2009 NLCC to focus on Southern women

Published 11:45 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NATCHEZ — When it comes to literature, the American South is known far and wide for high-quality writers.

What might not be so well-known is that a large number of Southern women are in that elite group.

“The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration will try to remedy that situation,” said Carolyn Vance Smith, founder and co-chairman of the Olympic Award-winning conference.

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The 20th annual conference, set for Feb. 19-22, will use the theme, “Southern Women Writers: Saluting the Eudora Welty Centennial.”

“Consider some of the women writers from Mississippi and their long-lasting works,” Smith said. They include:

Eudora Welty, 1909-2001, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Delta Wedding and The Robber Bridegroom

Margaret Walker Alexander, 1915-1998, Jubilee and Richard Wright: Daemonic Genius

Elizabeth Spencer, 1921-, PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, The Light in the Piazza and The Night Travelers4

Ellen Douglas, 1921-, National Book Award nominee, Apostles of Light and Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell

Natasha Trethewey, 1966-, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Domestic Work and Native Guard

Julia Reed, 1961-,The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story and Queen of the Turtle Derby

Carolyn Haines, 1953-, Summer of the Redeemer and Them Bones

“Also consider women writers from other Southern states,” Smith said.

They include:

Harper Lee, 1926-, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird

Brenda Marie Osbey, 1957-, Louisiana Poet Laureate, All Saints: New and Selected Poems

Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times best-selling author of South Carolina, Sullivan’s Island, Bulls Island

Katherine Anne Porter, 1890-1980, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Texas, Flowering Judas and Ship of Fools

“All of these women writers will be featured at the 2009 NLCC,” Smith said. “Programs will be either by them or about them.”

On Feb. 19, the conference will focus on Welty and her works; on Feb. 20, on Welty’s contemporaries and their works; and on Feb. 21, on Welty’s successors and their works.

On Feb. 22, writing workshops named in honor of Natchez native Ellen Douglas will conclude the conference.

“Again this year, we have some of the top scholars and writers in the country on the agenda,” Smith said. “The keynote speaker is Suzanne Marrs of Millsaps College, Jackson, who is the authority on Eudora Welty.

Among other books, she has written “Eudora Welty: A Biography” and “One Writer’s Imagination: The Fiction of Eudora Welty.”

Enhancing the programs will be documentary films, a dramatic version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Natchez Little Theatre, panel discussions, book signings, exhibits, concerts, a writing awards ceremony and receptions. In addition are two meals featuring menus suggested by Welty’s writings.

Honoring Eudora Welty was a natural decision for the NLCC Steering Committee, Smith said.

“Miss Welty helped found the celebration when she agreed to be on the agenda for the first conference in 1990,” Smith said.

The theme for the first conference was “The Natchez Trace: Its Literary Legacy.” Welty read aloud her famed story that is set on the Trace, “A Worn Path.”

“She absolutely captivated the audience,” Smith said. “She read with such flair. She could have been a successful actress if she had wanted a second career.”

Welty continued to support the event the rest of her life, Smith said.

In addition to honoring Southern women writers, the conference will honor William and Elise Winter of Jackson at a free public reception on Feb. 21, Smith said.

“Every year since the beginning, Gov. Winter has been director of proceedings for the NLCC. We can’t imagine having the conference without him and Mrs. Winter. We are so grateful to them.”

Hosting the reception will be the NLCC, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and Copiah-Lincoln Community College, which has sponsored the conference since 1990.

The NLCC is free except for certain meals and the play, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Information and tickets are available at www.colin.edu/nlcc, by calling 601-446-1208 or 866-296-6522, or by e-mailing NLCC@colin.edu.

Sponsors of the conference in addition to Copiah-Lincoln are Natchez National Historical Park, Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Partial funding comes from the Mississippi Humanities Council and the Mississippi Arts Commission.