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October 19, 2023

Michigan author, photographer wins SVSU literature award

photo of book cover beside photo of man standing

Detroit photographer and architectural historian Jeff Morrison has been awarded Saginaw Valley State University’s 2023-2024 Stuart D. and Vernice M. Gross Award for Literature for his book “Guardians of Michigan: Architectural Sculpture of the Pleasant Peninsulas.” The award is part of SVSU’s community-minded commitment to recognize exceptional publications within Michigan. 

Morrison spent years exploring Michigan’s largest cities and smallest towns, researching historic architecture and using telephoto photography to capture the sculptural details hidden from the naked eye. Organized alphabetically by city, each section documents the history and design of an individual building, accompanied by beautiful photos of the building and its unique ornamentation.

“I am very pleased and excited to have “Guardians of Michigan” recognized with such a prestigious award,” Morrison said. “It is especially meaningful to receive this kind of recognition from Saginaw Valley State University, the home of the Marshall Fredericks Sculpture Museum, because Marshall Fredericks is a personal hero and one of the architectural sculptors featured in my work.”

Morrison’s first book, “Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City,” was named a Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan, received a 2020 Midwest Book Award from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association, and received a 2019 State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan. 

“I chose to create books about architectural sculpture because seeing buildings with sculpture on them has fired my curiosity since childhood,” Morrison said. “I would look at these structures and wonder why the sculpture was there and what it meant. Also, while I feel it is important to document these often-overlooked architectural features for people to see and appreciate, I hope to inspire support for preservation and adaptive reuse of these historic buildings.”

The author will visit SVSU in winter 2024, when he will accept the award as well as visit classes and student groups on campus. He will also receive a $1,000 prize. 
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Established in 1994 by the late Stuart D. Gross and his wife, Vernice, the Gross Award for Literature is administered by SVSU. Since 1997, the award has been presented annually, with a few exceptions, to published works in regional history or historical fiction/drama. Preference is given to Michigan subject matter or strong Michigan connections on the part of the author. 

Winners are selected by a panel of judges from SVSU’s faculty and staff. Judges this year were Matthew Buckley, head of research and instruction services; M. Patricia Cavanaugh, professor of English; Jules Gehrke, professor of history; Carlos Ramet, associate dean of the College of Arts and Behavioral Sciences; and Michelle Strasz, research and online course support librarian. 

Employed for many years as a journalist with the Saginaw News, Gross was an early member of SVSU’s staff and served in a variety of public affairs roles. He was recognized as a regional historian and published several books. Among his writings are “Saginaw: A History of the Land and the City,” “When Timber was King” and “Where There is a Will.” Following his retirement from SVSU, Gross wrote and produced a play, “Let’s Have Lunch Sometime.” He died in 1996; Mrs. Gross in 2001.