s first campaign for the presidency. He is also co-author of 1993’s “A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.”

“He’s going to focus on an interesting and probably unintended side effect of our use of social media and web technology,” Atkinson said. “We’re being fed customized information based on all of our clicks and downloads. It’s getting to the point where people are not receiving the same information, and that is creating more of a politically and intellectually divided public.”

Bruni will talk about his misgivings about what this trend means for our society, Atkinson said.

Kevin Starr

7 p.m. on Dec. 2
UC San Diego Price Center East Ballroom

The former state librarian, Kevin Starr is the author of an award-winning multi-volume book series chronicling the Golden State’s cultural history, collectively called “Americans and the California Dream.”

Starr received the National Humanities Medal in 2006 and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2010. He was the very first person to be named state librarian emeritus in 2004.

As Balboa Park’s centennial celebration approaches next year, Starr will speak about the significance of the 1915 exposition that turned a plot of city land into a stunning attraction known around the world.

“He’ll discuss what the fair meant for the growth of San Diego and help us understand how the community evolved to become the city we love today,” Atkinson said.

Rebecca Goldstein

7 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2015
UC San Diego Price Center East Ballroom

Rebecca Goldstein is the author of this year’s widely praised book “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away,” which imagines a series of modern platonic dialogues by Plato himself.

The book’s “combination of historical scholarship, lively presentation, vernacular dialogue, and intellectual passion make it a unique achievement,” raves a Wall Street Journal reviewer. “Plato may have died over 2,000 years ago, but he lives on, vibrantly, in these piquant pages.”

All of the events in the Helen Edison Lecture Series are free and open to the public, no reservations required. The only cost will be for parking.

For more information about the upcoming lectures, visit UC San Diego’s Helen Edison Lecture Series website.

Watch free videos of previous lectures, here.

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