Plymouth, N.H. – Valerie Cunningham, preservationist and Portsmouth native, is the 20th recipient of the Robert Frost Contemporary American Award given by the Plymouth State University Alumni Association (PSUAA).
The biennial award, named in memory of America’s late poet laureate who taught at Plymouth State in 1911, was inaugurated by the PSUAA in 1970 to recognize humanitarianism and devotion to the country “north of Boston.”
Valerie Cunningham has been researching, writing and teaching about local black history for 30 years. Her avocation has made her one of the region’s experts: she is a consultant to the Black History section of SeacoastNH.com and a founder and president of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, Inc., a self-guided walking and driving tour of landmarks representing more than 360 years of African-American history in New Hampshire.
Cunningham has been a social activist in Portsmouth since the 1960s, and has helped found several community service organizations there, including the Blues Bank Collective, the New Hampshire Circle of Friends, the Seacoast African American Cultural Center and the Portsmouth-Accra Sister City Connection. She is a frequent public speaker and has published several articles on African-American history and culture in New Hampshire and southern Maine. She is co-author, with historian Mark J. Sammons, of Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African American Heritage (University Press of New England, 2004).
Cunningham currently uses her research and networking skills as the coordinator of Community Black Heritage Partnerships, an initiative of the University of New Hampshire to provide students, faculty and staff with service learning and academic opportunities.
The Robert Frost Contemporary American Award presentation was held in conjunction with the University’s summer Alumni Day activities June 25.
Past recipients of the award have included journalist Stacy Cole, poet Maxine Kumin, journalist John Harrigan, U.S. Senator Warren Rudman, former New Hampshire Governor Walter R. Peterson, philanthropist Paul Holloway, child psychiatrist Anna Philbrook and former Governor John King.
# # #