Dr. William R. Ferris (1942-)

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1942, Dr. William R. Ferris is considered one of the foremost American authors and scholars of Southern Art. He is the former chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, and co-founded the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ferris was also the founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, and is the co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Ferris received his B.A. in English Literature from Davidson College in 1964, an M.A. in English Literature from Northwestern University in 1965, and a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania in 1969.

Dr. Ferris’s scholarship has focused on southern African American folklore and culture through a variety of media, including print, sound, film, and photography. Having taught at Jackson State University, Yale University, and the University of Mississippi, he was appointed in 1997 by President Bill Clinton to be chair of the National Endowment of the Humanities, a post held by Ferris for four years. Ferris was vital in the efforts of NEH to broaden public awareness of the humanities.

Ferris is the author of ten books, including “You Live and Learn, Then You Die and Forget It All” and his most recent work, “Give My Poor Heart Ease” which was published in November 2009. He is the recipient of the Charles Frankel Prize in the Humanities, and has been honored by the Blues Hall of Fame for his book entitled “Blues from the Delta” which was deemed as one of the “Classics of Blues Literature.” Ferris is a member of the History Department faculty and currently serves as the Senior Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.