Three writers to receive awards at upcoming celebration

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Three writers, all with strong Southern roots, will receive major awards at the 14th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration in free ceremonies at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Natchez Convention Center.

Award winners are the Hollywood screenplay writer and actor Billy Bob Thornton, the inspirational writer/speaker Clifton Taulbert of Tulsa and the poet/editor T.R. Hummer of the University of Georgia. All will be present to accept the awards and present remarks.

Thornton will win the Horton Foote Special Achievement Award for Screenplay Writing, to be presented by the award committee chairman, Gerald McRaney, film and television actor of Mississippi and California.

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Taulbert and Hummer will win the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award, to be presented by former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter and awards committee chairman David G. Sansing of The University of Mississippi.

Thornton, widely known for the film &uot;Sling Blade,&uot; on which he did triple duty as starring actor, screenwriter and director, is winner of an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The Arkansas native and his writing partner, Tom Epperson, are also known for their screenplays, &uot;Hunter’s Blood,&uot; &uot;A Family Thing&uot; and &uot;One False Move.&uot; In addition, Thornton has had winning acting roles in such films as &uot;The Apostle,&uot; &uot;Primary Colors,&uot; &uot;A Simple Plan&uot; and &uot;Armageddon.&uot;

Currently on location in Texas filming &uot;The Alamo,&uot; Thornton has won numerous awards for filmmaking and acting. In addition to the Academy Award, other awards are from the Writers Guild of America, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, the Online Film Critics Society and film critics associations in Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Clifton Taulbert, an author, lecturer, film maker and motivational speaker, is best known for his Pulitzer Prize-nominated &uot;The Last Train North&uot; and for his autobiographical &uot;Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored.&uot;

&uot;Once Upon a Time&uot; was the basis for the 1996 film by the same name. He is also author of &uot;Eight Habits of the Heart,&uot; a book outlining essential materials in building a productive community, including, as he says,

&uot;basic ideals that are not held captive by time, race, gender or place.&uot;

Other books Taulbert has written are his childhood memoirs &uot;Little Cliff and the Porch People,&uot; &uot;Little Cliff and the Cold Place,&uot; &uot;Little Cliff’s First Day of School&uot; and &uot;The Journey Home: A Father’s Gift to His Son.&uot; A new book is &uot;Separate But Equal: The Mississippi Photographs of Henry Clay Anderson.&uot;

Taulbert has been honored from Europe to Asia to the Mississippi Delta as a great writer, humanitarian and civic leader. Born in the Mississippi Delta town of Glen Allen, he served in the U.S. Air Force, earned a degree at Oral Roberts University and is a graduate of the Southwest Graduate School of Banking at Southern Methodist University.

He worked with Lanny Potts, the inventor of the Stairmaster Exercise System, to develop the U.S.-wide government market for this revolutionary machine.

T.R. Hummer, currently professor and editor of The Georgia Review at the University of Georgia, Athens, is a native of Macon and author of seven books of poetry.

Hummer earned both bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Utah. He has taught at the University of Southern Mississippi, University of Utah, Kenyon College, Middlebury College, University of Oregon and Virginia Commonwealth University.

He has been editor of Quarterly West, The Cimarron Review, The Kenyon Review and New England Review and was Senior Poet at Virginia Commonwealth University.

His books include &uot;Translation of Light,&uot; &uot;The Angelic Orders,&uot; &uot;The Passion of the Right-angled Man,&uot; &uot;Lower-Class Heresy,&uot; &uot;The 18,000-Ton Olympic Dream,&uot; &uot;Walt Whitman in Hell,&uot; and, in 2001, &uot;Useless Virtues.&uot; His poems have appeared in many journals, including The Paris Review and The Atlantic.

Hummer has won a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry, the Pushcart Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for poetry and the Hanes Poetry Prize from Fellowship of Southern Writers.

All three award winners will be honored at an autograph session following the ceremony. In addition, Thornton will help lead a discussion of &uot;Sling Blade,&uot; following the showing of the film after the awards ceremony.

The Horton Foote Award for Outstanding Screenplay Writing is named after Horton Foote of Wharton, Texas, an Oscar-Winning and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Writer of screenplays, plays, and a non-fiction memoir. Foote won the first award in 2002, after which time the award was named in his honor.

Called the &uot;American Chekhov,&uot; Foote gained acclaim with the plays &uot;The Young Man from Atlanta&uot; (which won a Pulitzer Prize), &uot;The Trip to Bountiful&uot; (which won an Indie Award for Best Writer), &uot;The Chase,&uot; &uot;The Traveling Lady,&uot; &uot;On Valentine’s Day,&uot; &uot;Convicts&uot; and &uot;The Carpetbagger’s Children.&uot;

He is currently at work on the play &uot;Tender Mercies,&uot; which will appear this spring.

Foote is also lauded for the screenplays &uot;Storm Fear,&uot; &uot;To Kill a Mockingbird&uot; (which won an Oscar), &uot;Baby,&uot; &uot;The Rain Must Fall,&uot; &uot;Hurry Sundown,&uot; &uot;Tomorrow&uot; (an adaptation of William Faulkner’s work), &uot;Tender Mercies&uot; (which won a second Oscar), and a remake of Steinbeck’s &uot;Of Mice and Men.&uot; He is also author of a recent memoir, &uot;Farewell,&uot; which tells his own story and that of people who inspired his characters.

The Horton Foote Award is the brainchild of Gerald McRaney, an award-winning film and television actor of Mississippi and Sherman Oaks, Calif. Since the Natchez Literary Celebration in 2001 changed its name at McRaney’s suggestion to Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration to reflect its increased focus on film, McRaney suggested a writing award for that medium.

The Richard Wright award was established in 1994 by the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration to honor the internationally known author, Richard Wright.

This man was born near Natchez in 1908, the son of a country schoolteacher and an illiterate sharecropper. Wright’s first novel, &uot;Native Son,&uot; was published in 1940 and was an immediate success.

His &uot;Black Boy,&uot; a fictionalized autobiography, was published in 1945 and sold 400,000 copies in three months. After leaving Natchez at a young age, Wright worked in Chicago and later moved to Paris, where he died in 1960.

Winners of the award are honored each year for a body of literary work. They must be outstanding, living writers with a strong Mississippi connection.

The award is funded each year by Natchez Newspapers Inc., publisher of The Natchez Democrat and The Miss-Lou Guide.

Wright was also honored by the Celebration on June 9, 1990, when an historic marker bearing his name was erected on the Natchez Bluff in ceremonies attended by Wright family members and friends.