LEH Announces 2014 Humanities Awards

Walter Isaacson. Photo credit: Patrice Gilbert
Walter Isaacson. Photo credit: Patrice Gilbert

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has named journalist and author Walter Isaacson as its 2014 Humanist of the Year. Isaacson and other recipients will be honored at the Humanities Awards on Saturday, March 29th, 12:30 p.m., at the Audubon Tea Room in New Orleans.

The Humanities Awards are sponsored by IBERIABANK. Tickets to the awards luncheon are $125 per person, with special discounted $90 tickets for young professionals and tables available for sponsorship. Tickets go on sale Feb. 12th. Click here to purchase tickets online, or mail a check to the LEH at:

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities                                              Awards Event                                                                                                                      938 Lafayette Street, Ste. 300                                                                                New Orleans, LA 70113

For media credentials or additional information on this year’s awardees, contact Brian Boyles at boyles@leh.org or 504.620.2632.

See below for the names of all of this year’s awardees!

Humanist of the Year

the-steve-jobs-biography-is-the-best-selling-book-of-the-year-for-amazonWalter Isaacson of Washington, D.C. – Born in New Orleans in 1952, Isaacson is the president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan educational and policy studies institute based in Washington, DC. He has been the chairman and CEO of CNN and the editor of TIME magazine. Isaacson is the author of the best-selling biographies Steve Jobs (2011), Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003), and Kissinger: A Biography (1992), and coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986).

Isaacson is a graduate of the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, Harvard College and of Pembroke College of Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He worked as a journalist for the Sunday Times of London and the New Orleans States-Item and Times-Picayune. In 1996 Isaacson became the 14th editor of TIME magazine and was hired as chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001. For the past decade, he has served as CEO of the Aspen Institute. He is chair emeritus of Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in underserved communities. He was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate to serve as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasts of the United States, a position he held until 2012. He is vice-chair of Partners for a New Beginning, a public-private group tasked with forging ties between the United States and the Muslim world. He is on the board of United Airlines, Tulane University, and the Overseers of Harvard University. From 2005-2007, after Hurricane Katrina, he was the vice-chair of the Louisiana Recovery Authority. In 2012 Isaacson was selected as one of the TIME 100, the magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In May he will deliver the 2014 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the Humanities

Recent recipients of the Humanist of the Year Award were scholar and educator William Pederson, Ph.D., author and scholar Patricia Brady, Ph.D.; scholar and historian Dana Kress, Ph.D.; musician and scholar Michael White, Ph.D.; scholar Barry Ancelet, Ph.D.; historians Stephen Ambrose, Ph.D., Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Ph.D., and Douglas Brinkley, Ph.D.; novelists Ernest Gaines and Richard Ford; educator and musician Ellis Marsalis; and art historian Richard Gruber, Ph.D.

Lifetime Contribution to the Humanities

PHOTO_OF_PEGGY_SCOTT_LABORDEPeggy Scott Laborde of New Orleans – A native of New Orleans, Laborde has dedicated her life to documenting the history, culture and traditions of her hometown. Through her work as a reporter, filmmaker and producer, she is an invaluable contributor to the cultural life in the city through her research and generosity, providing an ever-growing audience with intimate portraits of subjects ranging from the history of Mardi Gras to the evolution of jazz.

Laborde was a founder of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and remains a board member, providing steadfast support to the festival. As a senior producer for New Orleans’ PBS station, WYES-TV, she has produced more than 40 broadcast documentaries on local history, including popular films on the cuisine, nightlife, neighborhoods and carnival krewes of New Orleans. She served as a reporter at WDSU-TV, general manager of WLAE-TV, and continues as host of the long-running “Steppin’ Out” talk show on WYES, where she convenes local news personalities to discuss recent and upcoming events in New Orleans culture. Her three books captured the idiosyncratic pasts of local eateries, Christmas celebrations, and Canal Street. A former board member of the Arts Council of New Orleans and the Mid-City Neighborhood Association, Laborde is an invaluable presence in the cultural life of New Orleans.

Humanities Documentary Film of the Year

bayou-maharajah-the-tragic-genius-of-james-booker_zps41973b34Bayou Maharajah by Lily Keber of New Orleans – This intimate portrait provides an essential biography of one of New Orleans’ most revered musicians, weaving new scholarship, unseen concert footage, and revealing interviews into a thorough narrative that places Booker in the grand tradition of New Orleans piano players. Director Lily Keber portrays Booker through the eyes of his friends, admirers and fellow musicians, emphasizing the troubled life and prevailing genius of an artist who combined strands of gospel, boogie-woogie and jazz. The film received awards from the New Orleans Film Festival and the South By Southwest Film Festival, and continues to tour festivals internationally.

Michael P. Smith Memorial Award for Documentary Photography

sexton portraitRichard Sexton of New Orleans – Photographer Richard Sexton combines artistry, storytelling and powerful evocations of the past to create work that reflects the rich landscape of Louisiana. His portrayals of the people, buildings and soil of the Gulf South follow in the path of the late Michael P. Smith, for whom the LEH award is named.

Sexton’s books include New Roads and Old Rivers: Louisiana’s Historic Pointe Coupee Parish (2012); Destrehan: The Man, The House, The Legacy (2009); Gardens of New Orleans: Exquisite Excess (2000); Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Louisiana’s River Road (1999); and New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence (1993). In 2014 he will release Creole World, a book and exhibition sponsored by the Historic New Orleans Collection, examining connections between New Orleans, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

His photographs have been exhibited at numerous museums, including the New Orleans Museum of Art; the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi; the South Arkansas Arts Center in El Dorado, Arkansas; and the Julien Poydras Museum and Arts Center in New Roads, Louisiana. Sexton is a frequent contributor to Louisiana Cultural Vistas, the LEH’s quarterly magazine.

