Couple’s Planned Gift to Support Two UM Endowments

Contributions to support scholarly work in Southern food and music

California couple Lynne Ann DeSpelder and Albert Lee Strickland are including in their estate plans support for two endowments supporting the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Lynne Ann DeSpelder and Albert Lee Strickland, of Capitola, California, have partnered on many projects throughout their lives and someday, even in death, their collaboration will continue when their planned estate gift supports two programs at the University of Mississippi.

The husband and wife will leave an estimated $1 million from their estate to Ole Miss, half to the John T. Edge Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance Endowment and half to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture’s Music of the South Endowment.

Other donors might find it morbid to speak of their death in a public news release, but much of this couple’s work and interests have focused on human mortality.

“Our work has mainly been in the area of thanatology, studies relating to death, dying and bereavement,” Strickland said.

Realizing that their unique talents and interests meshed – Strickland is a writer; DeSpelder, a teacher – the two co-authored the college textbook “The Last Dance: Encountering Death & Dying,” which was published in 1983 and is in its 10th edition. Additionally, they are members of the International Work Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement, an invitation-only forum of members from many countries.

“We greatly appreciate Lynne Ann and Albert Lee’s vision in planning this generous gift as well as their ongoing commitment to the SFA,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “John T. and the SFA have worked tirelessly through the years, building a program through the study of food that has made a deeply transformative impact within the UM academic community and within the lives of our students, alumni and friends.”

The gift will honor their parents – Luther Leander Strickland, Bertha Emma Wittenburg Strickland, Bruce Erwin DeSpelder Sr. and Dorothy Jane Roediger DeSpelder – all of whom valued education in different ways.

“My parents were born close to the turn of the 20th century, raised on farms in Arkansas and told me stories about picking cotton,” Strickland said, adding that his mother graduated from high school and his father only had the opportunity to complete sixth grade. “Even so, he taught himself music and became a full-time music instructor with many students during his life.”

DeSpelder said her parents were both college graduates and became educators. Her mother taught first grade, and her father obtained a doctorate and was a professor of business administration at Wayne University in Michigan.

The appreciation for music that Strickland inherited from his father and the CSSC publications Rejoice! and Living Blues contributed to his desire to support the Music of the South Endowment, which is designed to ensure excellence in teaching subjects related to the influence of music on Southern culture.

“I was raised with Southern gospel music, as well as Southern foods, despite being a native Californian,” said Strickland who, starting at age 4, performed gospel music with his parents in churches throughout Southern California.

Recently, his professional interests have been combined with his lifelong involvement in music, resulting in invitations to perform musical concerts in Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy and Canada, as well as several locations in the United States. These performances focused on themes of death, dying and bereavement as expressed in traditional gospel and blues music.

A shared interest in Southern culture led the couple to Ole Miss, where they have attended the Southern Foodways Symposium and developed a close relationship with SFA Director John T. Edge and his colleagues.

“Our affection for Southern culture and for Ole Miss was strengthened by acquaintance with scholars like John Shelton Reed and Bill Ferris, the founding director of CSSC,” Strickland said.

“Albert Lee and I have long been interested in the intersection of food and culture,” said DeSpelder, also a native Californian, who once spent a year traveling the world, exploring foods of many countries and writing a weekly column about her discoveries for The Detroit News.

“Also, we have established friendly relationships with Ole Miss scholars – John T. Edge, Charles Reagan Wilson, Ted Ownby, Lee Cohen, Catarina Passidomo and Mary Beth Lasseter, among others – all of whom are involved in areas of study and community outreach that we find exciting and interesting.”

Ownby said the feeling is mutual: “I have enjoyed getting to know Lynne Ann and Albert Lee at SFA events over the years, and I appreciate the range of their interests in foodways and music and all sorts of topics. Their gift to the Music of the South endowment is an important step in helping us fund a professorship in music and Southern studies, which will be an exciting new addition to our program.”

Edge echoed Ownby’s sentiments: “Lynne Ann and Albert Lee are model SFA members: intellectually curious, engaged and generous. Their gift humbles me and helps secure a strong future for our institute.”

Sharing a similar admiration, Strickland noted, “Most, if not all, of John T.’s books and articles reside in our library and are a testament to the kind of scholarship we want to promote by contributing to the Edge Director Endowment.”

DeSpelder is an educator, author and counselor. As a psychology professor at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, she developed and taught one of the first interdisciplinary courses on death and dying. Her first nationally published writing on death appeared in the November 1977 issue of New Age magazine.

Certified by the Association for Death Education and Counseling as a death educator and as a grief counselor, she was instrumental in developing that organization’s Education for Certification program.

