Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration will focus on rites, rituals and religion

Published 5:55 pm Sunday, February 11, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Death takes center stage at this year’s Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.

The theme of the three-day event, which begins Thursday, Feb. 22, and continues through Feb. 24, is Rites, Rituals and Religion in the Deep South.

The keynote speaker of the event is Natchez resident Jim Wiggins. His new book, “Outliving the White Lie: A Southerner’s Historical, Genealogical, and Personal Journey,” is being published at the University Press of Mississippi and is being released this month.

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Wiggins, who taught history for many years at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, is speaking on Friday at 1 p.m. His topic: Outliving the Rituals of Race.

“I don’t need to tell you he will be my most popular presenter,” said Betty Jo Harris, coordinator of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration. “Friday afternoon will be a particularly strong part of the conference.”

Most of the celebration’s events are taking place at the Natchez Convention Center. However, a celebration will include a number of ticketed events, such as a tour of the 100-acre Natchez City Cemetery, established in 1822, on Thursday at 4 p.m., followed by a Wake at Sunnyside, at 6 p.m. Cost is $25 for the cemetery tour and $50 for the Wake at Sunnyside, which will feature restorative cocktails and a reception including notable Southern funeral foods.

Another ticketed event will be on Friday at 7 p.m., when Father Aaron Williams of St. Mary Basilica, will present “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Development and Meaning of Catholic Ritual,” at St. Therese Hall, 105 S. Union St. After Williams’ presentation, Emily Malloy will sign her book “Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons.”

The final event of the celebration is Saturday at 9 a.m., “Mimosas in the Mourning,” a rural cemeteries tour. The tour will begin with breakfast at Church Hill Variety followed by tours of Christ Church Cemetery and Woods’ Cemetery in Jefferson County and Dunbar Cemetery in Adams County. Father Sam Godfrey, Tom McGehee and Dolph Wagner will moderate this event. Tickets are $40.

Tickets for all events can be purchased at

The complete agenda for the celebration is:

Thursday, Feb. 22

• 8:30 a.m. Opening Ceremony with President Dr. Dewayne Middleton, Copiah-Lincoln Community College; Dan Gibson, Mayor, City of Natchez, and Interim Vice-President Dr. Ronnie Nettles, CopiahLincoln Community College Natchez Campus.

Recognition of William Winter Scholars and Vance Fellows

• 9 a.m. “Lincoln’s Obsequies: Establishing the Traditional American Funeral,” Todd Harra, President of Delaware State Funeral Directors Association and author of Last Rites: The Evolution of the American Funeral (Sounds True, 2022), Over Our Dead Bodies: Undertakers Lift the Lid (Citadel, 2021), Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt (Citadel, 2021) Sponsored by Young’s Funeral Home and Leah and Walter Davis

• 9:45 a.m. “Civil War Martyrs: Elmer Ellsworth, James Jackson, and the Power of Death in 1861,” Dr. Sarah J. Purcell, L.F. Parker Professor of History, Grinnell College, and author of Spectacle of Grief, Public Funerals and Memory in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2022) Sponsored by Silas Simmons LLC, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors

• 10:30 a.m. “Presidents’ Day, Funerals, and American Culture,” Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University and Professional Lecturer, George Washington University. Editor of Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture (University of Virginia Press, 2023) and author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution (Belknap Press, 2020) Sponsored by Delta Bank

• 11:15 a.m. Book Signing


•1:15 p.m. “Novel Reads,” panel discussion with Alex Jennings, University of Southern Maine, and author of Ballad of Perilous Graves (Redhook, 2022), Dr. Olivia Clare Friedman, Associate Professor English, University of Southern Mississippi and author of Here Lies (Grove Atlantic Press, 2022) and Deb Wiles, author of Each Little Bird That Sings (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2006) Moderated by Elisabeth Grant-Gibson Sponsored by Holly and Ned Wright

• 2 p.m. “Subversive Supernaturals: What the Undead of New Orleans Want Us to Know,” Dr. Robin Roberts, Professor Emeritus of English and Gender studies, University of Arkansas, and author of City of the Undead: Voodoo, Ghosts & Vampires (Louisiana State University Press, 2023) Sponsored by Ameriprise Financial Services

• 3:15 p.m. “Where the Bodies are Buried,” Greg Melville, Journalist and author of Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the History of America’s Cemeteries (Abrams, 2022) Sponsored by The Seni Group

• 4 p.m. Book Signing 4:00 p.m. Ticketed Event Cemetery Tour, Join the Friends of the Natchez City Cemetery for a tour of the final resting place of people of all nations, races, and creeds who have been interred on the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River for almost two centuries. This 100-acre cemetery, established in 1822, includes extraordinary citizens, military heroes, politicians, physicians, builders, bishops, philanthropists, and artisans along with area residents. Tours at 4:15, 4:30, 4:45, 5:00 p.m. Tickets $25

