From frequent Indy contributor Rebekah L. Cowell:

At the age of 39, Marsha White Warren lost her mother, a loss she calls “devastating.”

“I needed something to go too for solace and expression,” said Warren. A dedicated reader, she began to write. Her grief, and her chosen outlet for expression, was the catalyst that launched Warren into the literary world.

In a ceremony tonight at Chapel Hill’s William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education, Warren will accept the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities for her life of advocacy for the public humanities across North Carolina.

In 1978, Warren joined the Friday Noon Poets, who met at the Red Baron, in Carrboro. “I proceeded to write this very bad poetry,” laughs Warren, “and as a result of that, I came to know these amazing people in the North Carolina Poetry Society.” Warren found a niche writing grants for the society, and eventually her hard work at applying for monies for the arts, turned the former teacher into the executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, a post she held from 1987 to 1996.

She says she saw her job as that of a conduit to the writers. “They needed to write, they were going to write, and they needed to earn money to pay their light bill and so forth,” said Warren who took her job of finding opportunities for writers all over the state very seriously. “I have a strong work ethic,” she said, and at 71, Warren has no intention of slowing down.

She served as executive director of The Paul Green Foundation from 1991 to 2005 and is currently its literary executor. Warren sits on the boards of the North Carolina Freedom Monument and the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities and with Sam Ragan, she developed the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame and currently serves on its administrative team.

Regarding herself as a behind-the-scenes person, Warren calls the award “startling and an exceptional honor.”

The John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities, the Council’s highest honor, has been presented annually since 1990. It pays tribute to individuals whose life and work illuminate one or more of the multiple dimension of human life where humanities come into play.

For Warren, a loss is what propelled her towards humanities advocacy. “Writing has healing powers,” she said, “and it can empower and regenerate those that need a form of expression.”

The Caldwell Award ceremony promises to be a celebratory evening of song, dramatic readings, and reflections on the vital importance of the arts and humanities by diverse speakers and performers. U.S. Rep. David Price, Doris Betts, Jaki Shelton Green, Shelby Stephenson and Dreamweaver (Haliwa-Saponi tribe) will participate in the event which begins at 7 p.m. at the William and Ida Friday Center for Continuing Education in Chapel Hill.

For more information, visit