2018 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award: Marcie Cohen Ferris
SFA honors Marcie Cohen Ferris with our 2018 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award. The following remarks were shared by Sara Camp Milam at the award presentation.
Good evening. I’m Sara Camp Milam, and I’m the SFA’s managing editor. From 2010 to 2012, I was an advisee of Marcie’s in the folklore program at UNC Chapel Hill. And I’m a proud member of the Marcie Cohen Ferris Girl Gang. More on that in a moment. Without her cheerleading, I would not have finished my master’s degree. I almost certainly would not be in my current position. And I am not a special case. Marcie is a tireless advocate for her students. She has encouraged scores of emerging scholars—most of them women, and myself included—to take our work further than we thought we could. She has made us her colleagues and peers.
In June, I made a twenty-four-hour trip back to Chapel Hill for a surprise retirement party for Marcie. The organizers and attendees called ourselves “Marcie’s Girl Gang.” In attendance at Crook’s Corner that Friday evening were nearly twenty women whose personal and professional lives intersected with Marcie’s. There were professors. Editors. Writers. Oral historians. Culinary professionals. A research librarian. A county commissioner. The Girl Gang is a gang to be reckoned with, and Marcie is at its center.
Marcie was an adult—a grown-ass woman, if you will—when she decided to pursue her PhD. She knew that she was in a position to do pioneering work on the Southern Jewish experience, and to tell that story through the lens of food. Rather than being reshaped by the academy, she integrated her academic work into who she already was. And that ability to be multifaceted, to be so completely oneself in surroundings that can sometimes feel rigid is, I think, one of the greatest lessons Marcie shares with her students, her colleagues, and her friends. That Girl Gang on the patio at Crook’s is a network of interesting, complicated, multi-talented women. The county commissioner is also a caterer. The documentary filmmaker moonlights as a comedienne. The scholarly editor is a brilliant illustrator. The folklorist is an old-time fiddler. We share a love of food, and a love of stories about food. We share a commitment to forging a better region. And we share a respect, and yes, a love, for Marcie Cohen Ferris. Teacher. Researcher. Writer. Teller of how it is. Style maven. Lab lover.
You’re about to watch Marcie Cohen Ferris Does the Work, a documentary film by our Ava Lowrey. Ava timed her trip to Chapel Hill to be in attendance at the final gathering of Marcie’s final foodways class at her home this past spring. The whole thing is very Marcie—which I suppose is fitting for a documentary about Marcie. One line stuck with me as the most Marcie of all. You’ll hear her say, “I love moments of humor and joy in the classroom.”
Marcie knows the work is hard. She knows the challenges are big. Her glasses, while always hip, are not rose-colored. And yet. She brings joy and humor to what she does. Hope, too. While she’s retired from teaching, her shoes don’t need filling. She’s still doing the work. And she’s got a gang by her side.