“It is fitting that The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was chosen, as it is the seminal publication on everything MIAL recognizes through our award categories each year,” said George Bassi, MIAL president and director of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel. “The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture richly deserves this statewide acknowledgement for a publication of not only regional but national importance.”
Since 1978, MIAL has aimed to determine the elite in fiction, nonfiction, visual art, musical composition, photography and poetry. These works are all published, exhibited or presented in the previous year, and out-of-state judges decide the winners in each category. The MIAL Special Achievement Award is given from time to time to distinguish something monumental in the arts and letters for the state, and this year’s Special Achievement Award is only the fifth one awarded in the organization’s 34-year history.
“The original Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was such a groundbreaking success that it would be untruthful to say that I didn’t feel the pressure and responsibility to have this New Encyclopedia series live up to that standard,” managing editor Jimmy Thomas said. “I’m beyond pleased that it is being considered a worthy successor to the original volume.”
Of course, the encyclopedia’s publication didn’t happen due to the effort of only one person. Many people, including Center faculty, staff, alumni and friends, played a role.
“While the Center is the institution that is receiving this award, the project really was a collaborative effort,” Thomas said. “We had so many dedicated volume editors and scholars working on this project every day for around 10 years. Some of the best minds in the South offered their knowledge and effort to make this series a touchstone of Southern studies scholarship.”
Other MIAL award winners include UM Assistant Professor of English Derrick Harriell, who won the poetry award for Ropes, about the lives of black boxers in America; and two former UM Grisham Writers in Residence: Steve Yarbrough, for his book The Realm of Last Chances, and Jesmyn Ward, for her work of nonfiction Men We Reaped: A Memoir; and UM Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art William Beckwith, who received the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award.
The awards banquet takes place June 7 in Jackson.
by Rebecca Lauck Cleary, April 21, 2014