Besides producing audiovisual and print resources for death education, she lectures both in North America and internationally to professional, corporate and community groups, and conducts training programs and in-service education for hospices, school districts and health care professionals.

Strickland is a writer whose interests have focused on death-related topics since the late 1970s. His published work includes articles on communication and death and children and death as well as several books on family studies and family life education.

He is a former editor of The Forum Newsletter, published by ADEC. A member of the Authors Guild, he is also working on a screenplay involving religious fanaticism, political shenanigans and nuclear Armageddon.

The John T. Edge Director of the Southern Foodways Alliance Endowment and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture’s Music of the South Endowment are open to gifts from individuals and organizations.

Checks with the fund noted in the check’s memo line may be mailed to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655. Gifts can also be made online by visiting https://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift/ or by contacting Nikki Neely Davis, executive director of development, at 662-915-6678 or nlneely@olemiss.edu.

University Endowment Builds to All-time High of $715 Million

Strong investment returns, generosity of alumni and friends spurs growth

The University of Mississippi’s permanent endowment grew in its latest fiscal year to an all-time high, thanks to generous support from private donors. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s permanent endowment grew in its latest fiscal year to an all-time high of $715 million, thanks in part to the seventh consecutive year of new gifts of $100 million or more.

Private support totaled more than $115.8 million from 30,332 donors, giving the university essential resources to continue providing exceptional experiences for students, faculty, researchers, health care patients and providers, citizens served by outreach efforts, and visitors to all its campuses.

“Private investments are essential to fuel the work of our flagship university,” Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“The generosity of our alumni and friends ensures the university has resources needed to sustain and expand nationally prominent programs, and it enables us to deliver on our Flagship Forward strategic plan to improve learning, health and the quality of life in Mississippi. We remain grateful and inspired by their support.”

Total private giving to the Oxford campus grew by 6.5 percent over the previous year. Private support for academics increased more than 10 percent. 

Eighty-seven percent of the private giving will provide current funding for donor-directed areas or directly affect those areas, while the remaining 13 percent was added to the university’s endowment, which also grew through returns on its investment strategies.

State support as a percentage of total revenues available for the university’s operations was 12.4 percent, making private support all the more crucial.

“Ole Miss alumni and friends are making major investments that transform students’ lives and continually enhance the quality of our programs,” said Charlotte Parks, vice chancellor for development. “Gifts to higher education also have a far-reaching impact on the economy of Mississippi and beyond, and the resources ultimately improve the quality of life for everyone.”

Healthy growth of the university’s endowment reflected the increase in funds invested and managed for the university, said Wendell Weakley, president and CEO of the UM Foundation. The endowment benefited from a 10 percent return on its investments.

Private giving helps UM maintain margins of excellence in a range of fields across all its campuses. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“The endowment has now reached the historic high of $715 million, and we are on our way to realizing our long-range goal of a $1 billion endowment,” Weakley said. “We are extremely grateful to our donors who provide this permanent stable funding that can be counted on year after year and will advance the university’s mission for generations to come.”

Some of the largest gifts included: $5 million for the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College; $4.25 million for several programs including Bridge STEM, Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Initiative, College Ready Literacy, Center for Mathematics and Science Education, First Generation Scholars, Principal Corps, Upstart in the School of Dentistry and more; $4 million for new endowed chairs in geriatrics and palliative care at the Medical Center; $2 million for the College of Liberal Arts‘ departments of mathematics and sciences; $2 million for professorships in surgery and pulmonology at the Medical Center; $1.5 million for expansion of pediatric care at the Medical Center; and gifts of $1 million or more for a faculty chair in the Patterson School of Accountancy, the Flagship Constellations, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Forward Together campaign for Ole Miss athletics.

Likewise, the Medical Center’s Campaign for Children’s Hospital campaign enjoyed a third successful year with $10 million raised, which brings the total giving in the campaign to more than $66 million toward its ambitious $100 million goal. This campaign supports the construction and renovation of facilities and recruitment of 30-40 doctors and researchers.

Work has begun on a new seven-story, 340,000-square-foot tower adjacent to Batson Children’s Hospital that will also house the Children’s Heart Center.

Gifts to the campaign represent “an outpouring of love and support that runs deep and wide across all of Mississippi,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We have outstanding physicians and the best staff, and they have a passion for caring for patients. What we need now are the facilities to match that quality of care.”

Financial resources provided by alumni and friends of the university ensure students will have the tools necessary to be successful. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Ole Miss athletics also enjoyed a successful FY 2018 both on the field and in investments made by alumni and friends. Cash gifts exceeded $30 million for the fourth consecutive year. The Forward Together campaign stands at $176 million, with plans to complete this $200 million campaign in FY 2019.

