OVERVIEW: Mississippi Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Activities

Current Initiative: Centennial Campfires National Partner: The Pulitzer Prizes Local Partner: Colleges and Universities, Foundations, K-12 Institutions, Nonprofits, Other Subject: African American/Black, History, Journalism, Other, Performing Arts, Varies Audience: All

The Mississippi Humanities Council created a three part series of events to celebrate the Pulitzer Prizes’ 100th anniversary. These programs included three panel discussions, a series of special projects related to Pulitzer winners, and a day-long symposium on the history of black press in the United States. Following is a description of those programs and events.

Pulitzer Prize & Mississippi Journalism

This was a series of three different programs in exploring the history of Mississippi’s Pulitzer winners for journalism. The first took place on January 21 at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park Campus.

  • The Pulitzer Prize in Mississippi: Responding to Natural Disasters (January 21)

This panel featured Natasha Trethewey, Stan Tiner, Charlie Mitchell, and Charles Overby, as the moderator, in discussion about journalism following natural disasters. Each journalist detailed what their process was for writing in post-disaster and shared personal experiences and excerpts of their work. 75 people attended this event.

  • The Pulitzer Prize in Mississippi: Editorial Writing in the Civil rights Era (March 22nd)

This panel featured Hodding Carter III and moderator Curtis Wilkie in discussion on the history of the Prizes in Mississippi, particularly during the civil rights movement. During this era, the Prizes went uncelebrated by Mississippi, ignoring the editorial wins for journalism that highlighted the issues in segregation and argued for equality.  More than 60 people attended.

  • The Pulitzer Prize in Mississippi: Journalism and Social Change (April 8th)

The final program in this series explored journalism and social change focusing on the critical role of journalists and editors during the Mississippi civil rights movement. The panel included Dr. Leslie McLemore, a former civil rights activist; Hank Klibanoff, author of “The Race Beat”;  Charles Overby, as moderator; and Fred Anklam, Mississippi Today editor. An estimated 100 people attended this panel.

The Literary Pulitzers in Mississippi

In partnership with six different organizations, MHC helped to fund a series of programs focused on literary Pulitzer Prize winners.

  • Albee, Woolf, and the Pulitzer (January 29th)

Dr. David Crespy, a professor of theater at the University of Missouri and president of the Edward Albee Society, spoke about the play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which was selected to win the 1963 Pulitzer for Theater, but was vetoed by the Pulitzer Board. This lecture followed a presentation of the play by the New Stage Theater. 50 attended this lecture.

  • Finding Creativity In Past Pulitzer Winners (February 27th)

Dr. Suzanne Marrs, a noted Eudora Welty scholar and David Sheffield, a Hollywood filmmaker, discussed the influence of Welty and William Faulkner on their work. The venue and host, Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, also created permanent photo gallery display, which featured photographs of the eight Pulitzer winners who have appeared at the celebration over the past 27 years, including Eudora Welty. 150 festival goers attended this program.

  • Oxford Conference for the Book (March 2016)

Two different lectures featuring Pulitzer-winning writers Sheri Fink and Edward Larson were given at the conference. Sheri Fink talked about Five Days at Memorial, her book about a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina. Edward Larson talked about the Scopes Monkey Trial, the subject of his Pulitzer-winning book Summer for the Gods.  About 125 people attended both programs.

  • Eudora Welty Foundation (May and June 2016)

The foundation, created a series of programs related to the writer’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Optimist’s Daughter. They produced an illustrated tour guide featuring photographs of artifacts in the Welty House and docents gave special Optimist’s Daughter tours of the home. Their monthly lunch program in May was focused on the book and Welty scholar Dr. Suzanne Marrs led a discussion about the book.

Mississippi Book Festival

The Mississippi Book Festival, in partnership with the Mississippi Humanities Council, sponsored two Pulitzer panels.

  • William Faulkner: His Life & Writings

This panel featured Robert Hamblin , author of Myself and the World: A Biography of W. Faulkner, Jay Watson author of Fifty Years After Faulkner, Thomas Inge, author of The Dixie Limited: Writers on William Faulkner, and Lorie Watkins Massey, author of William Faulkner, Gavin Stevens & the Cavalier Tradition.  More than 80 people attended this panel.

  • A Conversation with Jon Meacham

Jon Meacham joined moderator Rob Pearigen, president of Millsaps College, for a presentation on the Pulitzer Prizes and history. More than 160 festival goers attended this session held in the State Capitol.

Tennessee Williams Festival

This annual event focused on Williams’ Pulitzer winning play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  Pulitzer funds were used to stage a unique, interactive performance of scenes from the play preceded by a short talk about the play by Williams scholar Dr. Kenneth Holditch.  About 75 people attended this event, maximizing the amount allowed by the venue.

The Legacy of the Black Press

MHC also collaborated with Jackson State University to host Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Press, a symposium exploring the historical and contemporary role of black newspapers in the South. Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Press included two public panel presentations: one discussing the historical role of African American newspapers and a second addressing contemporary challenges and trends in black media. More than 75 people attended both panel events.

MAJOR PARTNERSHIPS INCLUDED:

  • Overby Center for Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi
  • Millsaps College
  • New Stage Theatre
  • Natchez Literary & Cinema Celebration
  • Oxford Conference for the Book
  • Eudora Welty Foundation
  • Mississippi Book Festival
  • Tennessee Williams Festival
  • Jackson State University

PROGRAMS AND EVENTS OCCURRED IN:

  • Jackson, MS
  • Oxford, MS
  • Hattiesburg, MS
  • Natchez, MS
  • Clarksdale, MS

PULITZER WINNERS IN ATTENDANCE:

  • Charles Overby, Public Service (1983)
  • Jon Meacham, Biography (2009)

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