Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration a huge success

Published 1:35 pm Monday, February 27, 2023

For 34 years, Natchez has hosted one of the region’s greatest annual events: the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration. And this year’s event, now concluded, has been exceptional! Cheers to the NLLC and its Director, Betty Jo Harris, along with her assistant, Tricia Dawson and her army of volunteers, sponsors and special supporters!

It has been many years since Carolyn Vance Smith, longtime community jewel who founded the NLLC planted the idea in the ear of former Copiah Lincoln Community College President Billy Thames. Her idea to create an event that would elevate the standing of Co-Lin’s Natchez campus and draw literary attention to Natchez was an immediate success.

Calling on a special friendship she had with Mississippi author and legend Eudora Welty, the first conference quickly came together. Once Ms. Welty agreed to be the featured speaker, numerous other authors of regional and national significance were eager to commit. In similar fashion, Carolyn’s husband, former State Senator Marion Smith then called on his long-standing friendship with former Mississippi Governor William Winter to moderate. Governor Winter gladly accepted, and the NLLC was born with great success!

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That first conference featured authors and stories about the Natchez Trace, and Governor Winter and his wife Elise enjoyed the event so much that from that day forward they never missed a celebration.

In the many years since, the NLCC has become a major draw, bringing thousands of people to Natchez over its more than three decades of existence. This has proven to be a benefit to local restaurants, hotels, shops and tourist attractions, and many conference-goers have fallen in love with Natchez as a result and now call us their favorite getaway. Natchez owes a lot to Co-Lin, Ms. Vance, Ms. Harris, and all who have kept this great event going for so long!

With such a rich history, this year, “The Better Half – Fact, Fable or Fiction,” did not disappoint. Betty Jo Harris truly lived up to Carolyn Smith’s legacy, pouring her heart into a program packed full with both fun and substance. Featuring everything from beauty queens and fashionistas to serious presentations and discussions on women’s rights, slavery, and the struggle for freedom, the 34th NLCC poignantly presented a beautiful study of the beauty and dignity that truly exists in the human soul.

One of the most memorable moments for me will forever be the “Queen’s Luncheon,” held at the Carriage House Restaurant, where Natchez welcomed Natchez native and Miss America 1960 Lynda Lee Mead Shea back home, along with former Miss America Cheryl Prewitt Salem, former Miss USA Aysa Branch (who is also a former Miss Mississippi), and current Miss Mississippi Emmie Perkins. The grace and inspiration evidenced by these outstanding Mississippians during their talks to a packed audience will forever be remembered.

Another memorable moment was getting to see Natchez’ own Mimi Miller receive the “Thad Cochran Award of Achievement in the Humanities” for her many decades of service to our community. Together with her late husband Ron, Mimi more than any other living person has made the historic preservation and appreciation of Natchez what it is today.

I am already looking forward to next year. And I urge anyone reading this to mark your calendar now for late February of 2024 – this event simply gets better with every passing year! Because Natchez Deserves More.


Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.