“Rebel Nation represents one of the most loyal fan bases in college sports,” said Keith Carter, deputy athletics director for development and resource acquisition. “The support shown year in and year out allows us to enhance our facilities to help our student-athletes compete at the highest level, while also providing a high-quality experience for our fans.

“We express our thanks to loyal donors and fans, and we look forward to the upcoming year as we close out the Forward Together campaign and begin new endeavors.”

To make gifts to the university, go to https://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift/ for academics, https://www.umc.edu/givenow/ for the UM Medical Center or http://givetoathletics.com/forward-together/ for Ole Miss athletics.

Donors Underwrite Southern Foodways Alliance’s ‘Gravy’

Major gift will allow UM center to continue telling stories of the region through its food

Brook and Pam Smith at Castle & Key Distillery, where the couple are partners, outside Frankfort, Kentucky. Photo by Steven Freeman

OXFORD, Miss. – Knowing the unifying qualities of food, Brook and Pam Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, have pledged $1 million to support “Gravy,” a podcast produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi.

“Folks in different places appreciate when someone from one cultural segment takes the time to dine with others from a different cultural segment,” Brook Smith said. “It’s a show of respect and appreciation for a culture that may be different from their own, and that’s what we seem to be missing in our country today.”

Whenever the Smiths travel, they try to meet members of the Southern Foodways Alliance along the way. A member-supported nonprofit institute of the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the SFA sponsors scholarships, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, podcasts and films.

On a recent trip to visit Pam’s family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the Smiths detoured to Hemingway, South Carolina, where Scott’s Bar-B-Q, praised by The New York Times, attracts customers from hundreds of miles away.

“My whole life has been barbecue,” said pitmaster Rodney Scott, who just opened his own barbecue restaurant in nearby Charleston, South Carolina. “I grew up doing it, hanging around it and hanging around other people that do it. And there’s just no other way to bring people in quicker. It’s like a beacon sign; it just draws them right in there.”

That spirit drew in the Smiths. So did the storytelling work of the SFA.

“‘Gravy,’ which was awarded publication of the year in 2015 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, shares stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat,” said John T. Edge, SFA director. “‘Gravy’ showcases a South that is constantly evolving.

“We use food as a means to complicate stereotypes, document new dynamics and give voice to the often unsung folk who grow, cook and serve our daily meals.”

Edge is grateful for the Smiths’ generous gift.

“This sort of long-term commitment offers funding stability so that the SFA can take risks to tell stories in new and bold ways,” Edge said. “At a moment when ‘Gravy’ recently delivered its 1 millionth download, Brook and Pam have invested deeply in our most scalable and sharable effort.

“They are long-time members of the organization who know and respect the role that food plays in the cultural life of our nation.”

Smith found success in the surety bonding business. He’s also a wine and distillery owner as well as a philanthropist with an interest in organizations that focus on improving life for young people and those like the SFA, which inspires communities to invest in their culinary customs and, in so doing, establishes lasting, cross-cultural relationships.

Smith also has an ongoing commitment to Appalachian Kentucky and recently established a private philanthropic fund focused on economic development in the region that includes an interest in development driven by local mountain food traditions and small-scale farming.

He and Pam have three sons: Reed, 21; Mac, 18; and Grayson, 16.

Before establishing the Smith Family Gravy Boat Fund, the Smiths donated $250,000 in 2014 to support the SFA’s Smith Symposium Fellows program, which invites individuals whose work promises a positive impact on the South to be guests at the SFA’s fall symposium.

Brook Smith trusts his gift will boost operating funds, enabling the organization to better document, study and explore the diverse food cultures of the American South.

“Food starts conversations,” he said “You get into who makes it and where the products come from. It’s an ice breaker.

“People talk about the weather, but talking about barbecue is a lot more interesting.”

Private gifts are crucial to the university’s well-being and especially to programs such as the SFA, which depend on donor support to operate, UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

“We are tremendously grateful to receive generous donations, especially from such passionate supporters as the Smiths,” Vitter said. “It speaks to the impact of our university programs, not just in the state, but across the country and around the world.

“The Smiths’ gift will ensure that many more people will be enriched by the SFA for years to come. These kinds of contributions are a vital part of our university’s sustained growth, reach, impact and success.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to support the Southern Foodways Alliance or the Center for the Study of Southern Culture by mailing a check with the endowment noted to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; visiting http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift or contacting Nikki Neely Davis, development officer for the CSSC at 662-915-6678 or nlneely@olemiss.edu.

Download “Gravy” for free from the iTunes store and the SFA website. For more information, visit http://www.southernfoodways.org and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

‘Gravy’ Wins Second James Beard Foundation Award

gravypodcastjbfa-300x300The James Beard Foundation has honored “Gravy,” a product of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, as the nation’s best podcast.

