For 15 years, the Dallas Institute has been awarding a $50,000 prize to a promising individual in the early stages of a career in the humanities—The Hiett Prize in the Humanities. This year’s recipient is Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson.
Dr. Wilson is Associate Professor of Literature at John Brown University. In her work, she is currently preparing Southern writer Flannery O’Connor’s novel Why Do the Heathen Rage? for publication. The novel was unfinished at the time of O’Connor’s death in 1964. O’Connor is known for her novels and short stories which focused on life in the South and the human struggle of “religious consciousness without religion,” according to O’Connor.
As Dr. Wilson said about the project, “Last year, I created a scholarly manuscript based on what the author bequeathed to us. However, the story itself is unfinished. We have a narrative of a contemplative soul in the South…When I was nominated this year to be O’Connor’s authorized biographer, I realized this possibility would allow me to incorporate the unfinished material into a vaster corpus. The work requires a combination of scholarship and creativity and demands patience.”
Dr. Wilson has published three books focusing on O’Connor, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Walker Percy, and is currently working on three other writing projects.
Present in her work inside and outside of the classroom, Dr. Wilson seeks to demonstrate how these authors’ works are in the tradition of the great literary classics and how modern-day stories draw their inspiration from them.
The recent fervor Dr. Wilson noted, “over ‘Captain Marvel’ and its female heroine sounds outlandish to anyone well-formed by great books, for we do not see with 21st American eyes alone, but we remember Camilla of The Aeneid, Deborah of Judges, or Joan of Arc. We need critics who can contextualize these debates for readers who lack a background in the humanities.”
Dr. Wilson earned her Ph.D. in Literature and Theology from Baylor University, a Master’s degree in English from the University of Dallas, and a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University. She has taught in the Honors College at Baylor University, at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, and at Charles University in the Czech Republic as a Fulbright Scholar. Dr. Wilson has lectured widely across the U.S. and in Canada. She has initiated several programs in the humanities both within and outside the academe.
While in Dallas, Dr. Wilson will be honored and awarded the prize at the annual Hiett Prize luncheon and will speak at a free public forum that evening.
The Hiett Prize in the Humanities Luncheon is on November 7, 11:30 – 1:00 pm at The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Tickets start at $175 per person. The Hiett Public Forum is November 7, 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the Dallas Institute, 2719 Routh St. Dallas. This is a free event.
The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose fundamental aim is to bring the wisdom and imagination of the humanities to the city of Dallas. For more than 30 years, the Dallas Institute has provided educational programming in the community through events, conferences, and general courses of study. For more information, visit dallasinstitute.org.