34th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration pays homage to ‘The Better Half’

Published 2:50 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

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NATCHEZ — Miss America 1960, a former Mississippi First Lady-turned author, an award-winning Washington Post journalist and countless others will convene in Natchez Feb. 23 and 24 for a celebration of literature and cinema that will focus predominately on women.

“For the 34th year, I thought it was about time to give the better half a little credit, so this year is ‘The Better Half? Fact, Fiction or Fable.’ It will be for my audience to decide what they think after hearing this presentation,” Co-Lin’s Betty Jo Harris told Natchez Rotarians on Wednesday. Harris is the coordinator of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

In simple terms, Harris said she writes grants and asks for donations to bring in speakers each year to the popular event. “I can proudly say was have some great sponsors,” she said.

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Among the primary sponsors are the City of Natchez, the Adams County Board of Supervisors, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Mississippi Arts Council, the National Park Service and the Southwest Mississippi Center for Culture and Learning, which is housed at Alcorn State University.

“Co-Lin underwrites the celebration,” Harris said. “These sponsors make up a great base to give me some seed money to start setting up this programming.”

Events begin on Feb. 23 with Washington Post journalist Amy Argetsinger, who is the author of the book, “There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America.”

“When I called her to ask her to come here and speak, she said, ‘It’s about time someone from Mississippi asked me to come and speak,’ ” Harris said. “She has all of our queens from Mississippi in her book and it’s very reader friendly and pageant-queen friendly. She’s not going behind and telling any dark secrets. It’s a lot of fun and it kind of sets the stage for a lot of our programming.”

Former First Lady of Mississippi Julie Hines Mabus, who has written, “Confessions of a Southern Beauty Queen,” will follow Argetsinger.

“Mabus’s book is set at The W and it’s about a beauty queen that has gone rogue in the 1960s.”

Also on the Thursday agenda:

• “Skirt Chasing, Petticoat Government, and Wearing the Pants: The Feminist, Feminine History of Fashion.” Dr. Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of “Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century,” of Burbank, California, and a fashion historian, will discuss its influence.

“I got to visit the Met during Fashion Week last year and you walk into the Met and they have Brooks Brothers clothing through the ages. You walk in and there is Abe Lincoln’s clothing he wore the night he was assassinated, which is very touching. Brooks Brothers had created the suit for him,” Harris said. “The second suit was a Brooks Brothers suit from Natchez, Mississippi. The buttons were all falcons. There’s a real movement involved in clothing and keeping clothing and what people wore through the ages. I think she’s going to be a sleeper and will have a very interesting presentation.”

• Ticketed event: “There She Is, Queen’s Luncheon,” The Carriage House, 401 High St., Natchez, honoring Lynda Lee Mead Shea, Miss America 1960 and Miss Mississippi 1959; Cheryl Prewitt Salem, Miss America 1980 and Miss Mississippi 1979; Kimberly Morgan Myles, Miss Mississippi 2007; and Emmie Perkins, Miss Mississippi 2022.

“Working with Natchez native Lynda Lee Mead Shea has been a pleasure. She is going to join us for the luncheon, which is sponsored by Connie and Pat Burns and Melinda and Ben Yarbrough,” Harris said.

The event, featuring all four queens, a fine meal at The Carriage House, a panel discussion and a question and answer period, is sold out.

• “The Secret of Home Economics in Mississippi and Beyond,” with Danielle Dreilinger, author of The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live.

• “The Frenchwomen Who Helped Found Natchez.” Dr. Joan DeJean, University of Pennsylvania, author of Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast.

• “The Past is Gone but We Still Live in its Wake.” Kathleen Bond, superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park, in conversation with Dr. Rebecca Hall, author of Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts.

• “One Enslaved Woman’s Life:  Piecing Together a Narrative.” Kristen Green, author of The Devil’s Half Acre: The Untold Story of How One Woman Liberated the South’s Most Notorious Slave Jail.

• “La Belle Américaine:  Virginie Avegno Gautreau and the Franco-American Society of ‘Madam X’.”  Dr. Cybèle Gontar, Guest Curator of The Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans, LA.

• Vintage Fashion Style Show:  Curated by Judy Wiggins. Food and Libations prepared by Yolanda Morgan.  Music by LLJuna Grennell Weir.  Cash Bar available.

• Screening Event:  Rhythms of the Land, a documentary followed by Questions and Discussion with the filmmaker, Dr. Gail P. Myers.

On the Friday agenda:

• “Changing the Narrative and Telling a More Complete Story.”  Panel Discussion with Dr. Jodi Skipper, author of Behind the Big House:  Reconciling Slavery, Race and Heritage in the U.S. South and Dr. Elizabeth Bronwyn Boyd, author of Southern Beauty, Race, Ritual, and Memory in the Modern South moderated by Dr. Roscoe Barnes III of Visit Natchez.

• “Baking at the Hearth and Stove:  Baking in the Southern Home.”

Dr. Rebecca Sharpless, Texas Christian University, author of Grain and Fire;  a History of Baking in the American South.

• Ticketed Event: “Brunch from the Summer Kitchen at Gloucester.”

201 Lower Woodville Road, Natchez, MS.  Tickets $40.

“Keeping a Fine Table in the Federal Era:  from the Urban East to the Mississippi Territory.” Dr. Leni Sorensen, former food historian at Monticello and author of Through the Seasons:  A Baker’s Dozen of Breads and Sweets from The Virginia House-Wife.

• “In a House Built by Slaves:  African American Encounters with Abraham Lincoln.”  Dr. Jonathan White, Christopher Newport University, author of A House Built by Slaves:  African American Visitors to the Lincoln White House.

• “Women of the Civil War.” Panel Discussion with Kelby Ouchley, author of Flora and Fauna of the Civil War:  an Environmental Reference Guide and Shelby Harriel, author of Behind the Rifle:  Women Soldiers in Civil War Mississippi moderated by Chris Goodwin, Director of Special Projects, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

• “The Good Girl and the Bad.”  Elisabeth Grant-Gibson In Conversation with Valerie Martin, author of Property, Mary Riley, and The Great Divorce.

• Southern Fiction.”  Panel Discussion with Dr. Sarah Adlahka, author of She Wouldn’t Change a Thing and Diane C. McPhail, author of The Seamstress of New Orleans moderated by Michelle Boyd, Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

• Screening Event: “The Saloon,” a documentary followed by Questions and Discussion with filmmaker, Timothy Givens.