Genius Grant recipient Kiese Laymon will bring the program to Jackson State

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Kiese Laymonthe internationally renowned writer, gives back to his Jackson’s hometown to bring the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts, Food and Justice Initiative to Jackson State University.

Originally founded at the University of Mississippi when Laymon was on the faculty there, the Coleman Program, as of 2023, is now at JSU.

The program will provide opportunities for emerging writers from across the state and the city of Jackson to engage the legacy of creative writing in Mississippi, the tradition of southern eating habits, and the history of social justice movements in their communities.

Now a professor at Rice University, Laymon is the author of three full-length books and recently received a “Genius Grant” from the MacArthur Fellows program.

He will use this grant to fund the program at Jackson State.

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“It’s no surprise to me that as he gained this international fame, he wanted to give back to Jackson and Jackson State University,” said Dr. Robert Luckett, director of the Margaret Walker Center. “He always called Jackson home. He was literally raised on campus with a mother who worked here, and he was mentored by Margaret Walker, after whom our center is named.

Laymon’s mother has been associated with Jackson State University for decades as a member of the political science department.

“We’re really, really excited and happy about Laymon’s recognition with the MacArthur, but for a while now I’ve been able to call him a friend and work with him on various types of projects,” Luckett said.

The Margaret Walker Center will be the permanent home of the Catherine Coleman Literary Arts, Food and Justice Initiative, named after Laymon’s grandmother.

“We are moving the Initiative to the Margaret Walker Center in Jackson State,” Laymon said in a statement. “My grandmother sent all of her daughters to Jackson State. This initiative will continue to help young people in Jackson become the next Danielle Buckingham or Leslie McLemore Jr., two of Mississippi’s greatest young artists.

Through this initiative, writing seminars and programming will help students hone their skills as readers and writers while learning essential editing skills for expressing their voice through the written word, Luckett said.

“This program … is going to give us the opportunity to build a legacy around continuing mentorship and giving back to young people,” Luckett said. “Through Kiese, himself, we will have a platform to create a program that truly serves these young people and helps develop their creativity, intellectual capacity, and sense of belonging and self.”

Laymon is a graduate of St. Joseph Catholic School. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College and his Masters of Fine Arts from Indiana University. He also attended Jackson State and Millsaps College.

Laymon said he would match up to $50,000 in donations to the program for the next month.

People can make a tax-deductible donation to the Coleman program by visiting the JSU Development Foundation website and selecting the Catherine Coleman Fund under “General designation”.

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