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Jim Barksdale is Chairman of the Board and President of Barksdale Management Corporation, a private company that manages his investments and philanthropic activities. He has over 35 years of operational experience and served as President and CEO of Netscape Communications Corp. from January 1995 until the company merged with America Online in March of 1999. Following the merger, Barksdale joined the Time Warner Board of Directors. He sits on the boards of several other companies and foundations.
Barksdale has held other management positions, including CEO at AT&T Wireless Services (formerly McCaw Cellular Communication), President and COO of McCaw Cellular Communications, and Executive Vice President and COO of Federal Express Corporation. He has received numerous awards and accolades throughout his career, including the “Executive of the Year” award at the 1997 ETRE Budapest Conference; the BEAR Award from Brown University, as well as the induction into the University of Mississippi Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame.
Barksdale has a passion for education and through the Barksdale Foundation established the Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi in 1997 and the Barksdale Reading Institute in 2001. He and his wife, Donna, through the University of Mississippi, recently funded the creation of the Mississippi Principal Corps to help change the way school principals are trained.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Barksdale was appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour as chairman of the Governor’s Commission on the Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal of Mississippi. Most recently, he was asked by Gov. Barbour to chair the Mississippi Broadband Connect Coalition. He was awarded the 2011 Mississippi Medal of Service in recognition of his service to the state in education and Katrina Recovery.
Barksdale is a native of Jackson and a graduate of Murrah High School. He received his B.A. in Business Administration from the University of Mississippi. Jim and Donna Barksdale live in Jackson.
Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and journalist. He is the acclaimed author of biographies of John J. McCloy and of McGeorge and William Bundy. He won the Pulitzer Prize for biography for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (co-authored with Martin J. Sherwin). His work includes critical writings on the Vietnam War, Hiroshima, nuclear weapons, the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the CIA. He lives in New York City and Washington, D.C., with his wife, Susan Goldmark.
Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Brown’s first book, Please (2008), won the American Book Award. His second book, The New Testament (2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library Journal, Coldfront, and the Academy of American Poets. He is also the author of the collection The Tradition (2019), which was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award and the winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His poems have appeared in Buzzfeed, The Nation, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Time, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and several volumes of The Best American Poetry anthologies. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Creative Writing and the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University in Atlanta.
Historian, author, curator, and educator, Lonnie G. Bunch, III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, who was appointed in June 2019.
Prior to assuming this position, Bunch was the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). In this position he provided strategic leadership in areas of scholarship, collections, fundraising and academic and cultural partnerships.
As a public historian, a scholar who brings history to the people, Bunch has spent nearly 30 years in the museum field and is one of the nation’s leading figures in the historical and museum community.
Prior to his July 2005 appointment as director of NMAAHC, Bunch served as the president of the Chicago Historical Society, one of the nation’s oldest museums of history.
Bunch has held several positions at the Smithsonian, and spent a number of years at both the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum.
A prolific and widely published author, Bunch has written on topics ranging from slavery, the black military experience, the American presidency, and all black towns in the American west to diversity in museum management and the impact of funding and politics on American museums.
In service to the historical and cultural community, Bunch has served on the advisory boards of several professional organizations. Among his many awards, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Commission for the Preservation of the White House in 2002 and reappointed by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Bunch has received honorary doctorates from an array of Universities including: Harvard University, Princeton University, Brown University, Dominican University, Roosevelt University, Rutgers University, Northwestern University, and Georgetown University.
Born in the Newark, N.J. area, Bunch has held numerous teaching positions across the country including American University; the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; and The George Washington University. He received undergraduate and graduate degrees from American University in African American and American history.
He is married to Maria Marable Bunch, a museum educator. They have two daughters, Sarah and Katie.
Beth Ann Fennelly, a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, is the former poet laureate of Mississippi and teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi. She’s won grants and awards from the N.E.A., the United States Artists, a Pushcart, and a Fulbright to Brazil. Fennelly has published three books of poetry and three of prose, most recently, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, which was a Goodreaders Favorite and an Atlanta Journal Constitution Best Book. She lives with her husband, Tom Franklin, and their three children In Oxford, MS. www.bethannfennelly.com
First elected to Congress in 2009, Gregg served five terms representing Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District. During his time in Congress, he served as a member of the influential House Committee on Energy and Commerce which has jurisdiction over a broad swath of the economy including healthcare, energy, transportation, and telecommunications. On the Energy and Commerce Committee, Gregg served as Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee and Vice Chairman of the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee. In addition, Gregg was selected by Speaker Paul Ryan to serve as the Chairman of the Committee on House Administration for the 115th Congress where he was instrumental in reforming the ways that Congress handles sexual harassment allegations. He was also the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress and served two terms on the Committee on Ethics.
Prior to being elected to Congress, Gregg practiced law for twenty-seven years, including serving as the prosecuting attorney for the cities of Brandon and Richland, Mississippi. He served on the Mississippi Oil and Gas Board, remained active in his community as a member of both the Pearl and Rankin County Chambers of Commerce, and served as the board attorney for the Mississippi Baptist Children’s Village.
Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.
Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Kiese Laymon, Ottilie Schillig Professor in English and Creative Writing and the University of Mississippi, is the author of the novel Long Division, the memoir Heavy, and the essay collection How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.
Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and a 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church. Deesha is also the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Her work has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and her writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, Brevity, dead housekeeping, Apogee Journal, Catapult, Harvard Review, ESPN’s The Undefeated, The Baltimore Review, TueNight, Ebony and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies. Deesha is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People.
Catherine Pierce is the author of four books of poems: Danger Days (2020), The Tornado Is the World (2016), The Girls of Peculiar (2012), and Famous Last Words (2008), winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Each of her last three books received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Prize. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize winner and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mississippi Arts Commission. Pierce’s work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The New York Times, American Poetry Review, The Nation, The Southern Review, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. She is professor of English and co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.
Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi, as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. Angie is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, started as a senior project in college. It was later acquired by the Balzer+Bray imprint of HarperCollins Publishers in a 13-publisher auction and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, winning the ALA’s William C. Morris Debut Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (USA), the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (UK), and the Deutscher Jugendliterapreis (Germany). The Hate U Give was adapted into a critically acclaimed film from Fox 2000, starring Amandla Stenberg and directed by George Tillman, Jr.
Angie’s second novel, On The Come Up, is a #1 New York Times bestseller as well, and a film is in development with Paramount Pictures with Angie acting as a producer. In 2020, Angie released Find Your Voice: A Guided Journal to Writing Your Truth as a tool to help aspiring writers tell their stories. In 2021, Angie returned to the world of Garden Heights with Concrete Rose, a prequel to The Hate U Give focused on seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter that debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.