Literary festival celebrates Mississippi River art, culture

February 22, 2019

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — A festival is celebrating the art, literature, history and culture of a region connected by the Mississippi River.

The theme of the 30th Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration is “The Great River Road.”

The festival began Thursday and runs through Saturday. Co-chairman Brett Brinegar tells the Natchez Democrat that panel discussions and other events are highlighting connections up and down the Mississippi River, from New Orleans northward.

The Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence is being presented to Mississippi-born novelist Howard Bahr and retired Associated Press journalist Jack Elliott Jr.

The Thad Cochran Award for Excellence in the Humanities is being presented to John F. Marszalek, professor emeritus of history at Mississippi State University.

Among the speakers are Mississippi poet laureate Beth Ann Fennelly and her husband, novelist Tom Franklin; New Orleans author Pamela D. Arceneaux; culinary historian Michael Twitty; Gene Dattel, a cultural and economic historian of the Mississippi Delta region; Karen Cox of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and James Pate of the University of West Alabama.

The celebration started Thursday with a showing of the documentary film, “Mississippi Madam: the Life of Nellie Jackson” by Mark Brockway and Tim Givens.

Jackson was born in 1902 near Woodville and became a legend in the Natchez community for her illegal brothel called “Nellie’s” that survived for decades with the full knowledge of local officials and law enforcement. Jackson was killed in a house fire in 1990.

“If you look back at some of the old newspapers — like The Natchez Democrat and the Natchez Times — they wrote extensively about her business, about how it wasn’t respectable and the need to close it down,” Brockway said. “Over time, she takes on a new persona, and is kind of a Natchez legend.”

Givens said Jackson also bailed many civil rights activists out of prison and gave generously to local charities.

A presentation Thursday also focused on the making of “Women of the Struggle,” a documentary about the civil rights era. The makers of that film, Beverly Adams and Mark LaFrancis, began production last summer.


Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/