The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park Campus is sponsoring a signature Black History Month event as award-winning author and Mississippian Jesmyn Ward delivers a special presentation on Feb. 28.
Ward will present a lecture titled, “Black Excellence Celebration: A Journey to Prosperity” from 12:15 p.m. until 2 p.m. at the Fleming Education Center Auditorium on the Gulf Park Campus in Long Beach, Miss. Her visit will include a Question & Answer session facilitated by Dr. Whitney Martin, Assistant Teaching Professor English, as well as a book signing. The event is free and open to the public.
Ward is the author of several novels, including, “Where the Line Bleeds” and “Salvage the Bones,” winner of the 2011 National Book Award, and “Sing, Unburied, Sing,” winner of the 2017 National Book Award. She is the first woman and the first African American to win two National Book Awards for fiction.
Jessica Langston, Director of Student Engagement and Strategic Initiatives at USM Gulf Park, explains that Ward’s visit is the culmination of a student-led initiative spearheaded by Queliah Conway, a student employee in the Office of Student Affairs who serves as Vice President of Programming for the Gulf Park Student Government Association.
“Queliah worked to enhance the quality and scope of our continuous Black History programming throughout 2022,” said Langston. “With substantial support from Gulf Park staff and administration, she created a proposal and designed a slate of events centered around Jesmyn Ward’s work. Queliah then reached out to Ward’s team to invite the world-renowned author to campus for a lecture and book signing.”
Added Langston: “After successfully securing Ward’s attendance, Queliah implemented a plan to raise awareness among the student body. She collaborated with Student Affairs, the Academic Success Center, and the Gulf Coast Library to create a series of events designed to provide free copies of Ward’s novels and discuss her work in celebration of Black History on the Gulf Coast.”
When asked to describe the excitement of having an acclaimed novelist like Ward scheduled to speak at Gulf Park, Conway expressed satisfaction in the team effort.
“As a small, community-oriented campus, knowing how much you can accomplish with profound student determination and a supportive team is definitely exciting,” she said. “Having a renowned author visit our campus is an incredible accomplishment, and it makes this campus and our students feel seen, important, and heard. We now know that nothing is outside our reach, and we will continue to make impactful changes and support student initiatives on the Gulf Park Campus.”
Conway further notes that recognition of Black History will not end with Ward’s lecture on the final day of February.
“We have implemented Black History 365, as these underrepresented communities deserve more than just February. They deserve 365 days and beyond,” said Conway. “Jesmyn Ward is an example of black excellence, and it is fitting for her to kick off our Black History 365 programming. We have a strong start. Jesmyn Ward’s visit is only the beginning, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds.”
Ward received her master’s in fine arts from the University of Michigan and is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She also serves as editor of the anthology “The Fire This Time” and the author of the memoir “Men We Reaped,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
In 2022, the U.S. Library of Congress selected Ward as the winner of the Library’s Prize for American Fiction. At age 45, Ward is the youngest person to receive the Library’s fiction award for her lifetime of work.