In 2015, the foundation named Gravy, the SFA’s quarterly print journal and podcast, as its Publication of the Year. Gravy shares stories of the changing American South through the foods everyone eats.

SFA members receive the printed journal Gravy four times a year, while “Gravy,” a free 25-minute podcast, is available on the SFA website or through iTunes. Both serve up fresh, unexpected and thought-provoking stories of an American South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions and lovingly maintaining old ones.

It is an honor to win a James Beard Award for the second year in a row, said Sara Camp Arnold Milam, Gravy’s managing editor.

“Though our work is grounded in the U.S. South, we explore issues of universal relevance – including class, race, ethnicity, gender and labor – through the lens of food,” Milam said. “It is extremely gratifying to receive national recognition for Gravy.”

The SFA’s quest to dig into lesser-known corners of the region and give voice to those who grow, cook and serve daily meals couldn’t be bound by print. So, in 2014, SFA launched “Gravy” the podcast, produced and hosted by Tina Antolini, a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and a National Public Radio veteran.

Recent podcasts pondered the restaurant chain Cracker Barrel and Southern nostalgia. Another focused on the food world behind the scenes at Indian-owned motels.

“It is so gratifying to have these stories – and their subjects and the radio producers I’ve collaborated with – recognized,” Antolini said in her acceptance speech.

A member-supported nonprofit based at the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.

For more information on the SFA and Gravy, go to http://www.southernfoodways.org/.

Donors Support Art in Southern Foodways Alliance Programming

Gifts will support creative relationships to bolster SFA events

Lyon Hill and Kimi Maeda present Barbecue Puppet Theater at the 2012 SFA Symposium. Photo by Brandall Atkinson.

Lyon Hill and Kimi Maeda present Barbecue Puppet Theater at the 2012 SFA Symposium. Photo by Brandall Atkinson.

OXFORD, Miss. – While food nourishes the body, art nourishes the soul. The Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi expertly blends both into programming, and supporters believe the two will continue to pair well together for years to come.

Impressed by the SFA’s use of art to enhance the presentation of Southern food culture, two donors – the 21c Museum Hotel group and another patron who wishes to remain anonymous – recently committed major gifts in support of performing and visual arts at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual symposium.

“We showcase artistic expression in ways that encourage annual symposium attendees to engage with issues like environment, identity, gender, class and race in new and challenging ways,” said SFA Director John T. Edge. “We are thrilled that these two donors have recognized our efforts and have chosen to align themselves with us through their support of our programs.”

The 21c Museum Hotel group first participated in the SFA symposium in 2007.

“After a weekend of enlightening discussion, food and drink, we left feeling a renewed kinship to the South,” said Sarah Robbins, chief hospitality officer. “We’ve returned each year with our growing family of chefs. We always depart with a full belly and a better understanding of the responsibility and fortune of being a part of the region.”

The brainchild of contemporary art collectors and preservationists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c was founded in Louisville, Kentucky, with the mission of making contemporary art accessible to the public. The result was a boutique hotel combined with a contemporary art museum, open free of charge to the public, and restaurant Proof on Main.

The company operates five properties, each one a place where contemporary art challenges, amuses and provokes new ideas. The group’s gift will sustain annual art installations exhibited during the SFA’s symposium.

“We hope this gift will help expose a new audience to innovative art and ideas, providing a visual context for the important discussions happening at the symposium and beyond,” Robbins said.

“At 21c Museum Hotel, we engage our team, our guests and the community through contemporary art, cultural programming and food. These are all opportunities to discover and to spark conversation around topical ideas. Through these communal experiences of discovery, ideas are born and spread. SFA’s mission to address complex cultural issues is complementary to ours, and we are thrilled to partner with them on this important initiative.”

Besides the annual art installations, the SFA has staged Sunday morning performances at its symposium for the past seven years. From ballet to street theatre, from a puppet show to an oratorio, such performances will be supported by a major gift to the SFA’s performing arts fund.

The additional gift from an anonymous contributor will ensure that artists are paid well and programming reaches a larger audience through the restaging and distribution of interpretive materials. Additionally, the funding will drive new creative relationships with artists, amplify existing relationships and facilitate SFA-led collaborations across disciplines. The 2016 Sunday performance will feature Appalachian artists Silas House, novelist, and Sam Gleaves, musician.

“Through these performances, the SFA shares stories inspired by the South and by Southern experiences,” Edge said. “In the now-crowded marketplace of food ideas, these stories spark honest reflection and foster genuine progress while offering new ways to address complex Southern issues with national implications.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to support the Southern Foodways Alliance or the Center for the Study of Southern Culture by mailing a check (with SFA or CSSC noted in the memo line) to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655; visiting http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift or contacting Nikki Neely Davis, development officer for the CSSC at 662-915-6678 or nlneely@olemiss.edu.

