The Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Program
Founded in 2020 by Kiese Laymon, the Hubert H. McAlexander Chair and Professor of English, the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts and Justice Program will support and expand the literary arts in the lives of Mississippi’s children. The program will be a hub for a new “writers in the schools” program.
Catherine Coleman, Professor Laymon’s grandmother, was born in 1929 in Scott County, Mississippi. She worked in the fields of Scott County from the age of seven. While nearly all of her family left Mississippi during the Great Migration, Coleman believed that she had a right to live a dignified life on the Mississippi land she worked. Unable to finish high school with her class due to this necessary field work, Coleman earned her high school diploma through correspondence courses. While working as a domestic and a chicken plant line worker, she put her four children through college and made sure that three of them earned graduate degrees. All of her children and grandchildren went on to lives as teachers. An active member of Concord Missionary Baptist church, Coleman organized church-based summer arts programs for the children of Forest, Mississippi for decades until diabetes compromised her mobility.
The Catherine Coleman Arts and Justice Program seeks to honor and extend the tradition of Black woman like Catherine Coleman who, given the choice to leave Mississippi for dreams of northern freedom, chose to stay in Mississippi and make life better for the state’s children.
Graduate students at the University of Mississippi’s nationally ranked Creative Writing program in the Department of English will partner with teachers throughout Mississippi to lead workshops aimed at developing empathy and expanding imagination while improving the skills of reading, writing and revision. The graduate students will attempt to creatively connect students to Mississippi’s rich history of arts and justice while modeling intellectual and artistic curiosity.
Every year, at least forty students will be selected to participate in the Institute. Interested students will submit essays and a portfolio of their work. Graduate students will work with these students and their teachers to curate an artistic exhibitions in their hometowns. They will refine their artistic renderings for submission and/or presentation in Oxford. The program will facilitate these exhibitions and workshops, connecting students from all over our state. We will also collaborate with the McMullan Young Writer’s Summer Workshop in Jackson to have one week of Writing Camp for 30 interested eligible students.
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