Duvall among three honorees at NLCC

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NATCHEZ — Three nationally-known writers representing three distinctly different genres will win major writing awards at the 22nd annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

Authors winning the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award are:

• The award-winning sports columnist Rick Cleveland of The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson.

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• The essayist, poet, editor and scholar Jerry W. Ward Jr., former longtime professor at Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, and now professor at Dillard University, New Orleans.

Winning the Horton Foote Award for Special Achievement in Screenwriting is the internationally-known actor and screenplay writer Robert Duvall of Virginia and Los Angeles.

Cleveland and Ward will be present to receive the awards and make remarks at a free public ceremony at 4 p.m., Saturday.

Receiving the Horton Foote for Duvall is his longtime friend, Gerald McRaney, nationally known film, television and Broadway actor who was born in Mississippi.

The Richard Wright Award is given annually to honor the internationally acclaimed author Richard Wright, 1908-1960, Natchez’s own “native son” who wrote such blockbusters as “Black Boy” and “Native Son.”

The Horton Foote Award is given annually in recognition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning screenplay writer and playwright, Horton Foote, 1916-2009, of Wharton, Texas. He is best known for writing the screenplay of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“We are delighted to honor these outstanding contemporary writers,” said Carolyn Vance Smith of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, founder and co-chairman of the NLCC. “The conference is indebted to the hard-working committees who select the winners.”

The Richard Wright Awards committee is co-chaired by David G. Sansing, professor emeritus at The University of Mississippi, and John D.W. Guice, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi.

McRaney chairs the Horton Foote Award committee.

“(Cleveland’s) series of articles about the people along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and their determination to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina won the Best of Gannett Award in 2005,” Sansing said. “The National Association of Sportswriters and Sportscasters named Cleveland Mississippi’s Outstanding Sportswriter in 2010.

“And he has also written biographies of two Mississippi sports icons, Ole Miss football coach Johnny Vaught and baseball legend David “Boo” Ferriss. He is very, very deserving of the award.”

Agreeing with Sansing is Ronnie Agnew, executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger.

“Since he was 13, Rick has worked in the field of journalism,” Agnew said. “By any measure, that is a remarkable accomplishment.

“Rick may write for The Clarion-Ledger, but his work belongs to Mississippi. In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, he has crisscrossed every Mississippi town, on roads without names, to cover people who would likewise have remained anonymous if Rick had not been there to tell their stories. That’s what makes Rick so special,” Agnew said.

“There is not a major sporting event in the country that he has not covered — the World Series, the Masters, the Super Bowl, football’s collegiate National championship.

“But what makes Rick so deserving of this award is that he’s happiest here at home telling the stories of Mississippians. He writes not for the sports fan, but for anyone interested in great writing and interesting stories.

Jerry Washington Ward Jr. holds a bachelor’s degree from Tougaloo College; a master’s degree from Illinois Institute of Technology; and a Ph.D. degree from the University of Virginia.

“Dr. Ward is a distinguished poet and professor of English and African American World Studies at Dillard University in New Orleans,” Sansing said. “Prior to his appointment at Dillard University, he served for years as the Lawrence Durgin Professor of Literature at Tougaloo College near Jackson.

“Professor Ward, a renowned Richard Wright scholar, is co-editor of ‘The Richard Wright Encyclopedia,’” Sansing said.

“He is also the author of ‘Redefining American Literary History;’ ‘Black Southern Voices;’ ‘Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry;’ and ‘The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery.’ He is co-editor with Maryemma Graham of the brand new The Cambridge History of African American Literature. His published articles and essays number in the hundreds.

“He is extremely deserving of this recognition.”

Robert Duvall, Academy Award-winning actor, director and screenplay writer, majored in drama at Principia College, Elsah, Ill., and then served in the U.S. Army. He attended The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City and was cast in the play, “The Midnight Caller,” by Horton Foote, a link that would prove critical to his career. Foote recommended Duvall to play the mentally disabled “Boo Radley” in “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1962.

He was also memorable in “True Grit,” “MASH,” “The Godfather,” “The Godfather: Part II,” “William Faulkner’s Tomorrow,” “The French Connection,” “Apocalypse Now,” “The Great Santini,” “Tender Mercies,” “Lonesome Dove” and “Stalin.”

In addition to an acting career, Duvall has written and directed pictures, including “The Apostle,” the documentary “We’re Not the Jet Set”, “Angelo My Love,” “A Shot at Glory” and “Assassination Tango.”

“Robert Duvall is one of our country’s foremost filmmakers with an incredible body of work as an actor, director and writer,” McRaney said. “Much of the finest work that he has done was in collaboration with his lifelong friend, Horton Foote.

“Among the best are ‘Tender Mercies,’ ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ The Horton Foote Award Committee was unanimous in its decision to select him for this prestigious honor because he represents the finest qualities the award recognizes.”

A reception and dinner honoring the award winners will follow the awards ceremony at the historic mansion, The Towers, 801 Myrtle Ave., home of Ginger Hyland and James Wesley Forde. Tickets for the benefit event are limited. They are $135 each, with $100 tax-deductible. Information is available by calling 601-446-1289 or toll-free 866-296-6522.