Oxford Conference for the Book Brings Variety of Authors to UM

Poets, journalists, scholars and readers coming to campus March 2-4 for free event

Ed Larson

Ed Larson

OXFORD, Miss. – Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, as well as first-time novelists, are part of the variety of legendary and debut writers hosted at the Oxford Conference for the Book, set for March 2-4. Poets, journalists, scholars and readers will visit the University of Mississippi for the 23rd conference.

The three-day event, which is free and open to the public, includes readings, panel discussions and lectures.

The conference is a great way for Oxford visitors and locals to explore the town and the university, said James G. Thomas Jr., conference director.

“We try to open doors with this conference, both literally and metaphorically,” said Thomas, associate director of publications at the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“By that I mean the sessions open up doors for thought and inquiry, and the venues we’re hav­ing them in are places that some Oxford residents, stu­dents, and visitors may not have had the opportunity to explore, such as the Lafayette County courthouse, the Barksdale-Isom House, the UM library’s Faulkner Room and even the University Museum.”

This year’s writers include novelists Rick Bass, Bobbie Ann Mason, Margaret McMullan, Robert Gipe, Taylor Brown and UM Grisham Writer in Residence Kiese Laymon; Mississippi historians Minion K.C. Morrison and Dennis Mitchell; historian and gender studies scholar LaKisha Michelle Simmons; poets Richard Katrovas, Rebecca Morgan Frank, Caki Wilkinson, Jericho Brown, Katie Peterson, Chiyuma Elliott and UM professors Beth Ann Fennelly and Derrick Harriell; histori­an Mark Essig; literary scholar Vereen Bell; and Pulitzer Prizewinners journalist Sheri Fink and historian Edward J. Larson.

Larson, professor of law at Pepperdine University, is the author of nine books, the most recent of which, “The Return of George Washington,” was on The New York Times bestseller list in 2015. He has lectured on all seven continents.

“I love Oxford, I have been for tailgating in the Grove since back when I was on the University of Georgia’s athletic board and the SEC was a 10-team conference,” Larson said. “Oxford has the best catfish anywhere. What I want to do next in Mississippi is to bike the Natchez Trace.”

Margaret McMullan

Margaret McMullan

Wednesday’s and Thursday’s events will take place in the auditorium of the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, and the conference will begin with a lecture and free luncheon, sponsored by the Friends of the Library, in the Faulkner Room in Archives and Special Collections in the J.D. Williams Library, also on the UM campus. Friday’s panels and readings will take place in the main courtroom of the historic Lafayette County courthouse on the Oxford Square.

Lyn Roberts, general manager at Square Books, calls the conference a celebration of books for everyone.

“The Oxford Conference for the Book has a history and tradition of bringing authors, both debut and established, to Oxford and the University of Mississippi, allowing everyone in the community and anyone who wants to travel the opportunity to hear them read from their works and discuss books,” Roberts said.

Conference panels will explore a wide range of topics, in­cluding Mississippi history; childhood in the South; mem­oir writing; youth, activism, and life in the Mountain South; poetic responses to Langston Hughes; Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set a Watchman”; the Hurricane Katrina crisis; America’s continuing debate over science and religion; and a cultural and culi­nary history of the pig.

“I’m excited to introduce Mark Essig to the OCB audience,” said Sara Camp Milam, who will moderate Friday’s 10:30 a.m. panel, sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance. “His work is as engaging as it is educational. ‘Lesser Beasts’ was one of my favorite food studies books of 2015. For students thinking about how to make their academic work accessible to a general audience, I’d recommend attending this session.”

A new event this year is a poetry session paired with an art exhibition by photographer Youngsuk Suh. At 4:30 p.m. Thursday, following the “Poetic Responses to Langston Hughes” session, the University Museum will host a free recep­tion.

“Thacker Mountain Radio” will host a special Oxford Conference for the Book show at 6 p.m. Thursday at Off Square Books, 129 Courthouse Square, featuring conference authors and visiting musicians. The day’s authors will be there to meet conference attendees and sign books. Each afternoon following the sessions, Square Books will host book signings for that day’s authors.

Mark Essig

Mark Essig

The Children’s Book Festival will be held March 4 at the Ford Center for Performing Arts, with more than 1,200 first- and fifth-graders from area schools. Laurie Keller, author of “The Scrambled States of America,” will present at 9 a.m. for first graders, and Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of “Counting by 7s,” will present at 10:30 a.m. for fifth graders. The Lafayette County Literacy Council sponsors the first-grade program and the Junior Auxiliary of Oxford spon­sors the fifth-grade program.

