MHC Acclaimed poet Natasha Trethewey to be honored at 2020 Public Humanities Awards


JACKSON — The Mississippi Humanities Council has announced recipients for its 2020 Public Humanities Awards, which recognize outstanding work by Mississippians in bringing the insights of the humanities to public audiences. These recipients will be honored at a public ceremony and reception Friday evening, March 27, at the Old Capitol Museum.

Former Mississippi and U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey will receive the Cora Norman Award in recognition of her distinguished career as a poet and writer. A native of Gulfport, Trethewey is the author of five collections of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard and the nonfiction book Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Throughout her career, Natasha Trethewey has used her art to give voice to people who have too often been overlooked, hidden from our traditional narratives. Her work is a testament to the power of truth and remembering in coming to terms with the weight of our history,” said Stuart Rockoff, executive director of the Mississippi Humanities Council. “We can’t think of a more appropriate person to honor with our Cora Norman Award, named after the founding director of the Council.”

In addition to honoring Trethewey, the MHC will also recognize: 

Humanities Scholar Award: Dr. James Giesen, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, for his work as the official scholar for the Mississippi tour of the Smithsonian Institution exhibit, “Waterways.”.

Humanities Partner Award: The Mississippi Book Festival for becoming the state’s preeminent literary event, fostering a love of reading among Mississippians young and old, and enriching the cultural life of our state.

Humanities Educator: Marta Smally for her work leading a bilingual family reading program at the public library in Horn Lake. As the co-organizer and discussion leader for the Luciérnagas reading program, Smally engages families in meaningful discussions about their lives, inspiring them to take pride in their cultural heritage while helping them feel connected to their new community.

Preserver of Mississippi Culture: Hawkins vs. Town of Shaw Project, which produced a play and a series of historical markers telling the story of a local freedom movement in the Mississippi Delta that culminated in a groundbreaking federal civil rights case. 

Also, the MHC will recognize 30 recipients of the 2020 Humanities Teacher Awards, which pay tribute to outstanding faculty in traditional humanities fields at each of our state’s institutions of higher learning.

“This year’s winners reflect Mississippians’ thirst for the humanities. The humanities can empower communities to preserve and share their important stories, help us understand the experiences of others, and enable us to put our own lives into a larger context,” said Rockoff. “Each winner is a wonderful example of our belief that the humanities are for everyone.”

Tickets for the Mississippi Humanities Council Public Humanities Awards ceremony and reception are $50 each and may be purchased online at or by sending a check to the Mississippi Humanities Council, 3825 Ridgewood Road, Room 317, Jackson, MS 39211. 

• The Mississippi Humanities Council is funded by Congress through the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide public programs in traditional liberal arts disciplines to serve nonprofit groups in Mississippi. The MHC creates opportunities for Mississippians to learn about themselves and the larger world and enriches communities through civil conversations about our history and culture.

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