Presented in memory of the great New Orleans photographer, the Michael P. Smith Memorial Award for Documentary Photography was first given in 2009 to Lafayette documentary photographer Philip Gould.

2014 Humanities Books of the Year


A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies, by Marc-Antoine Caillot, edited by Erin M. Greenwald, published by the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC). A long-lost memoir from New Orleans’ earliest days, A Company Man is an intimate reflection on 18th century colonial Louisiana through the eyes of a young clerk, with observations on French governance, the slave trade, Native American culture and the natural history of the Gulf South. Erin M. Greenwald’s masterful editing of Caillot’s work resulted in a lasting contribution to our understanding of Louisiana.

The original handwritten and illustrated manuscript is believed to have languished in the library of a convent in France for well over a century before emigrating to Canada in 1939. The Historic New Orleans Collection purchased the book in 2004, and Greenwald spent five years researching and, as HNOC’s Jessica Dorman puts it, “playing international sleuth” to produce this engaging book. The Times-Picayune named A Company Man one of the Top 10 Books of 2013.

livestock brands

Livestock Brands & Marks: An Unexpected Bayou Country Historyby Christopher Everette Cenac, Sr., M.D., F.A.C.S., published by University Press of Mississippi. Dr. Cenac’s stunningly designed book provides a comprehensive account of the nuanced world of cattle ranching, an integral part of south Louisiana culture since the beginning of European settlement. Through substantive writing, previously unpublished images and photographs of recovered artifacts, Cenac conjures insights into the lives of farmers and families in Terrebonne Parish.

An orthopedic surgeon, Cenac wrote his first book, Eyes of an Eagle, by combing through courthouse documents for the original brand registration of his great grandfather. During this research, he uncovered ledger books that capsulized glimpses into the citizenry of the early agrarian foundations of the area. These ledgers are the basis for this landmark chronicle.

Chair’s Award for Institutional Support

The Zemurray Foundation – For its longstanding and generous support of the LEH, The Zemurray Foundation is this year’s recipient of the Chair’s Award for Institutional Support. Since 2004 the foundation has donated a total of $450,000 to the LEH, supporting both the landmark LEH Capital Campaign and the PRIME TIME family literacy program. The foundation’s support of PRIME TIME resulted in the creation of the first bilingual (Spanish/English) PRIME TIME Family Reading Time programs, which have been implemented nationally. More than 279 families were directly impacted by Zemurray’s support of PRIME TIME. A nationally recognized model, PRIME TIME is the longest running and most effective (i.e., “outcomes-based”) humanities-focused family literacy program in the nation.

Previous recipients include the Shell Oil Company, the Center for Louisiana Studies at University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the Helis Foundation of New Orleans, Phyllis Taylor, Friends of the Humanities of Lafayette, the Community Foundation of Shreveport-Bossier, the National Endowment for the Humanities, LSU Press, Jones Walker Law Firm, Hibernia Bank, Freeport McMoRan Inc., Louisiana Public Broadcasting and the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Public Humanities Programming:

Ashley Hardee Boudreaux and Debra S. Lee, M.Ed., N.B.C.T – Ashley Hardee Boudreaux, Education and Disabilities Facilitator of Sabine Parish Universal Preschool, and Debra S. Lee, M.Ed., N.B.C.T, Director of Federal Programs & Curriculum & Instruction at Sabine Parish School District have served as essential partners of the LEH’s PRIME TIME Family Reading Time. Sabine Parish School District has implemented more than 21 programs across the system since 2001. PRIME TIME is the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ national, award-winning family literacy program that serves low-income families throughout Louisiana and in many other states.

The tireless efforts of Boudreaux and Lee benefit the children and families who reside in the small, rural parish of 24,300 residents. Starting in the 2012-13 school year, and under their leadership, Sabine Parish School System has implemented 11 programs, reaching 150 families (425 individuals) under the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy (SRCL) grant and in partnership with the LEH. Sabine Parish was the first school system to recognize the benefits of collaborating with PRIME TIME to fulfill the mission of their schools and to compete for SRCL funding. The professionalism of school staff was a key to the success of this partnership.

LEH Deputy Director and PRIME TIME Director Miranda Restovic and Senior Consultant Faye Flanagan praised Lee and Boudreaux in their nomination letter: “Ashley, Debra and the PRIME TIME team members have brought humanities programming to families in this rural northwest Louisiana parish. The only way PRIME TIME can reach families around the state is to collaborate with professionals of this caliber.”

Individual Achievement in the Humanities

Stephen Webre, Ph.D., Louisiana Tech University – Dr. Webre is the Garnie W. McGinty Professor of History and Interim Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Louisiana Tech University. As a discussion leader in the LEH’s Readings in Literature and Culture (RELIC) adult reading series, he is a driving force for humanities programs in Ruston, Homer, Haynesville, Ringgold and Arcadia, with additional contributions made in Bossier City and Shreveport. He has led discussions of subjects ranging from contemporary Mexico to the history and culture of north Louisiana. In 2013 Webre led the “Muslim Journeys, American Stories” program, recently funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association.

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