Four special social events are set on the Ole Miss campus and in town. On March 2, the Friends of the J.D. Williams Library will host an opening lunch beginning at 11 a.m. in Archives and Special Collections. The lunch is free, but reservations are appreciated. That evening is the gala opening-night cocktail reception-dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the historic Barksdale-Isom House, 1003 Jefferson Ave. A portion of the $50 ticket proceeds is tax-deductible.

At noon March 4, the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library will host a poetry talk and lunch with poet Richard Katrovas. Both the lunch and talk are free, but reservations are appreciated.

The Oxford Conference for the Book is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, Square Books, Southern Documentary Project, Southern Foodways Alliance, Living Blues magazine, University Museum, Lafayette County Literacy Council, UM Department of English, J.D. Williams Library, Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, John and Renée Grisham Visiting Writers Fund, Junior Auxiliary of Oxford, Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, Southern Literary Trail and the Pulitzer Centennial Campfires Initiative.

The conference is partially funded by the university, a contribution from the R&B Feder Foundation for the Beaux Arts, grants from the Mississippi Humanities Council and promotional support from Visit Oxford.

To see a full schedule of events, visit http://oxfordconferenceforthebook.com/ or contact James G. Thomas Jr. at 662-915-3374 or jgthomas@olemiss.edu.

Author Who Explores World of Food Trends Coming to UM

David Sax, guru of what America eats, to lecture Feb. 29

David Sax

David Sax

OXFORD, Miss. – Popular foods for 2016 include kimchee and packaged seaweed strips, but David Sax already knew that. Sax, an award-winning journalist and author, explores the world of food trends: where they come from, how they grow and where they end up.

He will discuss the latest culinary developments at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.

In his latest book “The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes and Fed up with Fondue,” Sax explores the world of food trends and searches for the farmers, chefs and even data analysts who help decide what is on America’s dinner plate.

He said his interest in food trends developed because he had been writing about food from two different angles: the culinary aspect of restaurants and chefs, and also the big corporate world of food companies.

“What I kept seeing was that those two were converging, and food trends were shaping conversations on both ends,” Sax said. “I wanted to find out why we suddenly all want to eat something (cupcakes, for instance) where we never did before. What were the forces that made that happen?”

His favorite food trend right now is the artisan bread movement.

“Bread just keeps getting better, in the most simple and wonderful way,” Sax said. “Life’s too short for bad bread.”

Catarina Passidomo, assistant professor of Southern studies and anthropology, said she has heard several interviews on various food-related podcasts with Sax, and finds his perspective on food trends to be provocative and accurate.

“In an era of quinoa puffs, cronuts and with the rise and fall of kale, David Sax provides innovative insight into why some food trends fly and others flop,” Passidomo said. “I’m very much looking forward to his talk and would encourage anyone who eats, or thinks about eating, to attend as well.”

Sax is also the author of “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen,” and has been recognized with a James Beard Award, IACP award and other accolades. His writing has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek, TheNewYorker.com and The New York Times. His third book, “The Revenge of Analog: Dispatches from the Post-Digital Economy,” will be published this November.

In addition to his lecture, Sax will meet with two Writing and Rhetoric classes.

Sax’s visit is sponsored by the Southern Foodways Alliance and the UM Department of Writing and Rhetoric. Each year, they work together to bring award-winning journalists to campus to speak to students, faculty and staff. For more information, visit http://www.southernfoodways.com.

SFA Journal, Podcast Named Publication of the Year

'Gravy' covers Southern food in both printed and audio media

Tina Antolini, Sara Camp Arnold Milam (center) and John T Edge at the James Beard Awards in New York City. The Southern Foodways Alliance’s “Gravy” has been named the James Beard Foundation’s Publication of the Year.

Tina Antolini (left), Sara Camp Arnold Milam and John T. Edge celebrate at the James Beard Awards in New York.

OXFORD, Miss. – The James Beard Foundation has named “Gravy,” the quarterly print journal and biweekly podcast of the University of Mississippi’s Southern Foodways Alliance, as the 2015 Publication of the Year. The award honors fresh direction, worthy ambition and a forward-looking approach to food journalism.

The printed journal Gravy lands in the mailboxes of SFA members four times a year, while “Gravy” the podcast hits the cyber-airwaves every other week. Both serve up fresh, unexpected and thought-provoking stories of an American South that is constantly evolving, accommodating new immigrants, adopting new traditions and lovingly maintaining old ones.

Sara Camp Arnold Milam, Gravy’s managing editor, said it is an honor to win a James Beard Award.

