Seminars kick off with Richard Wright focus

Published 12:05 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

Richard Wright will be the focus of the first of a series of seminars beginning soon.

Richard Wright will be the focus of the first of a series of seminars beginning soon.

By Elizabeth Manning

A discussion featuring Adams County native and nationally renowned author Richard Wright will kick off a series of seminars on local literary giants as part of the 26th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

The seminar is one of five to be hosted on the first Saturday of each month beginning in September of this year and will culminate in the celebration hosted in February. The talks are free and open to the public. Judge George W. Armstrong Library will host the seminars, which will focus on different authors who are either natives of the Natchez area or whose works were heavily influenced by the city.

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The high number of noteworthy Mississippians and the approaching tricentennial of the City of Natchez served as inspiration for the seminars, said Carolyn Vance Smith, founder of the celebration and a professor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

“There are a handful of figures in Natchez alone that played an influential role outside of the State of Mississippi,” Smith said. “Richard Wright’s 106th birthday is in September, so he seemed like the perfect author to start the seminars.”

Each of the talks will feature discussions on the specific author’s life and work, a question-and-answer period and refreshments. The Wright seminar will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Sept. 6, and will begin with a showing of the BBC film on Wright, titled “Richard Wright: Black Boy.”

Following the film, Charles Wright, a Richard Wright historian and cousin of the author, will begin the discussion about Wright and provide information on the Wright Rumble, a tour Charles Wright hosts of locations in Adams County featured in his cousin’s books.

“The tour is very straight-forward, but offers readers the chance to see the real life places that inspired Wright’s work, like the Rhythm Nightclub and the Forks of the Road,” Wright said.

Co-Lin English and literature professor Dennis Harried will lead a discussion on the use of dialectical language in Wright’s “Almos’ a Man.” Harried teaches Wright’s work in his African American literature class.

“Wright is still such a big part of the local culture and one of the major contributors to the area, it’s only natural that we study him,” Harried said.

Following Harried’s discussion, the session will open for questions from the audience.

Armstrong Library Director Pam Plummer said she hoped the library would be a location where residents of all backgrounds will feel comfortable attending the talks.

“We are an extension of literacy taught in the schools,” Plummer said. “The library should facilitate learning about local figures who highlight the benefits of literacy.”

The library will host the seminar in the newly renovated meeting room, which can accommodate approximately 100 people. Smith said she hopes the seminars will encourage Natchez residents to become more knowledgeable about the history the city has to offer.

“The city has beautiful homes and churches, but there are so many more riches here than just that,” Smith said. “Natchez has been influential to so many people.”

The theme of the 2015 celebration in February is “Bigger than Life: Extraordinary Mississippians.”

Richard Wright, born and raised in Adams County, wrote several works over his lifetime, including “Black Boy,” “Native Son,” “The Long Dream” and “Almos’ A Man.”

The festival itself will feature musicians, medical professionals, historians, politicians and chefs, as well as authors. Sponsors of the festival included the Mississippi Humanities Council, Mississippi Writer’s Guild, Public Broadcasting System and the Natchez National Historical Park.

“Mississippi natives have accomplished so much; it’s important to celebrate them,” Smith said.

The subject and date of each seminar are:

• Richard Wright, Sept. 6

• Greg Iles, Oct. 4

• Ellen Douglas, Nov. 1

• Eudora Welty, Jan. 3

• William Johnson, Feb. 7

No seminar is planned for December because students and teachers are out on holiday break, Smith said.