A Grand and Brilliant Garden: Planting Seeds at the Public Humanities Awards

Photos by GlitterGuts

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Tia Williams

Read Time 4 minutes
May 18, 2023

Together with 300 friends, family members, advocates, and humanists, all of us at Illinois Humanities shared the honor of awarding the 2023 Public Humanities and Beacon awards to four inspiring honorees on May 17: Rebecca Ginsburg, cofounder and director of the Education Justice Project; Stephanie Manriquez, executive director of Contratiempo magazine and executive producer of Lumpen Radio; Alyson Thompson, library director of the Marshall Public Library; and Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association.

We gathered not just for the passing of plaques, but to bear witness to the conviction and wisdom each of these women carry with them in work and life; to hear, in their words, why the transformative power of the humanities bears such importance at this moment in time and place. As they spoke, their words were written hurriedly on napkins, preserved for later, so we couldn’t forget; turning to our neighbors, we repeated them again, to share their power.

In countless exchanges big and small, between guests, friends, and a room of 300 champions of the public humanities, we cherished the power of sharing stories.

Together, we created a story of our own, too. Joined by storyteller, poet, and activist Faylita Hicks, guests offered words and phrases in response to the prompt, “What makes your story possible," jotted down on seed paper that guests will later plant in their homes and communities. Taking their responses in hand, she wrote a poem entitled, “Root Work,” and read it aloud.

Take a moment today to sit with Faylita’s words, interwoven with those of our community. To our guests: We thank you for bearing witness to the stories of others, and for sharing your own.

In appreciation,
The Illinois Humanities team

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2023 Public Humanities Awards recipients Rebecca Ginsburg (left) and Stephanie Manriquez (right). (Photo by GlitterGuts)

Root Work

By Faylita Hicks
For the 2023 Public Humanities Award Honorees Tracie D. Hall, Rebecca Ginsburg, Stephanie Manriquez, and Alyson Thompson.

From the tip of the root to the tip of the leaf,
from the tip of the leaf to the tip of the root—
we dream in soil and seed till our dreaming ends
in a grand and brilliant garden.

Let us praise then the hand at work
on breaking through the coarse and heavy dirt;
the many hours spent invested in healing
what was harmed—what was broke.

Let us praise the hand—the hands—still
persevering through each and every night
to feed the landscape till ripe enough
for humble gaze or harvest in early morning’s light.

Let us imagine this garden’s growth if unencumbered
by brick walls, by steel gates, by locked and guarded doors,
by low ceilings, by tables with little space,
by the torch and its terrible heat, by the breach of ignorant hate.

A garden allowed to grow naturally enthusiastic,
feeding both you and me with the wisdom of observation,
the freedom found in inquiry; the lessons of doubt and fallacy
when faced with only the revision of our reality;

a garden where time is slowed just enough
to find the grace in our every breath,
where we can come together and share
the resources that are the difference between life and death.

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Faylita Hicks asking guests to share words and phrases to help her complete the poem "Root Work"

From soil to seed, from tree to book
from page to page, we have all dreamed to look
and find ourselves in ecstatic bloom,
—the messengers of our era, too.

So again, let us praise the hand—the hands—tilling
messages of humanities excellence, the people
keeping us well and alive, stem to root
with their words and actions, their passion and truth:

Say: stubborn art
makes the river of faith glow

Say: radical ideas
& radical people
are just really radical
friends & family
are really just radical generous loves

Say: como la flor, como la flor
faith & hope, faith & hope
listen, say my name
I’m more than my pain

Say: books begin in the cracks
of the concrete in the Southside
give way to the blooming trees and bright lives
Say: we thrive
Say: we thrive

From the tip of the leaf
to the tip of the root,
from the tip of the root
to the tip of the leaf—

together we dream in soil and seed,
till our dreaming ends
in our grand and brilliant

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words and phrases guests offered to the prompt, “What makes your story possible?”

About Illinois Humanities' Public Humanities Awards Ceremony

Established in 1984, the Public Humanities Awards Ceremony celebrates people who have made an indelible impact on our state through their work in and support of the humanities, honoring them with the Public Humanities Award. This event is Illinois Humanities’ most important annual fundraiser and enables us to provide grants and free public humanities programs throughout Illinois.

Launched in 2020 as part of the Public Humanities Awards Ceremony, the Beacon Award honors an individual or organization who has been a champion for – or investor in – the humanities in Illinois, elevating the work of humanists in ways that have improved the quality of the state for its residents.