“I’m pleased that the Beard Foundation recognized our multiplatform approach to storytelling – first a print magazine, and now a sister podcast,” Milam said. “I’m so grateful that we get to do our work here at the university, specifically at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture. And I thank the members of the Southern Foodways Alliance for their support of our mission.”

Milam joined the SFA in 2012. She took over a publication printed in black-and-white, staple-bound and a mere 12 pages in length. Under her leadership, the journal has grown to a full-color, 60-page, perfect-bound beauty bursting with smart words, intriguing illustrations and arresting photographs.

Milam also writes for the SFA blog, works as a producer for Greenhouse films and, along with John T. Edge, serves as co-executive producer of “Gravy” the podcast.

The SFA’s quest to dig into lesser-known corners of the region and give voice to those who grow, cook and serve daily meals couldn’t be contained in a single publication. So, in 2014, SFA launched “Gravy” the podcast, which is produced and hosted by Tina Antolini, Salt Institute graduate and NPR veteran. Ten episodes in, loyal listeners anxiously await each helping, served up every other Thursday morning.

A member-supported nonprofit based at the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South.

Generous Gift Supports Southern Foodways Alliance

Kentucky couple creates Smith Symposium Fellows to support individuals doing notable foodways work

Brook and Pam Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, flank their friend Emeril Lagasse – well-known chef, restaurateur and author – all passionate food advocates. The Smiths have contributed major support to the Southern Foodways Alliance in the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture to create the Smith Symposium Fellows program. Photo courtesy Steve Freeman.

Brook and Pam Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, flank their friend Emeril Lagasse – well-known chef, restaurateur and author – all passionate food advocates. The Smiths have contributed major support to the Southern Foodways Alliance in the UM Center for the Study of Southern Culture to create the Smith Symposium Fellows program. Photo courtesy Steve Freeman.

OXFORD, Miss. – Drawing on academics, chefs, artisans, farmers, journalists, writers, food enthusiasts and more, the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi uses food as a cultural compass, guiding the understanding of history, race relations and politics. SFA members Pam and Brook Smith of Louisville, Kentucky, are helping bring more people to the conversation.

The Smiths have made a $250,000 gift to create the Smith Symposium Fellows program, ensuring that individuals doing notable work in their early-to-mid-careers are able to participate in the symposia of the SFA, a nonprofit institute found under the umbrella of UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Smith Fellows also contribute to a more diverse and progressive symposium community.

“There’s nothing Pam and I have ever seen that compares to the Southern Foodways Alliance,” Brook Smith said. “There are SFA members who are involved with food as careers and members who appreciate food and its culture. It’s an unmatched organization – what members are doing through this organization is making a difference.”

And the Smiths are among those making a positive impact. The first class of Smith Symposium Fellows were selected for their potential to transform the region and its foodways. In addition, a goal for the Smith Fellows is that they will benefit from involvement with the extended SFA community. The number of Smith Fellows named annually will eventually grow to 10.

The inaugural fellows are Michael Twitty, writer and historian of Africa-American foodways; Natasha Bowens, farmer, activist and author of “The Color of Food”; Evan Mah, food editor of Atlanta magazine; and Darnella Burkett Winston, a farmer and a Mississippi Food & Health Fellow and National Rural Leader in the Rural Development Leadership Network.

“These women and men are at the forefront of their field,” said John T. Edge, SFA director. “Through the generosity of Pam and Brook, we’re able to invest in their careers and in the future of our region. We’re humbled by this gift and determined to leverage their belief in our mission.”

“Education is at the root of everything,” Brook Smith said. “That’s why these symposiums are so important. Think of it like this: If one person becomes involved in recognizing and maintaining our culture and that leads to the next 10 people becoming involved, which leads to the next hundred people – that’s how the world gets changed. With this gift, Pam and I are helping others to the table.”

Pam Smith agreed, saying, “Growing up in the South – Myrtle Beach, Beaufort and Charleston – it is important that our three sons and their generation have a direct reference point to Southern tradition. The SFA has made me a believer that Southern culture, food culture and family culture will live on.”

A surety bond broker and president of Smith Manus, one of the nation’s largest surety bond agencies, Brook Smith’s roots in food and wine run long and deep. Growing up, he used his mother’s cookbooks to try his hand at cooking. Later, with several partners, he launched Post Parade, a Napa Valley cabernet blend. Across the years, with regular travel, mostly domestically, Smith became a passionate food advocate, checking out a wide array of offerings from the local barbecue joints to white tablecloth fine dining establishments.

“I was pounding the same trails as the SFA,” Smith said. “My path has crossed with so many different, interesting and fun people.”

The businessman, who earned a degree in financial management from Clemson University, learned in 2003 that 610 Magnolia, an iconic Louisville restaurant, was set to close, and he felt a calling to step in and buy it, recruiting acclaimed chef Edward Lee from New York’s SoHo neighborhood, to join him.

