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William R. Ferris Acceptance Remarks:

2017 Governor's Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement

William R. Ferris accepts his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 Governor's Arts Awards at the Old Capitol Museum, February 16, 2017

My special thanks to Governor and Mrs. Phil Bryant and to Malcolm White and his fine staff at the Mississippi Arts Commission.

I am grateful to have my family and friends here tonight—my wife Marcie, the love of my life, my sister Martha Ferris, a gifted artist, and her husband Kos, a wonderful writer.

I wish my mother Shelby Flowers Ferris, my brother Grey Ferris, and Grey’s wife Jann had lived to share this moment. Each of them deeply believed in the arts, and Jann was a talented educator who worked for the Arts Commission for many years.

It means so much to me to have old friends here from Jackson State University and from the University of Mississippi Center for Study of Southern Culture. Ted Ownby and Senator John Horhn have strongly supported my work over the years.

The arts and the humanities are joined at the hip, and I salute Stuart Rockoff, Director of the Mississippi Humanities Council, Katie Blount, Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, and Leslie Silver, owner of the Attic Gallery in Vicksburg, whose leadership is transforming our state.

I thank Holly Wagner and Patti Black for their friendship and leadership. Patti will be proud to know that my daughter Virginia is now Special Collections Archivist at North Carolina State University.

And I recognize Governor William Winter, a statesman for the ages.

The Governor’s Awards in the Arts connects the dots of artistic excellence in Mississippi’s literature, visual arts, and music. The awards also appropriately bridge our state’s rich classical and folk traditions.

Tonight, we celebrate stories being told at this very moment—on street corners, on front porches, and around fire places. These stories sustain us as a people. They are the bedrock, the foundation of who we are as Mississippians and as Americans.

The Mississippi State Arts Commission challenges us to see our state as a Work of Art, defined by the Mississippi River, by Highway 61, by ribbons of roads and trails chronicled by our singers, writers, painters, and photographers.

Eudora Welty told me how each time she left Jackson on the train, she saw a familiar, hand-painted sign that read, “Are you prepared for Eternity?”

How will our lives be remembered? How can we etch our mark on the face of oblivion? We do it through the arts. Our literature, music, and visual arts are the ultimate, enduring markers for which our state and our people will be remembered and honored.

Like a patchwork quilt by Pecolia Warner in Yazoo City, the arts celebrate our state’s many, diverse people. Their voices have enriched, defined, and blessed my life in such special, nurturing ways, for which I give thanks tonight.

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