A Mississippi State associate professor of English and a senior English major serving as editor-in-chief of The Reflector represented the university as 2020 William Winter Scholars Feb. 27 to 29 at the 31st annual Natchez Trace Literary and Cinema Conference.
Chosen by the College of Arts and Sciences for her literary knowledge, Jervette R. Ward attended the conference, which brings together literary and film experts at the Natchez Convention Center for presentations by authors, musicians, artists and more. Ward selected her student Mia Rodriguez of Milton, Florida, to join her for the Natchez event.
Both scholars received public recognition during the conference, this year titled “Visits, Vittles & Vines: The Culture of Southern Hospitality,” exploring the heritage of southern foods, gardens and entertaining. The event is sponsored by Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Visit Natchez, Mississippi Humanities Council, Adams County Board of Supervisors and the City of Natchez.
Selecting Ward as the William Winter Scholar for MSU was an “easy decision,” said Tommy Anderson, associate dean for academic affairs for the College of Arts and Sciences and also director of the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College Office of Prestigious External Scholarships.
Anderson said Ward’s annual project with her graduate students, the Starkville Table of Culinary Justice—a project investigating the relationship of southern food and social justice—fits this year’s theme well.
“Dr. Ward insists that her students view literature from a deeply cultural and historical perspective that makes their encounter with a work of literature more powerful and transformative,” said Anderson, also an MSU professor of English. “At MSU, she teaches a course on food, identity and literature that critically engages assumptions about ‘the culture of southern hospitality’ that is at the heart of the what William Winter Scholars will interrogate during the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration this year.”
“I’m honored that I was selected, and I hope that this will be an opportunity to continue learning about the history and culture of Mississippi,” Ward said.
Ward said she selected Rodriguez as the student recipient because she felt Rodriguez would be able to share and build upon knowledge gained at the conference.
“Mia is an inquisitive student who is enrolled in both my Food and Literature course and my upper-division African American literature course on Hurston, Baldwin, Adichie and Coates,” Ward said. “In both classes, she stands out for her thoughtful and engaging insights.”
“She also is a proud Mexican-American who stands in solidarity with other minority groups,” Ward said. “I admire her for engagement with African American literature and for positioning herself as a vocal ally for marginalized groups.”
“When Dr. Ward asked me if I would accept the nomination of the William Winter Student Scholar, I was shocked because such a strong female figure in my academic life chose me for this honor,” Rodriquez said. “She has become one of the most influential people in my life that I can count on for career and personal advice. To be chosen by Dr. Ward for this opportunity is an honor and privilege and I look forward to the time we will spend together as a result,” Rodriquez said.
In addition to her leadership role with MSU’s student newspaper, Rodriguez also is president of Sigma Tau Delta. She plans to graduate in May.
Ward received her Ph.D. from the University of Memphis in literary and cultural studies in 2011. She is the editor of a 2015 Rutgers University Press publication, “Real Sister: Stereotypes, Respectability, and Black Women in Reality TV.”
Ward has served as president of the Anchorage Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., one of the oldest African American service organizations in the country. Her research and teaching areas focus on American literature with an emphasis in African American women’s literature. Ward is a lifetime member of the College Language Association, which she serves as the English area representative on the executive committee. She also is a member of the executive committee of the Modern Language Association Languages, Literatures, and Cultures African American Forum.
MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,200 students, 325 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs, 14 master’s programs, and 27 undergraduate academic majors offered in 14 departments. It is home to the most diverse units for research and scholarly activities, including natural and physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and the humanities. For more details about the College of Arts and Sciences or the Department of English visit www.cas.msstate.edu or www.english.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.