• 6 p.m. Ticketed Event Wake at Sunnyside, 102 Rembert Street, Natchez, MS Colleen Wilkins, proprietor of Sunnyside Plantation, will treat guests to the southern tradition of sitting with the newly deceased. This 1887 reenactment will tell the story of a young bride, Annie Stewart, who tragically died during her stay at Sunnyside while preparing for her wedding. Restorative cocktails and a reception with notable Southern funeral foods will be served. Tickets: $50

Friday, Feb. 23

• 8:30 a.m. Presentation of the Thad Cochran Award of Achievement in the Humanities to Duncan Morgan. Guests will enjoy a screening of the life of Duncan Morgan and his contributions as a brick mason to the preservation of the city of Natchez. Recognition of the John D. W. Guice Young Writers Competition Winners by Jackie Mardis Presentation of the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence to Jackson, Mississippi native, Angie Thomas, the author of The Hate You Give (Balzer and Bray, 2020), Concrete Rose (Balzer and Bray, 2021), On the Come Up (Balzer and Bray), Find Your Voice: A Guided Journal for Writing Your Truth (Balzer and Bray, 2020), Nic Blake and the Remarkables: The Manifestor Prophecy (Balzer and Bray, 2023)

• 9:30 a.m. “Turnips and Gingersnaps: Southern Legend-Making and the Enslaved Christmas Experience,” Dr. Robert May, Professor Emeritus of History, Purdue University, and author of Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory (University of Virginia Press, 2020) Sponsored by Marion and Carolyn Vance Smith

• 10:15 a.m. “Sleeping with the Ancestors,” Joseph McGill, Jr. and Herb Frazier, authors of Sleeping with the Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery (Hachette, 2023) Sponsored by Natchez National Historical Park

• 11 a.m. Book Signing


• 1 p.m. “Outliving the Rituals of Race,” Jim Wiggins author of Outliving the White Lie: A Southerner’s Historical, Genealogical and Personal Journey (University Press of Mississippi, 2024) Sponsored by Kathleen Bond and Marcia McKinzie

• 1:45 p.m. “In One Accord,” Panel Discussion with Dr. Charles Marsh, Dr. Robert P. Jones, Dr. Carolyn Dupont, and Dr. C.J. Rhodes, Pastor, Mt. Helm Baptist Church and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Alcorn State University

Books by Dr. Marsh, Commonwealth Professor Religious Studies, University of Virginia: Evangelical Anxiety, a Memoir (Harper One, 2022) God’s Long Summer, Stories of Faith and Civil Rights (Princeton University Press, 2008) Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Vintage, 2015) The Beloved Community (Basic, 2006)

Book by Dr. Carolyn Dupont, Eastern Kentucky University: Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975 (NYU Press, 2013)

Books by Dr. Robert P. Jones, President and Founder of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI): The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy: And a Path to a Shared American Future (Simon and Schuster, 2023) White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (Simon and Schuster, 2020) The End of White Christian America (Simon and Schuster, 2016)

Moderated by Father Andy Andrews of the Beloved Community of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi Sponsored by Mary Ann and Bubba Spell, Connie Burns, and Hedy Boelte

• 2:45 p.m. “Violence and Humor: When People Wear Bizarre Costumes to do Terrible Things,” Dr. Elaine Frantz Parsons, Professor of History, Kent State University and author of Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction (The University of North Carolina Press, 2019) Sponsored by Home Bank

• 3:30 p.m. “The Devil was Turned Loose: African Americans in the War Against Reconstruction,” Dr. Kidada E. Williams, Assistant Professor of African American History, Wayne State University, and author of I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2023) and They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (NYU Press, 2012) Sponsored by Concordia Bank

• 4:15 p.m. Book Signing

• 4:45 p.m. Screening Event: In the Bones, a documentary followed by Questions and Discussion with producer and director Kelly Duane de la Vega, Mississippi Representative Robert L. Johnson, III, and Natchez Police Chief Cal Green

• 7 p.m. Ticketed Event “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Development and Meaning of Catholic Ritual,” Father Aaron Williams, St. Mary’s Basilica, St. Therese Hall, 105 South Union Street, Natchez, Mississippi. After the presentation, Emily Malloy will be signing her book Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons (TAN Books, 2023) Tickets: $35

Saturday, Feb. 24

• 9 a.m. Ticketed Event “Mimosas in the Mourning,” Rural Cemeteries Tour Tour begins with breakfast at Church Hill Variety, MS Hwy 553, Church Hill, MS, followed by tours of Christ Church Cemetery and Woods’ Cemetery in Jefferson County and Dunbar Cemetery in Adams County. Moderated by Father Sam Godfrey, Tom McGehee and Dolph Wagner Tickets: $40

For more information, go to