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Ed Wilson Receives the North Carolina Humanities Council’s Top Honor

by Aimee Mepham, Program Coordinator, WFU Humanities Institute

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Ed Wilson

On Thursday, October 30th, Professor Emeritus of English and Provost Emeritus of Wake Forest University Edwin Graves Wilson (’43) received the North Carolina Humanities Council’s highest honor, the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities. The award recognizes Wilson for his lifelong achievements as an advocate for the public humanities across North Carolina.

A full house gathered in the Kulynych Auditorium in the Porter Byrum Welcome Center to honor Wilson as well as recipients of the council’s other awards in the arts and humanities and to hear Helen Vendler give the 2014 Caldwell Lecture in the Humanities.

The evening began with welcoming remarks from Paula Watkins, Executive Director and Cynthia Brodhead, Chair of the North Carolina Humanities Council, followed by a greeting from Wake Forest University Provost Rogan Kersh.

North Carolina Humanities Council Trustee and former North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti presented the 2014 Linda Flowers Literary Award to John Thomas York. York, a public school English teacher for over 30 years, has work published in many regional journals and anthologies as well as three poetry chapbooks and the poetry collection Cold Spring Rising (Press 53).

The 2014 Harlan Joel Gradin Award for Excellence in the Public Humanities was presented, by Gradin himself, to Friends of the Buncombe County Libraries. The award was accepted by Project Director and Retired Librarian, Karen Loughmiller, and Photographer and Activist, Andrea Clark for their project “Twilight of a Neighborhood: Asheville’s East End, 1970,” a multi-faceted public humanities project.

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Helen Vendler

Helen Vendler, the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University, gave the 2014 Caldwell Lecture in the Humanities. Vendler has authored works such as Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (The Clarendon Lectures) and Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill (The Mellon Lectures). Her lecture outlined her “uptopian” vision for restructuring the curriculum and culture of humanities education in K-12 schools. An early foundation in the humanities would be necessary in preparing the next generation of philosophers, writers, critics, and theorists.

Marybeth Sutton Wallace, Special Assistant to the President of Wake Forest University, introduced the presentation of the 2014 John Tyler Caldwell Award by recalling her experiences in Ed Wilson’s literature classes and his famous, well-loved readings of the British Romantic poets. The medal itself was presented to Wilson by his family, including his three children and his wife, poet Emily Herring Wilson.

Wilson concluded the evening with remarks in acceptance of the award. He spoke of his early commitment to and love of the humanities, poetry in particular, and credited much of this early interest to his public school teachers when he was growing up in rural North Carolina.

A reception followed in which more informal congratulations were offered to Dr. Wilson, a wonderful conclusion to this event honoring “Mr. Wake Forest,” one of Wake Forest University’s greatest champions of the humanities.