So says Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration founder and co-chairman Carolyn Vance Smith of Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez. "Since it began in 1990, the Celebration has attracted hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of people each year," Smith said. "All of them love to read and rejoice over books."
Cost of each year's four-day literary and cultural event is very low, Smith said, because of the hard work from the four sponsoring agencies, Copiah-Lincoln, the Natchez National Historical Park, and the Mississippi Department of Archives. "We are also grateful for generous grants from the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and corporate and business donors," she said.
"Because of this, plus widespread volunteerism, we can keep our lectures free," Smith said. "And we price all meals, tours and other special activities at low cost."
Conference co-chairmen with Smith are Kathleen Jenkins, superintendent of the NNHP, and Jim Barnett of the MDAH.
The Celebration annually features about a dozen lectures by nationally known scholars and writers, enhanced by related films, tours, booksignings, exhibits, plays, readings, concerts, entertainments and meals.
"The Literary/Cinema Celebration proves that people hunger after top-quality conferences devoted to literature, history and the arts," previous co-chairman, Bob Dodson said.
And top-quality it is, according to Dr. Charles Lowery, retired Chairman of the History Department at Mississippi State University, one of many who attend each year.
"The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration is unique among humanities programs," Lowery said. "It is beyond question the best program I have been part of during many years of involvement in Mississippi and elsewhere.
"It is remarkably successful for several reasons: the richness of its humanities content, the happy choice of program participants, and the virtually flawless execution of a carefully planned program."
The conference has won many awards, including the Governor's Award for Tourism Achievement; a Cultural Olympiad award for outstanding programming from the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games; the Most Outstanding Festival or Event in Mississippi from the Mississippi Tourism Commission; the Public Humanities Achievement Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council; the Mississippi HIstorical Society's Award of Merit; and the Governor's Award for Excellence in Arts.
Each year's conference deals with some general aspect of Southern history. Some of the noted speakers have been the writers Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker Alexander, William Styron, Willie Morris, Ellen Douglas, Ernest Gaines, Elizabeth Spencer, Nikki Giovanni, Myrlie Evers-Williams, and Maya Angelou; the Richard Wright scholar Michel Fabre of Paris; and the historians Robert V. Remini, David Sansing, William Scarborough, John D.W. Guice, Jay Gitlin, John Blassingame, Michael Wayne, and Douglas Lewis.
Special events have included the dedication of the mansion Melrose and the House of William Johnson to the National Park Service, concerts by the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and tours of nationally important historic houses.
One of the results of each NLCC is the bringing together of various constituencies: young and old, male and female, scholar and student, the highly educated and the under-educated, the African-American and the Caucasian. "Indeed, the Celebration is one of the few places in the Deep South where Blacks and Whites gather in large numbers with a common goal: to rejoice over books," Smith said.
"The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration definitely lives up to its name each year," she said. "It is a true celebration which brings people together from all walks of life."