Recognizing and honoring genius
Knowing who someone was is one thing. Recognizing them for who and what they were is another. Mississippi is known for many things, good and bad, but when it comes to the top legends of all times, Mississippi surpasses all. Whether it's music, literature, drama, or the visual and culinary arts, at least one Mississippian sits comfortably in the top ten. Some time ago, the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center's presented Walk of Fame Stars to the family/representatives of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty. I was honored, surprised and somewhat intimidated to write and present the Stars because all three Mississippi legends own a piece of my heart due to their ability to imagine, create and develop literary masterpieces and then share them with me and the rest of the world. I'm in awe of their genius!
I thought it appropriate to begin my first blog with these three icons and the script I wrote to present these Walk of Fame stars.
William Cuthbert Faulkner, born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi, departing this life on July 6, 1962, is still considered one of the world’s most highly acclaimed authors of all time.
In 1946, the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award selected three finalists. Manly Wade Wellman won 1st place. William Faulkner won 2nd. Nevertheless, coming in 2nd would be the exception rather than the rule for William Faulkner, the only Mississippi writer to ever receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1949, when presenting the Nobel Prize, Swedish Academy Member Gustaf Hellström had this to say about William Faulkner:
“With almost every new work Faulkner penetrates deeper into the human psyche, into man's greatness and powers of self-sacrifice, lust for power, cupidity, spiritual poverty, narrow-mindedness, burlesque obstinacy, anguish, terror, and degenerate aberrations. As a probing psychologist he is the unrivalled master among all living British and American novelists.”
Faulkner donated a portion of his Nobel winnings to establish a fund to support and encourage new fiction writers. This noble gesture became the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Another portion established a scholarship fund to assist African-American education majors at Rust College in Holly Springs. Among his vast literary awards were 2 Pulitzers and 2 National Book Awards. In 1987, The U. S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor.
In his Nobel Prize speech, Faulkner said: I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.
Eudora Alice Welty was born April 13, 1909 and departed this world on July 23, 2001. She described her childhood in Jackson, Mississippi as idyllic with brothers, Edward and Walter, and parents, Chestina and Christian Welty. She admitted having a sheltered life, but she also claimed: “A sheltered life can be a daring life, for all serious daring comes from within.”
Her short stories appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’a Bazaar, Atlantic Monthly, and The Southern Review. Listed among the greatest of American writers, she received the National Medal for Literature, The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for the Novel, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was selected as the first living author to have her works published in the Library of America series. She lectured and taught at numerous colleges and received many honorary degrees for her literary work.
Human interest stories spoke loudly through Eudora’s photographs; snapshots, she called them, a moment in time. These photographs were called “intensely human,” and Welty was labeled “a passionate observer.” But to Eudora, photographs weren’t enough to tell the whole story and therefore used her writing to part the veil between people, not in images, but in what comes from inside, in both subject and writer. Welty’s multi-faceted characters, her animated descriptions, her unique situations, and her southern settings were unsurpassed by any other writer. She once remarked:
“Greater than scene is situation. Greater than situation is implication. Greater than all of these is a single, entire human being, who will never be confined in any frame.”
No better description can describe Eudora Welty herself.
Born in Columbus, Mississippi on March 26, 1911 to Edwina and Cornelius Williams, Thomas Lanier Williams, best known as Tennessee Williams, was considered one of America's major mid-twentieth-century playwrights, applauded for his powerful character-driven plays, like The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
The height of Williams’ career spanned the 1940s and ‘50s when he worked with the era’s premier artists, including producer/director, Ilia Kazan. By 1945, The Glass Menagerie had opened on Broadway and it won the New York Critics Circle, The Donaldson, and Sidney Howard Memorial awards. In 1948, he was the first playwright to receive the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the Donaldson Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in the same year for “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In 1955, he won the Pulitzer for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Williams once said: “Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it.... Success is shy - it won't come out while you're watching.”
A master of dramatic moments with tormented characters struggling for respect and hope in a world that denied both, Williams's repertoire includes over 25 full-length plays, numerous short plays, poetry, essays, and short stories. Named a Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Williams accumulated many awards, including 4 New York Drama Critics Awards; 3 Donaldsons; 3 Tony Awards; the New York Film Critics Award; a Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club; the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. In 1994, The U. S. Postal Service honored Tennessee Williams on a stamp. He departed this world on February 25, 1983.
The MAEC Walk of Fame is located in Meridian, MS. It begins in front of the MSU Riley Center and is making its way to the location of the future MAEC building located on the corner of 22nd Avenue and Front Street.
The establishment of a Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center was approved in 2001 by the state legislature. The Center’s purpose is to capture the essence of Mississippi’s legacy in the arts and to celebrate the richness and depth of that legacy and the Mississippians who created it.
“Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Albert Camus
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mahatma Gandhi
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
" How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Matthew 7:4-5
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