Honor a great Mississippian Saturday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A literary treat awaits area residents Saturday at the Judge George W. Armstrong Library.

From 2 to 5 p.m., author Ellen Douglas will be saluted as part of the series “The Power of Place: The Natchez Impact on Five Extraordinary Authors.”

The series is presented as a prologue to the 2015 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration whose theme is “Bigger Than Life: Extraordinary Mississippians.” The program is free and open to the public.

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Ellen Douglas is the pen name of Josephine Ayres Haxton, who authored novels, short stories and non-fiction. She frequently wove themes of human relationships, racial divide and personal conflicts into her work.

The program Saturday will not only explore her work, but her life, as well. She lived a relatively quiet, un-public life here in Natchez and later her home in Jackson, where she died. It could be said she lived in the shadow of that other famous female Mississippi writer Eudora Welty. But Douglas won her fair share of accolades, among them the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship, the Hillsdale Prize for Fiction, a National Book Award finalist and more. Saturday’s program will feature an interview with Douglas by Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Gene Edwards for “The Writers” series in 2008, a personal look at her life by her son and attorney Ayres Haxton, and a talk by noted scholar Peggy Prenshaw of Millsaps College, who has done extensive teaching and writing about women authors. In addition, the audience will hear readings from her last work “Truth: Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell,” a bold piece of non-fiction.

“Proust wrote in one of his last letters, ‘One must never be afraid of going too far, for the truth is beyond.’ Ellen Douglas has taken this very much to heart and has sought the truth in a region beyond falsehood, through falsehood, in effect. It’s a fascinating performance.” That description of Douglas’ final book was by Shelby Foote, award-winning director and screenwriter.

Author Elizabeth Spencer describes Douglas and her writing effectively and succinctly: “For all her deceptively quiet manner and muted tone, (her) own perception is fierce.”

So, join us Saturday and enjoy our company and refreshments as we explore the life and work of Ellen Douglas. The series is co-sponsored by the NLCC, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, The Mississippi Writers Guild, the Natchez National Historical Park and the Judge George W. Armstrong Library with support from Mississippi Public Broadcasting and the Mississippi Humanities Council.


G. Mark LaFrancis is a Natchez author and president of the Mississippi Writers Guild.