“It’s too special – I don’t want the place to close its doors,” Smith said he remembered thinking about 610 Magnolia. That partnership led to the Smiths and Lee becoming SFA members after they were invited to SFA’s “Taste of the South” event at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee.

“John T. Edge has crafted an organization that is very well-run. For Pam and me, the decision to make this gift to the SFA was easy. We feel fortunate to be able to support such great work.”

Individuals and organizations interested in learning more about supporting the SFA’s work can contact Nikki Neely Davis at nlneely@olemiss.edu or 662-915-6678. Gifts also can be made online at http://www.umfoundation.com/makeagift or by mailing a checking with Southern Foodways Alliance in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655.

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. A member-supported nonprofit, the SFA sponsors scholarship, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, films and podcasts. For more information, visit http://www.southernfoodways.org and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

Documenting the Culinary Wealth of the South

Jim 'N Nick's founder, wife make major gift to Southern Foodways Alliance

Barnard Observatory houses the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Barnard Observatory houses the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

OXFORD, Miss. – Nick and Suzanne Pihakis of Birmingham, Alabama, have made a transformative gift to endow the Pihakis Foodways Documentary Fellow, a filmmaking and teaching position at the University of Mississippi and its Southern Foodways Alliance.

Thanks to their generosity, stories of the South’s diverse food cultures will be filmed and produced for posterity and shared with students, researchers and the general public.

For more than a decade leading up to this major gift, Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, has generously underwritten the documentary work of the SFA, a nonprofit institute of UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture.

“Nick and Suzanne have long invested their time and money in the cultural and culinary wealth of the American South,” said SFA director John T. Edge. “With this gift, they help ensure that this important work will continue. This watershed gift will resonate for a long, long time.”

Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, and his wife, Suzanne, have contributed a major gift to support the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo courtesy Melany Mullens.

Nick Pihakis, who founded Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q in Birmingham in 1985, and his wife, Suzanne, have contributed a major gift to support the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit institute in the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Photo courtesy Melany Mullens.

Pihakis, who established the business with his late father, Jim Pihakis, has long focused on honest barbecue, community service and locally-sourced crops and goods. A passion for making good food accessible and affordable has driven Jim ‘N Nick’s, led by the younger Pihakis, to become one of the nation’s most respected restaurant groups.

Endowed positions such as this one require a $1.5 million commitment. With investment income from the Pihakis endowment, UM will recruit a documentary fellow to direct films for the SFA and teach documentary classes on the Oxford campus. The start date for the position is expected to be fall 2015.

SFA has long worked with Andy Harper and Joe York of the Southern Documentary Project to make award-winning documentary films, Edge said. This gift will bring a second filmmaker partner to join the SFA team, producing documentaries and teaching students.

Pihakis began contributing to UM in 2004, when the SFA developed a year of foodways programming focused on the state of race relations in the American South. When the SFA staged its Summer Symposium in Birmingham, Pihakis marshaled the resources of his rapidly growing company to make the event a success. Soon after, he developed an innovative philanthropy plan for supporting SFA documentary initiatives, Edge said.

“I thought that what the SFA was doing – telling stories about fried chicken cooks and oystermen and pig farmers and vegetable farmers – was really important,” Pihakis said. “Through food and through hospitality, our company shares those stories. And I think it’s important that our company invest in the documentary work that the SFA does.”

The first investment Pihakis made in 2004 was a commitment to SFA of $2,500 per store annually. Those resources, which are contributed by local owners in markets from Alabama to Colorado, top $75,000 each year. Using Pihakis’ innovative philanthropic strategy, Jim ‘N Nick’s has already given more than $500,000 to support SFA work at the university.

Going forward, Edge said the future looks bright for this cultural partnership because as Jim ‘N Nick’s grows over the next few years, its ongoing SFA contribution will also grow in importance and impact.

Pihakis is proud of this gift. And he’s proud of his relationship with the SFA.

“Working with John T. Edge and his colleagues, I learned so much about the culture of food,” he said. “I recognized that the stories they tell of cooks and farmers are deeply important to my identity and to the identity of the South as a whole. My intent is that our gift ensures that great storytelling work continues for generations to come.”

The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. The SFA sets a common table where black and white, rich and poor – all who gather – may consider our history and our future in a spirit of reconciliation. A member-supported nonprofit institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, the SFA sponsors scholarship, mentors students, stages symposia, collects and shares oral histories, and produces and publishes books, films and podcasts. For more information, visit http://www.southernfoodways.org and follow on Twitter @Potlikker.

For more information, contact Sara Camp Arnold at 662-915-3327 or saracamp@southernfoodways.org.