Chef John Folse is LEH’s Humanist of the Year

January 19, 2023 / New Orleans, Louisiana —Chef John Folse—culinary professional, food historian, tv personality, restauranteur and Louisiana culture bearer—has been named the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ 2023 Humanist of the Year. In addition to the Humanist of the Year award, the LEH has announced eight Humanities Awards recipients, recognizing documentary filmmakers and photographers, literacy and language advocates, historians and more.


Now in their 38th year, the LEH Humanities Awards offer a collective opportunity to celebrate all the humanities have to offer and honor those who have made significant contributions to the understanding of Louisiana’s history and culture.


“For nearly forty years the LEH has honored the individuals and organizations who uplift the history and culture of our state through the LEH Humanities Awards,” said LEH President and Executive Director Miranda Restovic. “We celebrate the documentation, exploration, and interpretation of the humanities—and know that our own work is made possible only through the work of others.”

The awardees will be highlighted in the summer issue of 64 Parishes magazine, published by the LEH, and they will be recognized during the organization’s annual Bright Lights Awards ceremony, returning in-person for the first time in three years on May 11, 2023. Full ticket and program details will be available online at once available.


Humanist of the Year: Chef John Folse


The LEH’s Humanist of the Year award recognizes someone who has made invaluable and lasting contributions to Louisiana’s cultural landscape. The 2023 Humanist of the Year is Chef John Folse, a culinary professional, food historian, tv personality, restauranteur and Louisiana culture bearer.


A native of St. James Parish, Folse has offered Louisianans and non-Louisianans alike a window on Louisiana food and culture through his restaurants in North and South America, Asia, and Europe. In 1995 he established the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University

in Thibodaux, and it remains the state’s only four-year, degree-granting culinary program. Folse has spent a lifetime documenting, preserving and promoting South Louisiana foodways. He is the author of numerous cookbooks as well as “The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine” and “After the Hunt: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Wild Game and Game Fish Cookery.”


Chair’s Award for Institutional Support: Patrick F. Taylor Foundation


Recipients of the Chair’s Award for Institutional Support have contributed significant financial or programmatic support to the LEH’s mission and programs. Thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, the LEH has established the Institute for Louisiana Culture and History, a statewide educational hub providing reliable, accessible Louisiana social studies resources to students and teachers. The institute will provide professional development workshops for social studies teachers statewide and add 300 new entries to the 64 Parishes online encyclopedia of Louisiana.


Champion of Culture: Senator Gerald Boudreaux


Individuals or organizations that receive the Champion of Culture award have made a lasting mark through their support and promotion of Louisiana’s cultural resources. During the 2022 Legislative Session, State Senator Gerald Boudreaux (District 24) championed the humanities and the work of the LEH.


His efforts led to significant state funding for the LEH and its statewide programs for the first time in ten years. He also introduced State Senate Resolution No. 97, which “commends the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities for its outstanding contributions to the state of Louisiana and to express sincere gratitude to the Prime Time Head Start programs for its lasting contributions to early childhood education in Lafayette Parish and in Louisiana.”


Documentary Photographer of the Year: Jenny Ellerbe


The Documentary Photographer of the Year award honors photographers whose work captures Louisiana’s history, culture or people. Northeast Louisiana–based documentary photographer Jenny Ellerbe captures cultures ancient and modern in her color and black-and-white work. Whether documenting monumental earthworks built by Indigenous mound builders or tractor trailer–sized cotton bales awaiting transport, Ellerbe invites viewers to consider the power of place in the Louisiana landscape.


Humanities Book of the Year: Necropolis: Disease, Power, and Capitalism in the Cotton Kingdom” by Kathryn Olivarius (published by Harvard University Press)


The Humanities Book of the Year award honors a book published between Oct. 1, 2021, and Sept. 30, 2022, that best exemplifies scholarship on Louisiana topics or by Louisiana writers. In “Necropolis,” historian Kathryn Olivarius examines the intersection of race, wealth and public

health in 19th-century New Orleans, where yellow fever epidemics killed as many as 150,000 people.


Humanities Documentary Film of the Year: “Roots of Fire,” directed and produced by Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi


The Humanities Documentary Film of the Year award honors a documentary film from the previous calendar year that best exemplifies scholarship on Louisiana topics or by Louisiana documentary filmmakers. In “Roots of Fire” filmmakers Abby Berendt Lavoi and Jeremey Lavoi explore the history and legacy of Cajun music through a look at contemporary musicians building new audiences—and new outlets—for the storied genre.


Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities: Marianne Fisher-Giorlando


The Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities awards recognize those who have supported and been involved in public appreciation of issues central to the humanities. For more than three decades, Marianne Fisher-Giorlando has worked to increase understanding of the American criminal justice system.


As a professor at Grambling State University from 1986 to 2022, she taught thousands of students, developing new courses focused specifically on the history of incarceration in Louisiana. Fisher-Giorlando has worked directly with the staff of the Angolite, the award-winning, inmate-published magazine of the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola), and now serves on the board of the Angola Museum, where she has worked tirelessly to present an accurate history of Louisiana’s prison system to both inmates and the general public.

Best in Digital Humanities: Freedom on the Move


Awarded biannually in odd-numbered years, the Best in Digital Humanities award recognizes publicly accessible projects produced in the previous two calendar years, including websites, virtual exhibitions, podcasts and other born-digital initiatives that bring new insights to and/or significantly improve the public’s understanding of the state, its history and/or its culture.

Since its launch in 2019 the Freedom on the Move initiative has digitized more than 32,000 ads placed by enslavers seeking to locate enslaved fugitives or jailers hoping to recover reward bounties for men and women captured while fleeing enslavement. The publicly accessible database, which includes teacher resources and some 10,000 ads related to Louisiana, is a rich source of information on the history of slavery and resistance.


Light Up for Literacy: Megan Holt


Presented in partnership with the State Library of Louisiana’s Center for the Book, the Light Up for Literacy award recognizes those who have made significant and lasting contributions to literacy efforts in the state.

Since 2018 literacy advocate Megan Holt has served as executive director of One Book, One New Orleans, a nonprofit that works to provide literacy resources for adults and encourage community reading and dialogue. As director, Holt also oversees New Orleans’s Words and Music Festival and organizes countless book giveaways benefiting adults and teenagers from all walks of life.


Awards Selection and Presentation


Annually the LEH seeks public nominations for seven Humanities Awards—Humanities Book of the Year, Humanities Documentary Film of the Year, Museum Exhibition of the Year (biannual award), Best in Digital Humanities (biannual award), Light Up for Literacy, Documentary Photographer of the Year and Lifetime Contributions to the Humanities.


Each awardee is selected by committees of experts in their fields and LEH staff and board members. The Humanist of the Year, Champion of Culture and Chair’s Award for Institutional Support are nominated and chosen in-house by members of the LEH board of directors.


Information on programs and events honoring the 2023 Humanities Awards recipients will be announced at a later date. For more information about the awards, visit