The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana Billy Nungesser, has selected musician, composer and educator Terence Blanchard as the 2020 Humanist of the Year.
The award, which has been given annually since 1985, is part of the state humanities council’s effort to honor individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to the study and understanding of the humanities. Blanchard and the other award winners will be honored on May 7, 2020, at the LEH Bright Lights Awards Dinner in New Orleans.
An award-winning composer, arranger and performer, Blanchard also works with young musicians as a teacher and mentor. His second opera, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” based on the memoir by New York Times journalist and Louisiana native Charles Blow, will be the first opera by a black composer staged at the New York Metropolitan Opera.
In 2018, Blanchard received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score for the Spike Lee film “BlacKkKlansman.” A native of New Orleans, Blanchard studied at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and Rutgers University. He is an internationally recognized authority on jazz and a faithful supporter of music education.
In addition to Blanchard, the LEH honors these individuals and organizations as 2020 awardees:
Chair’s Award for Institutional Support: Walton Family Foundation
The Walton Family Foundation is the family-led foundation of the founders of Walmart, focused on supporting initiatives tied to K–12 education, the environment and quality of life issues in the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta. In 2017 the Walton Family Foundation awarded the LEH a $198,150 grant to support a two-year, statewide initiative documenting and exploring the challenges faced by Louisiana’s coastal communities. The foundation’s generosity has allowed the LEH to become a leader in the environmental humanities, a crucial area of study for Louisiana.
Champion of Culture Award: LSU Press
Now in its 85th year, LSU Press is one of the nation’s most well-regarded and oldest university presses, specializing in peer-reviewed scholarly nonfiction, general-interest trade publications, fiction and poetry collections. Long a valued source for Louisiana-related publications, especially those dedicated to the state’s history and culture, books published by LSU Press have won countless national and international awards, including four Pulitzer Prizes. In an era that has witnessed significant downsizing in the publishing world, LSU Press has not only maintained its commitment to acquiring and publishing more than 70 high-quality titles per year, it has continued to grow its publication fields to reflect broader changes in academia and public interest.
Humanities Book of the Year: Solitary: My Story of Transformation and Hope by Albert Woodfox
Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement in the notorious Angola prison, all for a crime he did not commit. Woodfox’s survival was a feat of extraordinary endurance against the violence and deprivation he faced daily. That he was able to emerge whole from his odyssey within America’s prison and judicial systems is a triumph of the human spirit, and his book is a clarion call to reform the inhumanity of solitary confinement in the US and around the world.
Humanities Documentary Film of the Year: Mossville: When Great Trees Fall
Directed by Alexander Glustrom; produced by Daniel Bennett, Katie Mathews and Catherine Rierson
Mossville, Louisiana, founded by formerly enslaved people and inhabited into the 21st century by their descendants, is a community rich in natural resources and history. But Mossville no longer resembles the town it once was. Now surrounded by 14 petrochemical plants, Mossville is the future site of South Africa-based chemical company Sasol’s newest plant. Mossville: When Great Trees Fall—by the same director behind 2015’s Big Charity—captures the community’s struggle to let go of their ancestral home and highlights one man’s refusal to abandon his home to industrial encroachment.
Museum Exhibition of the Year: per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana
By Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University
per(Sister): Incarcerated Women of Louisiana was the result of more than three years of Newcomb Art Museum staff working with scholars, humanists, artists, activists, consultants, non-profit organizations and individuals directly impacted by Louisiana’s high incarceration rates, the 19th highest in the world for women. The exhibition combined artwork, personal narrative, performance and critical analysis to put human names, faces and stories to the dehumanizing numbers behind Louisiana’s female incarceration statistics.
Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography: Charles M. Lovell
Charles M. Lovell is a longtime photographer, who began practicing full time in 2015, following a career as a museum professional and gallerist. His work has been shown in over 25 solo and over 60 group exhibitions and can be found in multiple museum and archival collections, including the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina; El Paso Museum of Art in Texas; The Historic New Orleans Collection; New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation; and others.
Light Up for Literacy Award: Dr. Lynn Clark
Presented in partnership with the State Library of Louisiana’s Center for the Book
Lynn Clark first started on the path to making lasting contributions to literacy efforts as a middle school teacher working in Louisiana public schools. Since 2014, Clark has served as Executive Director of the Children’s Coalition of Northeast Louisiana. Under her stewardship, the organization has opened additional Head Start centers, and developed new programs, such as Literacy Plus, a partnership with the Monroe Housing Authority, Capital One Bank and the LEH that provides literacy programs to bridge the gap between home and school.
Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities Award:
Linda and Bertney Langley
Bertney Langley, a Coushatta storyteller and traditional cultural advisor, and his wife, Linda, a retired anthropology professor from McNeese State University who serves as the Coushatta Tribe’s historic preservation officer, have dedicated their lives to the preservation of Coushatta culture, history and language. Their efforts have not only secured the Coushatta Tribe’s place within the larger Louisiana historical narrative but have also brought national attention to the state through their educational initiatives.
Warren Perrin has long been active in promoting historical recognition of the history, culture and contributions of Acadians, including fighting for and winning recognition from Queen Elizabeth II of the wrongs committed by the British during the Acadians’ expulsion from Canada. Perrin is also an author and a prominent supporter of French language revitalization efforts in Louisiana, serving for 16 years as president of the Council on the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) and supporting the creation of language scholarships at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Awards Selection and Presentation
The LEH seeks public nominations for six of the Humanities Awards—Humanities Book of the Year, Documentary Film of the Year, Museum Exhibition of the Year, Light Up for Literacy, the Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography and Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities. Each award is selected by a special committee made up of local experts in the field and LEH staff and board members. The Humanist of the Year, Champion of Culture and Chair’s Award for Institutional Support are nominated and chosen in-house by members of the LEH board of directors.
Join the LEH and Lt. Governor Nungesser for the 2020 Bright Lights Awards Dinner, which will be held on May 7, 2020, at the Capital on Baronne in New Orleans. Tickets to the Bright Lights Awards Dinner are $150 per person with tables available for $1,500 ($2,500 sponsorship level) per table of ten. Please email Jena Schindler at firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets or table reservations. Full program details, including program schedule and entertainment, will be announced early next year.