Getting Personal: Matti Bunzl

Getting Personal: Matti Bunzl

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Melissa Merli chats with 42-year-old Champaign resident Matti Bunzl, a professor of anthropology and director of the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois. He also is the artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I usually get up at 5 a.m. First up is our darling pug, Elsa: She is always starving and needs to be fed. Then it's straight to the computer to get started on the day's work.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

Having come to the United States from Austria to go to college at the age of 19 and being able to make a fulfilling life here, with a wonderful relationship and a very happy career.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

I'm not sure we "own" our pets (it's more like the other way around), but insofar as we do, it would be Elsa.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

I enjoy The Food Channel an awful lot.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

Right now, I'm reading Janet Groth's "The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker," among a number of others I'm trying to read simultaneously. And it's hard to settle on a favorite book ever — but the book that most touched me in the last few years was Patti Smith's "Just Kids."

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I'm always looking forward to going to my hometown of Vienna, Austria. Fortunately, I get a chance to do so about three times a year.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

See above.

What's your favorite sports team?

I have to confess that I don't follow sports very closely. But I do keep up with soccer, and I suffer with Austria's perennially losing national team.

What would you order for your last meal?

Wiener schnitzel.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

If we are going in that direction, my fantasy would be the other way around. I would have loved to live in Vienna, circa 1900, to hang out with folks like Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

Classical music is my thing, especially opera. My favorites are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. As to musicians, I was never more moved than by legendary soprano Jessye Norman.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

Meeting my partner, Billy, the first week of graduate school, fall 1993.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

I'd go with a group of favorite historians, perhaps Omer Bartov, Dan Diner and Timothy Snyder to discuss our current geopolitical moment in the larger sweep of history. And I'd serve some tasty carryout.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?


What's your best piece of advice?

Be passionate about what you do. If you're not, do something else.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I am proud to say that the only real job I have ever had is professor of anthropology at the UI. I came right after graduate school in the fall of 1998. And given the hours I kept that first year, I'm guessing I made around $10 an hour.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

Coming to the University of Chicago for graduate school. It set me on the path I'm still on.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

I lived without a dog for far too long.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Not always well.


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