Rea Hederman to Receive the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters 2021 Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award
The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters is pleased to announce that the 2021 Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award winner is Rea Hederman, a native of Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Hederman has been publisher of The New York Review of Books since 1984.
After graduating from Murrah High School and Mississippi College, Hederman earned an MBA from the University of Virginia and an MA in Journalism from the University of Missouri. He first worked as editor for a weekly newspaper in Canton, Mississippi. In 1973, he joined the staff of the Clarion-Ledger and served as city editor and managing editor before becoming executive editor in 1980. Under Hederman’s leadership, the paper turned away from its conservative roots to execute “one of the most dramatic turnarounds in American journalism,” as described by the Washington Post.
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Richard Ford, who, like Hederman, was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, said of Hederman: “Brought up in 1950s apartheid Jackson, a child of affluence and influence, whose future would’ve been assured and beyond comfortable, he elected instead to take on the responsibilities of his family’s journalistic mini-empire with a profound and controversial commitment not only to civil rights, but to truth-in-journalism on the widest scale.”
During Hederman’s tenure, the newspaper won many awards including a Heywood Broun Award, a George Polk Award, and a National Education Reporting Award. In 1983, just after he left for New York, the Clarion-Ledger received the Pulitzer Prize for stories written on Mississippi’s educational system under Hederman’s editorship.
The New York Times described the New York Review of Books as “one of the most influential and admired journals of its kind” and “the country’s most successful intellectual journal.” Contributors include Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, and Nobel Prize winners V. S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott, and Nadine Gordimer, among others. The New York Review of Books received the attention of Martin Scorsese in his 2014 documentary, The Fifty-Year Argument.Hederman founded the NYRB Classics imprint, which now has over 600 titles. According to writer Michael Cunningham, “It is the richest source of great books you never heard of.” Along with little-known or hard-to-find authors are those of prominence, Ivan Turgenev, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Helen Keller, and others.
From 1997 to 2005, Hederman was publisher of Granta, the British publication of new writing and long-form reportage, which he later introduced to the United States. He was director of La Rivista dei Libri, an Italian literary publication, and president of the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, which awards grants to writers for works-in-progress and to writers for lifetime achievements in cultural reportage.
Hederman received an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center in Washington for Journalistic Excellence and the Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He is a former director of the Committee to Protect Journalists and vice-chair of the board of trustees of The American Academy in Rome.
Hederman will be on hand to receive the award at the annual Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters banquet to be held in Pass Christian, Mississippi, on June 12, 2021.