‘Mississippi Encyclopedia’ tour stops at Co-Lin

Published 12:45 am Wednesday, November 1, 2017


NATCHEZ — The new “Mississippi Encyclopedia” will make one of a few tour stops Thursday in Natchez, an area with more mentions than any location other in the state.

The Natchez area is mentioned more than 135 times in the approximately 9-pound, 1,451-page, $70 book published by University Press of Mississippi.

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The book’s senior editors, Ted Ownby and Charles Reagan Wilson, will appear in Natchez Thursday at the Carolyn Vance Smith Natchez Literary Research Center housed at the Willie Mae Dun Library at Copiah Lincoln Community College in Natchez.

“I have literally touched every page in that book because I was so fascinated by how many subjects they covered and how many times Natchez was mentioned,” Smith said. “This is a thrilling compilation that took 14 years for them to do. I am very pleased with how it turned out.”

The Carolyn Vance Smith Center is a collection of Natchez-related books and other materials, which opened in 2016.

The event will also serve as an opportunity to recognize Smith’s work and unveiling of her portrait at the center, Co-Lin Library Director Beth Richard said.

“She has been instrumental in building our Natchez collection with a tremendous donation of books and other materials that have been published through the years about Natchez and by individuals with some connection to Natchez,” Richard said. “Her knowledge of local and state history is phenomenal and it was her foresight that recognized the need for the center, the value of the materials, and the importance of preserving the materials naturally generated from the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.”

Smith said the encyclopedia would make an incredibly useful reference book and a copy would be kept in the research center.

James Barnett Jr., whose work appears within the encyclopedia, said Southwest Mississippi would naturally have numerous entries.

“Natchez was the home of a prehistoric mound-building culture, an important historic Indian tribe, one of the oldest colonial settlements in the state and the first capital of Mississippi,” Barnett said. “For more than 300 years the Natchez area has been a leader in Mississippi.

“Natchez has led in politics and government, historic preservation, education, business and industry, cultural activities, tourism and hospitality.”

H. Clark Burkett, retired from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, also appears within the volume.

They are two of more than 600 scholars who contributed to the 1,600 entries within the book.

Barnett’s entries are “Natchez Indians” and “Fatherland Site (Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.”

Burkett wrote about the author, Prentiss Ingraham (1843-1904). “His 1,000 novels and novelettes make him Mississippi’s most fertile writer,” Burkett said.

The encyclopedia was published to help celebrate Mississippi’s bicentennial anniversary, and Richard said the event was part of the college’s salute to the birthday state.

Richard said proceeds from the book purchases would benefit the research center to expand its collection.

“It would make a great Christmas gift for anyone interested in Mississippi, especially when it can be personally inscribed by the senior editors,” Richard said.

Smith said she is hopeful a nice crowd will come out to learn more about the book.  Book sales and signings by the senior editors will kick off at 5 p.m. Thursday. Wilson and Ownby will speak at 5:30 p.m. about their work.

“We are one of the few places that they are coming,” Smith said. “Of course, they are old friends of ours through the (Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration). We are so proud of them and happy to have them come be with us.”

Ownby said he and Wilson would be happy to take questions from audience members.

“One is bound to be why we left out something,” he said. “The answer is that we had a space issue. But we have an online version of the encyclopedia coming by 2018, and new entries can be added.”

References to Natchez and Southwest Mississippi include the French-Natchez War, seven state governors, novelist Richard Wright, the Natchez pilgrimage, Fayette Mayor Charles Evers, the Forks of the Road, Natchez Under-the-Hill, Natchez Trace and the Rhythm Night Club Fire.

“We’re hoping that the encyclopedia allows people to compare the populations, economies and histories of different parts of Mississippi,” Ownby said. “That will let readers learn more about what’s unique about each part of the state.”