Communication department to host inaugural New Narrative Festival this week

From corporate communication, journalism and social media to visual arts, literature and music, storytelling is at the heart of the many ways the human experience is documented and conveyed.

During Mississippi State University’s inaugural New Narrative Festival on Friday [April 13] and Saturday [April 14], students, faculty, community members and business leaders will share storytelling ideas and best practices while discussing the Magnolia State’s influence on the American narrative. UPS is presenting sponsor for the event.

John E. Forde, professor and head of MSU’s Department of Communication, said the festival is a time to explore and celebrate the contributions of business leaders, artists, authors, entrepreneurs, sports figures and researchers who have impacted and continue to shape the way stories are shown, told and shared.

“Mississippi always has influenced these changes in a major fashion through shaping multiple narratives in traditional and emerging platforms, and the festival highlights many of those contributions,” Forde said.

“The festival will have a Mississippi State and Starkville flavor with fun, food, music and old-fashioned Southern hospitality. We hope attendees will return to this event for years to come,” Forde added.

Steve Soltis, former senior director of corporate executive and employee communication for Coca-Cola and MSU communication department advisory board member, is part of the planning committee that has worked diligently to make the festival a reality.

“We have a very eclectic group of speakers, many with strong ties to Mississippi or Mississippi State University,” Soltis said. “We want this festival to position the Department of Communication as a curator and leader of this discussion on narrative storytelling.”

Registration is $185 for adults and $40 for MSU students and may be completed online at

In addition to the Department of Communication, the New Narrative Festival is supported by MSU’s Department of English, MSU Libraries and its Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Mississippi Alliance for Women in Computing.

Festival programs and speakers include:

* Concert featuring “HanaLena,” a Nashville, Tennessee-based country duo consisting of sisters and Starkville natives Caroline and Hannah Melby. The event is made possible with a grant from the Starkville Area Arts Council.

* “Mississippi: Believe It! - The True Story of the State’s Impact,” presented by Rick Looser, president and COO of The Cirlot Agency in Jackson, and moderated by Peggy Gardner, senior director of public relations and social media for UPS in Atlanta, Georgia.

* “MuteMath and the Wonders of YouTube Messaging,” featuring YouTube sensation Charles “LaLa” Evans of Starkville and his producer Jordan Mattison from Nashville. This session will be moderated by Dain Dunston, an Austin, Texas-based author and speaker specializing in executive coaching and communications.

* “The New Mississippi and Southern Narratives Through Music,” presented by music legend and producer Norbert Putnam of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and moderated by MSU communication alumna Jenny Wilburn, senior content marketing manager for INVISTA in Atlanta, Georgia.

* “Welcome from State Economic Development Leaders,” featuring Scott Waller, president and CEO of Mississippi Economic Council, and Robin Robinson, director of organization development and corporate communication for Sanderson Farms Inc. in Laurel. Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi, professor of sociology and executive director of MSU’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, will moderate.

* “The Power of Storytelling to a Worldwide Corporation” keynote address by UPS Chairman and CEO David Abney. Soltis will serve as moderator.

* “Rethinking the Southern Narrative: Implications for Mississippi and the South” featuring Dave Davies, professor and director of the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Mass Communication and Journalism; Pulitzer-nominated author and corporate communication leader Charles McNair of Bogota, Colombia; and Curtis Wilkie, Overby Fellow and associate professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Aundrea Self, WCBI-TV anchor in Columbus, will serve as moderator.

* Lunchtime presentation by Pamela Junior, director of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, moderated by Sarah McCullough, MSU Libraries’ coordinator of cultural heritage projects.

* “Perish or Flourish? The New Narrative of Editorial Cartoons in a Digital Age,” presented by Marshall Ramsey, syndicated editorial cartoonist, author and television host, and moderated by Sid Salter, MSU chief communications officer and public affairs director.

* “The Story of Grant’s Presidential Library and the Lincolniana Collection at MSU and the Influence on the Mississippi Narrative,” featuring Associate Editor David S. Nolen and Assistant Editor Louie P. Gallo of the book “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, The Complete Annotated Edition.” Stephen Cunetto, MSU Libraries’ associate dean, will serve as moderator.

* “Title IX in Action: The Impact of Women’s Basketball on the MSU Narrative” featuring members of MSU’s SEC Champion women’s basketball team and moderated by MSU Assistant Professor of Communication Philip Poe.

* “Last Chance U” - Lessons Learned in Authentic Storytelling and Leadership,” featuring Tom Huebner, president of East Mississippi Community College; Drew Jubera, freelance writer and consulting producer on the Netflix documentary series “Last Chance U”; and EMCC football coach Buddy Stephens. Soltis will serve as moderator.

* “Social Media, Traditional Media and Weaponized Political Narratives: Where Do We Go From Here and What Can We Learn?” presented by Ken Askew, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group managing director and senior vice president and former Chrysler Corporation, White House and Pfizer speechwriter; and Douglas Busk, managing director for MSLGroup. MSU Assistant Professor of Communication Melanie Loehwing will moderate.

* Video screening featuring Harold Burson, founding chairman of New-York based Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest public relations agency. This will be a video summary from an interactive presentation the previous day at the Public Relations Association of Mississippi State Conference.

The Mississippi State New Narrative Festival is being hosted in conjunction with the Mississippi Aspirations in Computing Awards Program, which will recognize 58 young women in grades nine through 12 for their leadership and academic achievements. Learn more at

For more on the New Narrative Festival, visit, email and follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #MSNNF. Forde can be contacted at 662-312-5031 or

Complete details on the College of Arts and Sciences can be found at and the Department of Communication at

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Sasha Steinberg | Public Affairs

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