NLCC discussion series focuses on Greg Iles

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Natchez author Greg Iles, above, signs his latest book, “Natchez Burning,” at a special signing event at Dunleith earlier this year.

Natchez author Greg Iles, above, signs his latest book, “Natchez Burning,” at a special signing event at Dunleith earlier this year.

Philip English will bring one simple, yet complex, question to the table Saturday when discussing the works of famed author Greg Iles.

“The tensions (Iles) describes in his work are very realistic tensions, and he paints an accurate picture of the past,” said English, a Michigan native who moved to Natchez seven years ago. “What I really want to know is if people who have lived in Natchez all their lives feel that’s a fair accounting or if they find it to be out of sync.”

English is one of three presenters who will be discussing the works of Iles during the second installment of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration’s literary seminars, “The Power of Place: The Natchez Impact of Five Extraordinary Authors.”

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Saturday’s seminar, titled “Saluting Greg Iles” will focus on the works of the New York Times bestselling author who grew up in Natchez and features the city in a majority of his books.

Iles’ most recent novel, “Natchez Burning,” will take up the majority of English’s discussions.

The book debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times’ best seller list and is the first in a new trilogy focused on Iles’ character, Penn Cage.

“It would be such a mammoth undertaking to try and extend the seminar to his entire body of work,” English said. “So we’re going to focus exclusively on ‘Natchez Burning,’ and we’re in the process of preparing some questions to ask to generate discussion.”

In 2007, English retired after 40 years in the classroom and promptly resettled in Natchez, a decision influenced in part by the Iles’ novels he eagerly read for years.

“I read an early review of one of his books a long time ago, so I decided I would check it out at the local library, and I’ve been hooked since,” English said. “The main resonating factor in his work that I enjoy is his depiction of the past, and that’s something I’ve always found to be very accurate.

“The way he juxtaposes that with the current, it kind of shows an extension of the past to the current reality that I find very intriguing.”

English said the telling of Natchez’s history throughout Iles’ work is something that can lend itself to not always painting the city in a glowing light.

“The way he does not allow the past to be forgotten, I think, is an important ingredient in the mixture of his work and is something some don’t want to do,” English said. “There’s a collective consciousness oftentimes that leads people to forget the past, but (Iles) doesn’t.”

Joining English in the discussion of Iles’ work will be his son, Josh, who was born in New York, and is currently finishing his master’s degree at the University of Alabama.

English turned his son onto Iles’ work, which led Josh to becoming an avid fan and even inspired him to work on his first novel.

Susanne Kirk, who worked as an editor for several of Iles’ books, will also be discussing his work during the seminar by bringing special insight to the way Iles uses place, especially Natchez, as an essential and dynamic element of his novels.

Kirk began her publishing career as an editor with Tuttle Publishers in Tokyo in 1972 and joined the editorial staff of Scribner in New York City in 1975. Before retiring a few years ago, she served as vice president and executive editor in the Scribner division of Simon & Schuster, which published works of such authors as Stephen King, Don DeLillo, Horton Foote and Iles.

NLCC founder Carolyn Vance Smith said she’s thrilled to honor and recognize an author who has brought worldwide attention to Natchez.

“You can be in New York City on Fifth Avenue or in the London airport and look up to see a big display of Greg Iles’ work,” Smith said. “He’s really taken Natchez to the world.”

The seminar, which is free and open to the public, will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday in the newly remodeled room of the Judge George W. Armstrong Public Library in downtown Natchez.

For more information, visit or call 601-446-1289.