New Jersey Council for the Humanities Celebrates its Fortieth Anniversary

TRENTON, NJ - “Poems are essential to democracy,” asserts Tracy K. Smith, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book, Life on Mars.  The Princeton professor of creative writing will be speaking Oct 10, at Drew University in Madison, as part of 40YearsNew, a gala celebrating the 40th anniversary of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.  Reading a poem, Smith believes, creates a “shift in perspective when we come in contact with that which is unfamiliar. It changes the way we look at our neighbor. We look up from the page and look out the window and see things differently.”

That Americans should see each other clearly, understand our differences, and work together in our communities were some of the goals that drove the creation of the state humanities councils in 1972.  As the state-level partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New Jersey Council has spent four decades promoting and providing free public programs in history, literature, philosophy, ethics, law, and cultural studies for the citizens of New Jersey.  Humanities knowledge encourages the informed citizenship at the heart of “the American way of life,” making Council programs an on-going investment in sustaining American democracy.  The Council works in many different media, funding documentary films, offering grants to community organizations and historic sites, helping K-12 teachers stay fresh and relevant, supporting publications like the Encyclopedia of New Jersey and Mapping New Jersey, and bringing renowned scholars to countless colleges and libraries around the state.

To celebrate this record of achievement, the Council is throwing an anniversary party, 40YearsNew, on October 10, 2012.  40YearsNew will feature poet Smith, and tickets are available online ( or by phone (609-FYI-NJCH).  The event takes place at Drew University’s Dorothy Young Center for the Arts in Madison, NJ, on Wednesday, Oct 10 from 5:30 to 8:30 PM.  

Dr. Sharon Ann Holt, NJCH Executive Director, says, “Smith’s work demonstrates why the humanities matter in everyday life, how they sustain communities and enrich individual lives.” She continues, “While we are celebrating forty years of exceptional programs, we are looking toward the future—to meet the emerging humanities needs of New Jersey for the next 40 years.  The celebration includes a video highlighting program participants over the years, who reflect on NJCH’s  impact on their lives.  The video shows how, in the words of English teacher Jen Ansbach from Manchester Township High School, “NJCH makes miracles happen.”

Outstanding teachers:  Honoring outstanding educators has been an annual tradition for NJCH for 16 years. This year’s Teacher of the Year is John Russell, a social studies teacher at Burlington City High School.  Russell sums up his teaching philosophy simply as “never use the same lesson twice…I get ideas from lots of different places—Facebook or video games, for example.” His enthusiastic embrace of interdisciplinary work and his ability to connect with his students excited and inspired the awards committee.  The award will be presented by 2010 NJCH Teacher of the Year, Jeanne DelColle, who went on to become New Jersey state teacher of the year in 2011, and was also named 2012 History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.  A proud tradition indeed... 

Outstanding authors: New Jersey native Kenneth Slawenski claims the 2012 Humanities Book Award for J.D. Salinger: A Life, his insightful examination of the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.  Salinger, one of the twentieth century’s most significant American authors, emerges in surprising ways as Slawenski’s literary biography places his works within the context of his life. To tell this story, Slawenski researched Salinger for nearly eight years. As he explains, “Most of my information was obtained in small doses…a handful of people allowed me to read Salinger correspondence from private collections that had never before been revealed.”  

Many fine books are submitted each year for the Humanities Book Award, and the Council is pleased to recognize three Honor Books along with the Prize winner, including: 

  1. oStephen Baker, Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  2. oCathy D. Knepper, Jersey Justice: The Story of the Trenton Six (Rutgers University Press)
  3. oMelissa Lane, Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Tell Us About Ethics, Virtue and Sustainable Living (Princeton University Press)

The 2011 Honor books are among the best humanities work by New Jersey authors or about New Jersey.  Ms. Smith, along with all the featured book authors will be on hand at the 40YearsNew event to sign books as well as to speak with people interested in the works themselves. 

A reception begins the evening, followed by the awards, the featured presentation, and a book sale and signing.  Dress is business style.  To attend — and to support the work of the Council — or for further information, visit the, or call 1-888-FYI-NJCH.