Celebration of authors life begins Jan. 18

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 31, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Commemorating the 100th birthday of one of Natchez&8217;s most famous celebrities cannot begin too soon.

On Jan. 18, the celebration will begin &8212; a tribute to writer Richard Wright, born Sept. 4, 1908, at a plantation in rural Adams County and hailed as one of the literary giants of the 20th century.

The January kickoff of &8220;Richard Wright on the Eve of His 100th Birthday,&8221; will be 6 to 8 p.m. at the Alcorn State University business administration auditorium, featuring a discussion of &8220;Uncle Tom&8217;s Children,&8221; led by Wright scholar Dr. Jerry W. Ward Jr. of Dillard University in New Orleans.

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Throughout 2007, the reading series will continue, once a month, as a preparation for the culmination of the birthday at the 2008 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, said Carolyn Vance Smith, founder and co-chairman of the NLCC.

&8220;The Literary and Cinema Celebration steering committee works far in advance with themes for the conference,&8221; Smith said. &8220;Quite a long time ago we knew Richard Wright&8217;s 100th birthday would be in 2008, and we decided on that theme.&8221;

Four years ago, Ward, both a speaker and an adviser to the celebration, offered to lead monthly discussions of Wright&8217;s works in 2007.

&8220;The advisory board thought this was so generous,&8221; Smith said.

For all of his fame as author of the most highly touted works, &8220;Native Son&8221; and &8220;Black Boy,&8221; Wright wrote many other important works, Smith said. It is appropriate that people in his hometown learn more about him.

&8220;Jerry Ward and others want to wake the world up on how powerful a writer he was,&8221; Smith said.

The reading series, free and open to the public, will meet at a different location each month.

&8220;Moving the events around town makes it more of an all-inclusive event,&8221; Smith said. &8220;Everyone has been very cooperative.&8221;

One concern was getting enough copies of the Wright books for participants to read before the events.

Dozens of books, funded through a grant and through donations from various agencies throughout Natchez, are on order at discounted prices through Turning Pages Books & More and will be placed at Armstrong Library for checkout.

Sponsors of the yearlong project are the Literary and Cinema Celebration, Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture.

Ward will lead the discussions, providing informal guides ahead of time for participants to consider while reading the Wright works.

For example, some of the questions to consider for the first reading, &8220;Uncle Tom&8217;s Children,&8221; are how the stories challenge readers to consider the South and a sense of place, what social issues arise in &8220;Big Boy Leaves Home&8221; and what the importance of Christianity is in &8220;Fire and Cloud&8221; and &8220;Bright Morning Star.&8221;

Teachers attending the reading series may earn continuing education units, from .5 to 2.6, depending on attendance. Teacher registration, handled by Delecia Carey, is $25 for all or part of the series for teachers earning CEUs and will be open at any of the individual monthly meetings.

The committee that is planning and implementing the Wright series includes Charles Merritt, chairman; Charles Wright, a Natchez kinsman of Richard Wright; David Dryer, Natchez historian; Delecia Carey, head of school at Trinity Episcopal School; Frances Doss, English teacher at Natchez High School; and Tena Payne, retired educator with the Natchez-Adams County public schools.

Smith serves as committee liaison with the Literary and Cinema Celebration.