In 1978, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters (MIAL) was dreamed up by a few discerning individuals, including former Governor William Winter and Dr. Cora Norman both of Jackson, Dr. Aubrey Lucas and Dr. Noel Polk both of Hattiesburg, and Mrs. Keith McLean of Cleveland. These founding members knew that among Mississippi's greatest riches are our artists, writers, and musicians, who must be supported, nurtured, and recognized.

The prestigious awards, first made in 1980, are presented in seven categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Visual Art, Musical Composition (Concert), Musical Composition (Popular), Photography, and Poetry.

The Institute's juried competition is one of a kind in the state. Our carefully selected judges, chosen from out of state, are prominent in their field. Supported by Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning, MIAL is privately funded, self-perpetuating and non-profit.

Each annual awards gala, hosted by various cities around the state, is unique. Among past highlights was a 1983 banquet theme based on Aristophanes's The Frogs, a satiric literary competition. Another year, the Muses were the theme, based on the Institute's logo, created by Terry Simmons. In 2002, Walter Anderson's intricate flora and fauna painted on the walls of the Ocean Springs Civic Center were backdrop for violinist Michael Kimber, that year's winner for Musical Composition. In 2003, a festive brunch was held at historic Fairview Inn in Jackson. In honor of the Institute's Silver Anniversary Celebration, along with current winners, all past winners were recognized and feted at palatial Stanton Hall in Natchez.

30th Anniversary Celebration

Interview - Mississippi Arts Hour

A highlight of the 30th Anniversary Awards Banquet was the official opening of an exhibition featuring MIAL Award winners in Visual Art and Photography over the past 30 years. Drawn from both public and private collections, this exhibit was on view throughout the summer of 2009 at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art and was a virtual “Who’s Who” of Mississippi artists. Another highlight of the 30th Anniversary Celebration was an interview on the Mississippi Arts Hour on July 26, 2009. Founding members of MIAL, Dr. Aubrey Lucas and Dr. Noel Polk, were joined by George Bassi for a lively discussion of the 30th anniversary of the organization. Mary Margaret Miller talked with the group about the history of the MIAL and Mississippi's rich legacy of writers, photographers, composers and visual artists. LISTEN/DOWNLOAD (25 MB)

The MIAL Endowment Fund was established in 2011 in hopes of ensuring that our talented Mississippi writers, artists and musicians will continue to be recognized. The Endowment Fund became a reality in 2012 with the untimely death of Dr. Noel Polk. A founder and member of the Board of Governors for thirty-three years, Dr. Polk requested that gifts in his memory be made to the MIAL Endowment Fund, as well as remembering this fund in his estate planning. In appreciation for these gifts and for all of Dr. Polk's many contributions to the organization, the Board of Governors voted in 2013 to henceforth rename our lifetime achievement award the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award.

At the June 8, 2013, meeting Dr. Aubrey Lucas received the Board of Governor Emeritus distinction and Dr. Cora Norman received the Board of Governor Emerita distinction. Both Dr. Lucas and Dr. Norman were founding members of MIAL and have served in various capacities on the Board of Governors for many years. Their contributions to the organization is valued and appreciated.

In accepting her 2003 Poetry award, Natasha Trethewey eloquently expressed the sentiments of many winners. "Today, I am so delighted by this honor," she said, "because I know that it means you have welcomed me back home as daughter. I'm lucky to be from Mississippi, and I write because I want to make sense of and tell a fuller story of our rich and troubled past."

The list of past award recipients is a strong reflection of the talents of Mississippians and the artistic heritage of our state. A complete list of winners may be viewed on the Winners Tab shown at the top of this page.


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Last Modified: June 13, 2016