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Symposium celebrates Richard Wright

Bestselling author Greg Iles offered astute comments in a recent news article about preserving the Forks of the Road site, the second largest slave market in the pre-Civil War South.

We may never know all the accomplishments of the ancestors of the enslaved people at that site. But we do know of one: Richard Wright, whose grandfather was enslaved there. After the war, his grandfather returned to the Natchez area and became a sharecropper, had a son Nathaniel, who married a schoolteacher Ella. The family moved from the farm to Woodlawn, where a historical marker commemorating Richard Wright and his life are located.

Wright could have become just another undocumented descendant of that ugly scar of slavery at the Forks of the Road. But he didn’t. With his mother’s tutelage and by his own force of will, Wright became valedictorian of the Smith Robertson School in Jackson, where his passion for writing was ignited. Wright moved throughout the United States — Memphis, Chicago, New York City — before relocating to Paris, where he died in 1960.

Wright became a prolific author, mostly of fiction that portrayed characters and themes focusing on segregation and oppression of blacks. Without reservation, Wright rose to the top echelon of authors not just in the South, but the world.

To commemorate Wright’s life, the Mississippi Writers Guild is hosting a special symposium “Richard Wright: His Life and Legacy” Saturday at Alcorn State University’s Natchez campus.

The day is filled with unique and interesting perspectives about Wright. Keynote will be Dr. Jerry W. Ward Jr., extraordinary Richard Wright scholar, who has traveled the world with his presentations. Charles Wright, family historian and Richard Wright’s cousin, will give a visual journey of Wright’s early life in this area called, “Richard Wright Ramble.”

The documentary, “Richard Wright: A Force for Right,” produced by Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus, will be shown, followed by a trip downtown to the Natchez Museum of African-American History and Culture for a tour of the Richard Wright Exhibit Hall by Darrell White, museum director.

Back at Alcorn, we will have selected readings from Wright’s works by staff and students from ASU’s Lorman campus, as well as “Little Known Facts About Richard Wright,” by local historian David Dreyer.

A special presentation will conclude the symposium. Writers of the play “Was It Worth It?” as well as local notables will do a dramatic read-through.

The play was crafted by officers of the Mississippi Writers Guild, and features an imaginary conversation among famous Mississippi authors: Wright, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Muna Lee. The play is a witty, sincere, thought-provoking work that explores the souls of these great authors.

Pre-registration by Nov. 1 for the symposium is $10, with an additional $8 for lunch. Educators will be eligible for 0.6 Continuing Education Units for an additional $10. Registration on symposium day is $15.

Pre-registration may be done online at mississippiwritersguild.com, or in Natchez at the Natchez Museum of African-American History and Culture, 301 Main St., or by contacting Mark LaFrancis at 601-442-0980 or at gmarklafrancis@hotmail.com.

Help us celebrate the phenomenal life of this great author who originated here in our area.


Mark LaFrancis is vice president of the Mississippi Writers Guild.