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Three honored with awards

NATCHEZ — Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland said he wasn’t offended when infamous basketball coach Bobby Knight belittled sports writers, because the easily angered coach consistently dished up literary gold.

Cleveland, who shared several anecdotes at the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration awards ceremony Saturday, keeps the focus of his columns on the range of emotion sports often can stir up.

Cleveland was one of the award winners honored Saturday.

Former Mississippi governor William F. Winter welcomed the audience to the awards ceremony and introduced the chairmen of the NLCC.

“This is a high point of the celebration because we have talent in this state that we need to recognize,” Winter said.

The first presenter of the Richard Wright Literary Excellence Award was David Sansing, who introduced Cleveland as a literary star in his own right.

“He is a gifted writer who happens to write about sports,” Sansing said. “Rick Cleveland writes about people who play, and how they play.”

Cleveland said the readers of sports columns, like his in The Clarion-Ledger newspaper, already know the final score, they just want to learn more.

Cleveland said he was “staggered” by the list of writers who had won the award before him.

“I feel like a benchwarmer coming after Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth,” he said.

Cleveland came to love sports, and sports writing, because of his parents’ influence.

His father, Ace Cleveland, taught him how to write sports stories at age 13. When he asked, “How do I start?” after his first assignment, his father told him to write it like you tell it.

“It sounds simple,” Cleveland said. “But it’s the best writing advice I’ve ever heard.

“My mother loved sports —the passion, pageantry and people, not so much the Xs an Os.”

Cleveland said he was blessed with splendid editors and a great family.

John Guice presented the second Wright award.

“Richard Wright is smiling today because no one knows more about him than the recipient of this award,” Guice said, calling professor, author and Wright scholar Jerry W. Ward to be honored.

Ward drew parallels between Richard Wright and himself, especially after reading his autobiography, “Black Boy.”

“’Black Boy’ and my own memories created an affinity between Wright and me,” Ward said. “We have both dedicated our lives to speaking truth to the world. This honor entails obligation, as all honors do. I am committed to future generations of thinkers and writers to never forget how valuable Wright’s legacy is to us.”

Ward thanked the NLCC and its organizer, Carolyn V. Smith, for efforts to ensure Wright’s memory in Natchez is not forgotten.

Smith read a letter from the recipient of the Horton Foote Award for Special Achievement in Screenwriting, actor Robert Duvall.

In the letter Duvall said he was honored by the award, and regretted that he could not attend.

NLCC chairman and actor Gerald McRaney of Los Angeles said Duvall is a rare individual. McRaney originated the Foote award.

“Duvall’s work adds layers to our civilization,” McRaney said. “He is a man of principal, served his country, is unapologetically Christian, and cares for his family, his friends and his country. I am proud to accept the award in his name.”

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