Some of Mississippi’s finest artists were recognized on Thursday, Feb 26, at Galloway United Methodist Church, near the state Capitol in downtown Jackson.
John Grisham was among the six honorees receiving the 2009 Mississippi Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts.
The ceremony at Galloway Memorial United Methodist Church was peppered with laughs, applause and occasional references to the economy, funding cuts and good-natured political ribbing. But the real focus was the richness of Mississippi’s creative spirit.
“Mississippi rightfully claims its cultural heritage as one of its most important exports as well as attractions,” said Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, which coordinates the awards.
“The arts bring us all together – young, old, black, white, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, whatever – and we’re a wonderfully blessed state,” said Gov. Haley Barbour, who with his wife, Marsha, presented awards.
Grisham, noting that writers of popular fiction as opposed to literary fiction don’t get many awards, embraced his for literary achievement.
“Right now, I feel kind of smug to have this award, and Faulkner never got it,” he said, prompting laughs and claps.
The awards began in 1988, and former winners include Eudora Welty, Larry Brown, Willie Morris and more.
“Why do so many writers come from Mississippi? This has baffled people far smarter than me. But I know the answer: There’s so much good material here,” Grisham said.
“Our history is unique, it is colorful, it is at times sad, tragic, tumultuous, violent and bloody,” the best-selling author said. “Somebody has to record all this. Somebody has to write about you.”
Grisham read his humorous account of being cut from college baseball, which he recounted in a foreword to Rick Cleveland’s biography of Coach Boo Ferriss.
Each of the governor’s arts award winners received a folk-art treasure – a glittery, gaudy “diddly bo,” or handmade six-string guitar, built from toolboxes and other recycled materials by Mississippi bluesman James “Super Chikan” Johnson.