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Dallas Institute Announces $50,000 Hiett Prize Winner

by Jerome Weeks 13 Sep 2011 3:07 PM

Author and journalist Diane Senechal is the seventh recipient of the prize, which recognizes people working in the humanities who have not reached their full potential but whose work shows great promise.


Diane Senechal, who has taught Russian as a graduate student and a Mellon Fellow, is the recipient of this year’s Hiett Prize, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture in recognition of a person working in the humanities who has not yet reached his or her potential but whose work shows extraordinary promise.

Senchal’s debut book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, is based on her four years teaching English in New York City public schools (for release in January 2012). The$50,000 Hiett Prize will be given to her Oct. 26. For the first time in the prize’s seven-year history, the winner will present a lecture at the institute that will be free and open to the public.

The full press release follows:

The Dallas Institute Names Diana Senechal recipient of $50,000 Hiett Prize in the Humanities

Dallas, September 13, 2011:  Diana Senechal, Ph.D., author, journalist and previously a teacher in the New York City public school system, is the 2011 recipient of the $50,000 Hiett Prize in the Humanities from The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.  The award, which recognizes an emerging leader in the humanities, will be presented to Dr. Senechal on the evening of October 26 at the Dallas Institute.  This will mark the first time in the seven-year history of the Hiett Prize that the winner will present a lecture at the Dallas Institute which will be free and open to the public.

The Hiett Prize is among the nation’s most prestigious honors in the humanities.  The $50,000 annual award was created by The Dallas Institute in 2004 in collaboration with philanthropist Kim Hiett Jordan to recognize a person who has not yet reached his or her potential, but whose work in the humanities shows extraordinary promise and is already making a difference in the way we think about the world.  The purpose of the Hiett Prize is to encourage future leaders in the humanities—recognizing their achievement and their promise and assisting their work through a cash award. Overall, it represents the counterpart of lifetime achievement awards by aiming at the discovery of new talent in the humanities on its way toward full maturity.

Diana Senechal holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literature from Yale and taught Russian as a graduate student and Mellon Fellow.  From 2005 to 2009, she taught English Language in New York City public schools; this sparked a deep interest in our nation’s educational system and provided the springboard for her debut book Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, which will be released in January 2012.  In Republic of Noise, Senechal criticizes the emphasis, in our schools and beyond, on group work, rapid activity, and instant results. Arguing that “the chatter of the present, about the present, cannot always grasp the present,” Senechal examines the role of solitude in public life, creative work, and the life of the mind. The book calls not for drastic changes but for subtle shifts: an honoring of the things of solitude, such as literature, science, art, friendship, and matters of conscience. Her writing has also appeared in a variety of educational publications including Education Week, Double X, American Educator, Educational Leadership and several leading education blogs. Senechal currently works as a curriculum advisor at Columbia Secondary School in New York City.

“Diana Senechal is a rare find: she is not only a scholar of Slavic Languages and Literatures but also a brilliant mind in other literatures, poetry, philosophy, mathematics, science, technology, theology and music,” said J. Larry Allums Ph.D., Executive Director of The Dallas Institute. “Her distinctive achievements and original plans for future projects in the humanities made such a resounding impact on our selection committee that they were unanimous in their final decision that she had to be the recipient of this year’s Hiett Prize.”

The Hiett Prize selection process occurs over several months each year. Applications from across the U.S. are evaluated during two elimination rounds before a winner is determined during a final round. Hiett judges are selected from among Fellows of the Dallas Institute, a distinguished group of scholars, teachers, writers, and public intellectuals in the humanities, arts, and sciences in both the U.S. and abroad.

Previous winners of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities include: Brad Gregory, Notre Dame University (2005); Hilaire Kallendorf, Texas A&M University (2006); Tiya Alicia Miles, University of Michigan (2007); David Greenberg, Rutgers University (2008); James E. McWilliams, Texas State University (2009) and Mark Oppenheimer, Yale University (2010).

The presentation of the Hiett Prize and lecture by Dr. Diana Senechal will take place on Wednesday, October 26 at 6:30 – 8:30PM with a reception at 6PM.  Free admission but reservations are required.  For more information, please contact the Dallas Institute at 214.871.2440 or

  • Margitte Boerma (dutch friend)

    Diana is such a modest and gifted person. When we were about ten years old, she lived in the Netherlands for only one year and attended school with us. Ever since, we correspond with each other, Diana mostly in Dutch! I’m proud having Diana as my friend an I’m glad this honor is given to Diana!

  • Chris Ward (tucson friend)

    After the lecture, don’t be surprised if you encounter Diana at a cafe in Austin playing her original compositions on cello. It is unfortunate that her talent in creative music is rarely mentioned in the press release. I believe that this dimension of Diana’s character plays an important role in her insight to the cognitive minds of children.