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Mississippi Humanities Council Honors Oxford Author Alysia Burton Steele

Destiny Docu-Series: Alysia Burton Steele from Redd Pen Media on Vimeo.

As reported by HottyToddy.com on Monday, Mississippi Humanities Council recently announced the recipients for its 2016 Public Humanities Awards, recognizing outstanding contributions by Mississippians to the study and understanding of the humanities.

For her book, Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom, Oxford resident and the University of Mississippi assistant professor in the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, Alysia Burton Steele was recently announced as winner of “Preserver of Mississippi Culture” by the organization.

Steele and the other winners will be honored at a public ceremony on Friday, February 12, at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, Mississippi.

Local author Alysia Burton Steele will receive the Preserver of Mississippi Culture award from the Mississippi Humanities Council on Feb. 12, 2016
Local author Alysia Burton Steele will receive the Preserver of Mississippi Culture award from the Mississippi Humanities Council on Feb. 12, 2016

HottyToddy.com reached out to Mrs. Steele to get her thoughts on the importance of the award and what it means to her as she moves forward, navigating the complex world of successful book publication.

HottyToddy.com: What was your initial mission and mindset as you began research for Delta Jewels?

Steele: I initially did this as a personal project because I missed my grandmother and one of my biggest regrets is never recording her voice or taking many photos of her. I just assumed I would have more time. I didn’t and I can’t bring her back, but I did decide that with my skill sets I could pay it forward and record other people’s grandmothers’ stories. So, I set out to do that and reached out to pastors. I was particularly close to Rev. Juan Self and Rev. Andrew Hawkins (who sadly passed away several weeks ago and that pain is still fresh because I realize I didn’t record enough of him). We never work alone, and in the end I had 19 pastors helping me in 27 Delta towns. It took a lot of people to come together to do this work and I’m so thankful people believed in it and, more importantly, trusted me.

HottyToddy.com: Delta Jewels has quite literally taken off and is being noticed by many – namely the recognition and award the Mississippi Humanities Council has recently bestowed. Thoughts?

Steele: The book is being well received and appreciated, and hearing from people telling me that my experience has inspired them to record their elders is the most rewarding thing – that and seeing the Delta Jewels’ faces sparkle when they are at a ceremony, book reading or just around and people ask if they are a Delta Jewel. The Jewels are anything but ordinary and these strong, beautiful women deserve all the praise they can receive. I am so grateful that Rolando Herts, Ph.D, Delta Center for Culture and Learning; Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area and the Mississippi Humanities Council saw value in my work. I partnered with Dr. Herts, the Delta Center and the MDNHA to share oral histories throughout the state and this has helped spread the message that our elders are important – and this transcends race, place and gender. I’d like to think everyone has someone special in their lives.

Oxford Author and UM assistant professor in the Meek School of Journalism, Alysia Burton Steele
Oxford Author and UM assistant professor in the Meek School of Journalism, Alysia Burton Steele

HottyToddy.com: Any additional thoughts as you prepare to receive this prestigious award? What are your plans moving forward?

Steele: My mission is to record, share and archive oral histories. I just love doing it. I started a nonprofit called Delta Jewels Support Fund, which was approved by the IRS in November. Now I need to apply and raise money for funding so we can help provide college scholarships to Mississippi students who record an audio story from an elder in their life and write an essay about it. Paying it forward is critical and I wanted to do this to honor the women featured in the book because education was so important to my family and to the Delta Jewels. I am also starting my next book on cotton across the south. More oral histories from male, female, White, Black, young, old – anyone who wants to share poignant stories. I have a waiting list of those wanting to share. It’s wonderful to know that I am being trusted. I’m still on tour for Delta Jewels. On March 13, 2016 I will be presenting oral histories with Rolando Herts and Mrs. Myrlie Evers will be joining me at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in D.C. The cover woman, Mrs. Campbell from Mound Bayou, will be with me as well. We are very excited about this opportunity.

An audio clip of Steele discussing Delta Jewels can be found here: https://vimeo.com/120191995.

The Mississippi Humanities Council invites all Mississippians to join them at their 2016 Public Humanities Awards ceremony and reception February 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson. A silent auction featuring Mississippi Miscellany will once again be featured.

For more information about Steele and Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom, visit www.alysiaburton.com.

Jeff McVay is a staff writer and graphic designer for Hottytoddy.com. He can be reached at jeff.mcvay@hottytoddy.com.

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