NLCC presents awards

Published 4:02 pm Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration capped off its 18th annual celebration with its most prestigious ceremony Saturday night.

The NLCC presented the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award to two authors with Mississippi connections, and the Horton Foote Award for Special Achievement in Screenwriting to a Californian with Mississippi ties.

Former Gov. William F. Winter, the NLCC director of proceedings for all 18 celebrations, presided over the awards ceremony, held at the Natchez Convention Center, where most of the programs were presented over the last three days. The NLCC was founded by Copiah-Lincoln Community College and includes co-sponsors, The Natchez National Historical Park, The Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

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The first Richard Wright Award recipient was Beverly F. Lowry of Virginia, who was raised in Greenville.

Lowry said her Delta connection means a lot to her.

“It’s important to me; I’ve lived all over the country. My yoga instructor quite often told me to go back to who I am (as an image). I go back to that picture of my mother, my little brother and me (in Greenville). I look so bright and expectant. I feel like somewhere in me that little girl stirs.”

Lowry’s three decades of writings encompass novels and non-fiction books, many articles and book reviews, many focusing on blacks in America. Her latest soon-to-be-released book tells of the life of Harriet Tubman, one of the key figures in the Underground Railroad. She read two passages from the book, “Harriet Tubman: Imaging a Life.”

“Questions of race and puzzlement of race have been a part of my life from the beginning …,” Lowry said. “I feel privileged to be writing about people from another race.”

Lowry said, “Thank you very much for this great opportunity and this great honor.”

Two of Lowry’s selected works were about former Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award Winners: Eudora Welty and Beth Henley.

Also receiving the Wright award was Al Young of Berkeley, Calif., a native of Ocean Springs.

Young, however, was unable to attend the ceremony because he was asked by the U.S. State Department to attend an international conference in Vienna, Austria, according to John D. W. Guice, of the University of Southern Mississippi, who presented the Wright awards.

“He began writing in 1969 and has been writing at a prodigious rate since then,”Guice said of Young.

Young, the Poet Laureate of California, accepted the award by video, which was played during the ceremony. Young was raised in Ocean Springs.

“I’m delighted to accept the Richard Wright Award,” Young said. “I thank Richard Wright from whom all these blessings flow.”

Young has authored at least 18 books and has written a significant number of poems. He read from two of his poems on the video. He said he often reflects on his days in Mississippi for inspiration for his work.

Like Lowry, Young has won numerous awards for writing and been acclaimed in many reviews and periodicals.

A Vicksburg native, Charles Burnett, received the Horton Foote Award for Special Achievement in Screenwriting. The award was established by actor Gerald McRaney of Mississippi several years ago.

Burnett was described as “only one director of stature” produced by Mississippi, according to Ward Emling, director of the Mississippi Film Office, who presented the award to Burnett.

“Charles Burnett is a pioneer not only of African-American film-making, but a pioneer of independent film-making,” Emling said.

He, too, has earned many awards for his achievements, but none so special as the Horton Foote award, Burnett said.

“I was speechless (when notified of the honor). This award has a profound significance for me,” Burnett said.

He related a story about his professional life when a film executive rejected him and said he would never rise to the stature of Horton Foote, Academy Award-winning screenwriter and film-maker.

“This award makes it all worthwhile,” he said. “It validates … all those rejections.”

Burnett’s films center largely on themes of conflict and rejection, many with Southern settings.

In wrapping up the celebration, Winter praised Carolyn Vance Smith, NLCC founder, and retired Co-Lin English teacher.

Winter encouraged participants to return for the 2008 NLCC whose theme is “Richard Wright, the South, and the World: A Centennial Celebration” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Wright’s birth.