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Natchez literary conference enters new era

Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration founder and co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith hugs Monica Cross as people line up behind Cross to greet and hug Smith during Smith’s retirement party at the Natchez Historical Foundation Saturday. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration founder and co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith hugs Monica Cross as people line up behind Cross to greet and hug Smith during Smith’s retirement party at the Natchez Historical Foundation Saturday. (Sam Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

By Nita McCann

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Supporters of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration said the event’s incoming chairman has some pretty big shoes to fill.

NLCC co-founder and co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith announced recently that she would retire after the 26th annual conference, which ended Saturday.

Now the event’s stakeholders are charged with the task of finding a new person for that position – which they said would be no easy task.

“It’s really going to be tough to find someone like Carolyn,” said Jennifer Ogden Combs, director of the Natchez Tricentennial Committee. “She has laid a strong foundation and set the bar high in terms of quality.”

People close to the conference who were contacted last week said they did not yet have a specific direction they would like to see the conference go in the future.

But they already have a laundry list of the qualities they said are essential for someone to excel in that position.

Organization was the first quality mentioned.

“The celebration is planned throughout the year,” said Jim Barnett, who is retired from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “Actually, Carolyn likes to work two years ahead.”

MDAH is a co-sponsor of the NLCC.

Barnett said creativity would be another essential quality.

Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration founder and co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith, center, laughs with her brother Bill Vance, left, and Glen Huff, right, during Smith’s retirement party at the Natchez Historical Foundation Saturday. Smith headed the NLCC for 26 years, bringing to Natchez talented writers and scholars from all over the world. (Same Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration founder and co-chair Carolyn Vance Smith, center, laughs with her brother Bill Vance, left, and Glen Huff, right, during Smith’s retirement party at the Natchez Historical Foundation Saturday. Smith headed the NLCC for 26 years, bringing to Natchez talented writers and scholars from all over the world. (Same Gause / The Natchez Democrat)

“(The conference) doesn’t just cover dry history,” he said. “Some of the themes deal with music or sports, the kind of things that are fun to organize.”

Darrell White, director of cultural heritage tourism for the City of Natchez, said courage also comes to mind.

“I hope the new person will have the courage to involve people throughout the community,” White said.

“Having a quality, balanced program is one thing that has led to the conference’s success, and I hope it remains inclusive.”

The new chairman will have to be energetic as well, White said, adding that person, “Will have to have a lot of energy and stamina to take on a job like that.”

Strong leadership skills, dedication to Natchez and the ability to work well with others are essential, said Kathleen Jenkins, superintendent of Natchez National Historical Park, which also co-sponsors the event.

“Carolyn has left some pretty big shoes to fill,” Jenkins said. “She has set the bar pretty high when it comes to quality.”

Ronnie Nettles, president of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, which co-sponsors the event, said stakeholders probably would discuss filling the chairman’s post soon, certainly no later than April.

And like the others close to the celebration, Nettles said he has been thinking in recent days about qualities he would like to see in an incoming chairman.

“Carolyn is an excellent visionary, and she thinks through the smallest details,” Nettles said.

“I’ve worked in higher education for 30 years, and I have never met anybody just like her.”

Smith said she feels confident that, for the most part, the event would continue basically as it is now.

“But I will applaud whatever the new chair wants to do,” Smith said. She added she would stay on with the NLCC as a volunteer, sharing her experience and copious notes from past conferences.

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