I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with the new Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Jon Parrish Peede. Our conversation was the latest installment of NHA’s Between Two Bookshelves conference call series, which offers a brief, deep dive into Washington-based humanities policy for NHA members.

We covered a wide-range of topics during the call, including Peede’s formative experiences with two of his mentors: former NEH Chair Bill Ferris, under whom he studied at the University of Mississippi’s program in Southern Studies and former NEA Chair Dana Gioia, whom he met as a young editor at Mercer University Press. Ferris remained an important force in Peede’s career, pausing from his outreach to Members of Congress after his appointment as NEH Chair by President Clinton to help Peede get the job at Mercer. Gioia later invited Peede to join him as senior advisor and speech writer at the NEA. After serving under Chairman Gioia for more than six years, Peede was asked to remain at the agency by the Obama Administration’s transition team. He continued to serve the agency for two more years.

During the call, I asked Peede about formative humanities experiences and his vision for the role of the NEH and the humanities in our national life. Among many interesting answers, Peede talked about interviewing John Hope Franklin and Will Campbell. Peede also envisions the NEH as “a catalytic funder” that can help generate “institutional buy-in” and help to launch “new areas of the humanities.” He sees the humanities playing a central role in our national life: “We often live in a bifurcated society with those who are engaged in their communities and the world and those who are not, and humanities are a path toward that engagement.”

Click here to give a listen to the full interview.