CHICAGO – “If You Only Knew,” a radio program developed through The Word Power Theater Project, has won a 1999 Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism. The Word Power Theater Project was sponsored by The Illinois Humanities Council and the University of Illinois Jane Addams School of Social Work. Rose Buckner directed The Word Power Theater Project at the Illinois Department of Corrections Youth Center in Warrenville. Teshima Walker and Gianofer Fields, also recipients for this award, produced The Word Power Theater project as a radio program on Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate, WBEZ.
The recipient of a $10,000 grant from the IHC, The Word Power Theater Project presented a series of humanities-based theater classes to a group of thirteen incarcerated girls, aged fourteen through eighteen. Students interviewed each other on videotape about their life stories, and Project Director Rose Buckner interviewed each student individually. From these taped transcriptions, Buckner created the production “If You Only Knew,” which the students performed before a live audience of their peers at the facility in Warrenville. Several months after the live performance, Teshima Walker and Gianofer Fields from WBEZ traveled to the facility and recorded the girls’ reading of the script. WBEZ aired the finished program in two parts.
For its innovation, diversity, and ability to bring the value of the humanities to the attention of a previously underserved audience, the Word Power Theater Project received both the Lawrence W. Towner Award and the Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize for Excellence in Public Programming in 1999. Created by the IHC Board of Directors in 1985 in memory of past chairman Lawrence W. Towner, the Towner Award is presented to an IHC grant project that has demonstrated risk-taking in the development and execution of a public humanities project. “This award honors projects that employ unique formats and venues and an imaginative approach to their topics and community concerns,” explains Kristina Valaitis, Executive Director of the Illinois Humanities Council.
As the recipient of the Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize for Excellence in Public Programming, The Word Power Theater Project is nationally recognized by the Federation of State Humanities Councils as the most outstanding public humanities program sponsored by a state humanities council in that year.
The finalists for the Peter Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism are nominated by the Chicago Headline Club, a chapter of the national Society of Professional Journalists. This award recognizes “truly superior journalism” in Chicago and is named in honor of Chicago Daily News correspondent Peter Lisagor, whose work enhanced Chicago’s reputation for journalistic excellence. Honors will be presented on April 28, at an evening banquet at the Chicago Athletic Association, 12 South Michigan Avenue.
Currently, Rose Buckner is in the process of launching the Illinois Humanities Council’s North Lawndale Project, where she and three other scholars and artists are working with 15 teenage non-violent offenders to research the history of the juvenile justice system in Chicago. For more information on IHC programs, The Word Power Theater Project, or the radio program, “If You Only Knew,” please call the Illinois Humanities Council at (312) 422-5585 ext. 233. The Illinois Humanities Council is a nonprofit educational organization [501 (c) 3] dedicated to fostering a culture in which the humanities are a vital part of the lives of individuals and communities. Organized more than 25 years ago as the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the IHC promotes greater understanding of, appreciation for, and involvement in the humanities by the citizens of Illinois, regardless of their economic resources, cultural background, or geographic location. The IHC is supported by state, federal, and private funds. For more information, please visit Prairie, the website of the IHC, at www.prairie.org.