Enjoy ‘Southern Gothic’ stories at this week’s literary festival

Published 12:04 am Sunday, February 18, 2018

As a late night fog rolls in off the river, it makes the light of the streetlights hazy—and half-hides a mysterious figure in the shadows of the old saloon. His face is concealed beneath a deep-brimmed hat, which darkens the grim scowl and fiery eyes of man bent on revenge.

A woman fans herself and languidly swats at a mosquito on the decaying front porch of her once-fine country home, too burdened by the oppressive humidity to move more than that. The Spanish moss hangs thick on the live oaks that grow too close to the house, but provide needed shade for the hound dogs lolling in the dirt beneath them.

A strange creaking sound from the floorboards of the room above sends chills down a girl’s spine, because she knows that she is aloe in the old house…she thinks. She knows she should check, but the fear of what might be up there, especially with the creepy history of the house, keeps her rooted in place, paralyzed, as her eyes grow wider and wider.

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Decaying places…grotesque characters…mysterious events — all hallmarks of the literary genre known as Southern Gothic. But it’s not just weird settings or bizarre characters — Southern gothic takes the macabre to new heights by exploring Southern social issues with irony, blurred with drama and sometimes even the supernatural.  It is exemplified in the some of the works of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, and Flannery O’Connor.  If you have ever seen the films Night of the Hunter, A Streetcar Named Desire, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, or Interview with a Vampire you have seen how Southern Gothic is used to set the stage for eerie events and dark characters, who are often tortured by internal conflicts.

If you’d like to know more about Southern Gothic, then you have a great opportunity awaiting you–it is the theme of the 2018 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, which begins on Thursday, Feb. 22 and runs through Saturday, Feb. 24, with free talks, readings, discussions and films about this unique genre.

The NLCC begins on Thursday evening at 5:30 with the showing of two films: Local Landscapes, by photographer Mike Chapman, and Reconciliation in Mississippi, by David Ridgen.  Some of Friday’s topics include “What is Southern Gothic?” (Matthew Guinn), “William Faulkner and the Southern Gothic Tradition” (Dr. Jay Watson), “Southern Gothic and the Blues” (Victor Bouvéron), “The Journalism of the Ole Miss Riots” (Dr. Kathleen Wickham). The evening activities include a reception at the NAPAC Museum and a Surprise Ghost Tour, which is a ticketed event.

On Saturday, discussions continue with “Cold Case Investigations (Hank Klibanoff, Robert J. Rosenthal, and Stanley Nelson), “The Real Marie Laveau (Dr. Martha Ward), and Natchez’ own “Goat Castle: The True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South” (Karen Cox).  There are other discussions, programs, and awards as well, and it’s all wrapped up with a benefit cocktail reception (ticketed) at the Elms.

All of the discussions, films, and talks take place the Natchez Convention Center, and continuing education credits (CEUs) are available for teachers.

Historic Jefferson College is also featuring a Southern Gothic art exhibit, with eight works on loan from the Mississippi Museum of Art.

For more information about the NLCC, or to purchase tickets to any of these events, email nlcc@colin.edu or call 601-446-1208 or 601-446-1274.  You can also find out more about the schedule by going to http://www.colin.edu/community/natchez-literary-and-cinema-celebration/agenda/ or checking the NLCC Facebook page.
Robin Person is a co-chairman of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.