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Bright Lights to be Held on April 4 at University of Louisiana at Lafayette

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (LEH), in partnership with Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, has selected former Louisiana poet laureate Darrell Bourque as the 2019 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. Bourque and the other award winners will be honored on April 4, 2019, at the 2019 LEH Bright Lights Awards Dinner in Lafayette.

“All of us at the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism are proud to commend Darrell Bourque on being chosen as Louisiana’s 2019 Humanist of the Year,” said Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser.  “Bourque epitomizes what it is to be a true humanist—not only does he share his gifts of poetry and creative writing with the world, but he’s also helped to nurture and mentor so many aspiring writers, poets and artists and has done so with empathy and devotion.”  

Bourque served as Louisiana’s second peer-selected poet laureate from 2007–2011, first appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and then reappointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. A native of Church Point in Acadia Parish, he earned a BA and MA in English at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and a PhD in English from Florida State University. He returned to USL as a professor, later serving as department head and director of creative writing, and has published twelve books of poetry, the most recent of which is if you abandon me, comment je vais faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook (2014). Bourque is also one of the founding members of Narrative 4, an international story exchange project that works to bring about social change by cultivating radical empathy in its participants.

“In Darrell Bourque, Louisiana has a native son who is the embodiment of a humanist. His work, whether his poetry or his numerous other cultural pursuits, points to a person firmly grounded in his community and driven by a deep concern for the value and dignity of all people. We are thrilled to celebrate him as the 2019 Humanist of the Year,” said Miranda Restovic, President and Executive Director of the LEH.

In addition to Bourque, the LEH honors these individuals and organizations as 2019 awardees:

Chair’s Award for Institutional Support

Dorothy Hanna, Rod Olson, and Mattie Olson are leading examples of how anyone of any means can have a lasting impact on the cultural landscape. A music teacher in Vinton for more than thirty years, Hanna, working in collaboration with her niece Mattie Olson and Mattie’s husband and LEH Board Member Rod Olson, made a significant gift to the LEH that facilitated the rebrand and relaunch of Louisiana Cultural Vistas and into the 64 Parishes brand. Hanna’s gift will also support the creation of teacher materials that focus on bringing the study of Louisiana’s musical legends into K-12 classrooms.

Gregory Kallenberg with his team at Prize Fest 2018. Photo by Jim Noetzel.

Champion of Culture Award

Gregory Kallenberg is the founder of the Louisiana Film Prize, a narrative film contest with a grand prize of $50,000—the largest short film prize in the world. Competing films must be shot in Northwest Louisiana, helping to grow the state’s film industry. The festival has led to the addition of the Music Prize and the Food Prize, all of which take place during Shreveport’s annual Prize Week.

A Cajun Girl’s Sharecropping Years by Viola Fontenot. Photo courtesy of University Press of Mississippi.

Humanities Book of the Year

A Cajun Girl’s Sharecropping Years, authored by Viola Fontenot and published by the University Press of Mississippi, follows Fontenot’s life as the daughter of a sharecropper in Church Point. Reliving various aspects of rural Cajun life, such as house chores, boucheries, fais do-do, and the classroom mantra of “I will not speak French on the school grounds anymore,” Fontenot brings a female perspective to a previously male-dominated understanding of sharecropping culture.

A Man and His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story, directed by Cameron Washington.

Humanities Documentary Film of the Year

Directed by Cameron Washington, A Man and His Trumpet: The Leroy Jones Story follows the legendary New Orleans trumpeter from his time as a 12-year-old in Danny Barker’s band to his stint with Harry Connick Jr. and beyond. Featuring interviews with Terence Blanchard, Herlin Riley, Connick, and others, A Man and His Trumpet shares with a wider audience what the greats have known all along: Leroy Jones possesses a sound unlike any other.

L. Kasimu Harris, “War on the Benighted #1,” 2015, featured in the 2019 Museum Exhibition of the Year, Changing Course: Reflections of New Orleans Histories at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Museum Exhibition of the Year

Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories, an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art, commemorated the New Orleans Tricentennial by focusing on the stories that don’t often get celebrated. Katrina Andry, Willie Birch, Lesley Dill, L. Kasimu Harris, Skylar Fein, the Everyday Projects, and Propeller Group each contributed art projects that focused on forgotten, emerging, or marginalized histories, encouraging visitors to think about evolution and change.

“Behind the Cypress” by Frank Relle, the 2019 winner of the Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography.

Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography

Frank Relle is a photographer living in New Orleans who is well known for his long-exposure night photography of the city, swamps, and bayous. His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana State Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 

Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell. Photo by Eddy Perez.

Light Up for Literacy Award

This award is presented in partnership with the State Library of Louisiana’s Center for the Book. Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell is the Cecil “Pete” Taylor Endowed Professor of Literacy and Urban Education at Louisiana State University. She is the author of several articles and books, the most recent of which is The Literacy Leadership Guide for Elementary Principals: Reclaiming Teacher Autonomy and Joy (2018).Post-Katrina, Sulentic Dowell created a service-learning project for pre-service teachers that led to the creation of classroom libraries for schoolchildren in New Orleans East.

Dr. Hiram F. “Pete” Gregory and Bel Abbey, a Coushatta traditionalist and teacher, spinning horsehair rope at Abbey’s house near Elton, LA in the late 1970s. Photo by Don Sepulvado.

Lifetime Contribution to the Humanities Award

Dr. Hiram F. “Pete” Gregory has spent his career working alongside American Indian groups based in and around Louisiana. In addition to teaching full-time at Northwestern State University for 55+ years, he is also the academic advisor of the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center and the curator for NSU’s Williamson Museum, which houses a collection of over 100,000 artifacts, including arts and crafts from 41 different tribes of the southeastern United States. In 2016, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development recognized him as Louisiana’s Archaeologist of the Year.

Join the LEH and Master of Ceremonies Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser for the 2019 Bright Lights Awards Dinner hosted at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Student Union on Thursday, April 4, at 6 p.m. Tickets begin at $150. Table sponsorships are available to interested parties. For more information, contact Mike Bourg at (504) 620-2482 or [email protected], or visit