Conference honors role of religion in literature

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 1, 2000

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran finds this year’s theme for the Natchez Literary Celebration apt for a conference set in the South. This year the celebration takes a look at one of the region’s most important institutions — and its impact on literature — with the theme &uot;The Sacred South: Writings from the Bible Belt.&uot;

&uot;People seem to take religion a lot more seriously in the South,&uot; said Cochran, R-Miss., who will help welcome visitors this morning at the opening session of the conference at the Natchez community center.

&uot;When you move into a community, that’s the first question people ask — ‘What church do you go to?’&uot; Cochran said with a laugh.

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From lectures and films to plays and music performances, the Natchez Literary Celebration has something for everyone. Most events are either free or low-cost and will take place at several locations around town.

The headquarters for the event is the new Natchez community center on the corner of Franklin and Wall streets.

NLC founder and co-chairman Carolyn Vance Smith expects several hundred people at this week’s celebration, which is in its 11th year.

And while many are coming from throughout Mississippi and the South, Smith encourages local residents to come as well. Much of the funding for the celebration comes from agencies in southwest Mississippi.

&uot;There will be recent research of much interest to people — whatever their church or synagogue — to get a broad picture of where we have been spiritually and where are today,&uot; Smith said.

Cochran was among the guests Wednesday evening at a reception at Elgin for members of the Mississippi Humanities Council.

The celebration is sponsored by Copiah-Lincoln Community College, the Natchez National Historic Park, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Alcorn State University.

In addition to lectures by noted authors and educators, this year’s celebration offers two special nighttime events: a performance of &uot;The Scopes Evolution Trial,&uot; a play based on the court records of the 1925 trial in Dayton, Tenn., and a showing of the Robert Duvall film &uot;The Apostle.&uot;

Both will take place on Friday and Saturday nights.

The celebration will also recognize two noted writers this year, recipients of the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award. Honorees are playwright Beth Henley, author of &uot;Crimes of the Heart&uot; and &uot;Miss Firecracker,&uot; and David G. Sansing, a professor of history emeritus at the University of Mississippi and author of several books including &uot;Mississippi, 1540 to the Present.&uot;

Next year, the literary celebration arrives earlier — but with an added focus.

The Feb. 21-25, 2001, event is expanding to include a focus on Southern films and screenwriting. The theme will be &uot;Fact, Fiction and Film: the Genius of the South.&uot;