NEH awards Willson Center major grant for Putnam County project

The Willson Center has been awarded $100,000 in matching funds by the National Endowment for the Humanities towards “An American Literary Landscape: Life, History, and Memory in Putnam County, Georgia.” The project is a partnership with the Putnam County Charter School System, the Eatonton-Putnam County Historical Society, and Georgia Humanities, with collaboration on campus from the UGA Libraries and the College of Education.

“This is a great initiative that touches many kinds of people and shows just how our public humanities research can engage a community with a rich and complex cultural tradition that stretches across the generations,” said Nicholas Allen, Franklin Professor of English and director of the Willson Center.

The award is given through the NEH’s Humanities Access Challenge Grants program and requires the Willson Center to raise a matching amount of $50,000 for each of the two years of the project. If you would like to support this leading national partnership, please donate so that we can match your gift with federal funds for the benefit of a Georgia community. Email Winnie Smith at for details.

Putnam County, Georgia, was home to Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908) and the enslaved persons who were represented in his Uncle Remus tales, as well as the birthplace of Alice Walker (b.1944) and the setting for much of her early poetry and prose. The NEH-supported program aims to engage with and expand the diversity of the voices and stories of all Putnam residents. Its core activities are rooted in the partnership between students and teachers in Putnam County Charter School System and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts.

The project will be guided by Christopher Lawton, director of experiential learning for Putnam County Schools and director of the Georgia Virtual History Project. The Willson Center has supported ongoing community history initiatives in Putnam County since 2014, with the participation of Lawton and the GVHP, graduate students in the UGA department of history, and undergrads through the university’s CURO program. The NEH previously awarded a grant to the Willson Center for “Sharing Our Stories,” a 2017 oral history project in partnership with Putnam County Schools, the GVHP, and the Georgia Writers Museum.

“We are deeply honored that the NEH has now recognized, in to back to back grants, the unique partnership between Putnam County Charter School System and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts,” said Eric Arena, Putnam County Schools superintendent. “This grant will allow us to continue the kind of work we have been doing together for years.  It will impact the lives of community members across our county, and more importantly, thousands of students in our school system as we continue to transform both public humanities and public education in Georgia.”

Pictured: Alice Walker’s childhood home in Putnam County, Georgia (photo by Wayne Bellamy)