Skip to content
Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration...

Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration to Feature Authors and Scholars from Across the Country

By: Susan Marquez - February 16, 2024

  • Rites, Rituals and Religion in the Deep South will be the theme of the 35th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration opening February 22.

There’s something about the deep South and funerals. It’s a ritual to say farewell to the dead. It’s a religious rite. It’s the stuff of nightmares, and it is often a subject of morbid fascination. 

Rites, Rituals and Religion in the Deep South will be the theme of the 35th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration (NLCC), scheduled this year on February 22 through 24. Authors and scholars from across the country will be in Natchez to talk about voodoo, ghosts, vampires, cemeteries, along with the rituals of sitting with the dead, establishing the tradition of the American funeral, Civil War martyrs, and much more. 

“We are really excited about this year’s lineup of speakers,” says Betty Jo Harris, an instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College and director of the NLCC. “Death and rituals do hold a certain fascination with people, and when we talk about these topics, we demystify them.” 

Harris says the mission of the NLCC is to educate. “You can’t act if you aren’t aware.” 

The NLCC will open this year with author Todd Harra, president of the Delaware State Funeral Directors Association and author of Last Rites: The Evolution of the American Funeral, as well as Over Our Dead Bodies, Undertakers Lift the Lid, and Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt. His tongue-in-cheek style shines a light on a normally dark subject. He will be discussing his latest book, Lincoln’s Obsequies: Establishing the Traditional American Funeral.

Harra will be followed by Dr. Sarah J. Purcell, Professor of History at Grinnell College and author of Spectacle of Grief, Public Funerals, and Memory in the Civil War Era. She will speak on “Civil War Martyrs: Elmer Ellsworth, James Jackson, and the Power of Death ib 1861.” 

Next up will be Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a professional lecturer at George Washington University and the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He will discuss “President’s Day, Funerals, and American Culture.”

An afternoon panel discussion by various novelists will be followed by Dr. Robin Roberts, Professor Emeritus of English and Gender studies at the University of Arkansas, who will discuss his book, City of the Undead: Voodoo, Ghosts & Vampires, published last year by University Press of Louisiana. 

The last lecture of the day will be by Greg Melville, a journalist and author of Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the History of American Cemeteries.

“This one will be really interesting,” says Harris. “Melville talks about how cemeteries led to the future of American landscape architects. And he even brings Yoko Ono in the discussion, because when John Lennon was killed, she wanted to spread his ashes in Strawberry Fields, which before that was a grungy place. She worked with the City of New York to beautify it and now it is a tourist destination.” 

Two ticketed events will be held Thursday evening. One is a tour of the historic Natchez City Cemetery, established in 1822, followed by a Wake at Sunnyside, an 1850 Greek Revival cottage. The event will feature a reenactment of the 1887 wake of Annie Stewart, a young bride who tragically died at Sunnyside while preparing for her wedding in Natchez. Restorative cocktails and Southern funeral foods will be served. 

Friday will begin with the presentation of the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence to Jackson native Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, Concrete Rose, On the Come Up, and other titles. 

The first lecture of the day, “Turnips and Gingersnaps: Southern Legend-Making and the Enslaved Christmas Experience,” will be by Dr. Robert May, Professor Emeritus of History at Purdue University and author of Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory

Herb Frazier and Joseph McGill, Jr. will talk about the book they co-authored, Sleeping with Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery. “Frazier actually went around the country, sleeping in slave cabins, doing research for the book,” says Harris. 

The “rituals” part of the conference comes in a talk by Jim Wiggins, a Delta native who taught at Co-Lin. His topic is “Outliving the Rituals of Race,” drawing on his book published by University Press of Mississippi, Outliving the White Lie: A Southerner’s Historical, Genealogical and Personal Journey. 

An afternoon panel discussion will explore “In One Accord.” Authors Dr. Charles Marsh, Carolyn Dupoint, and Dr. Robert P. Jones will talk about religion, evangelicals during the Civil Rights movement, and the hidden roots of white supremacy.

“The last vestiges of separatism are churches,” states Harris. “This discussion will touch on how churches are affected It should be a powerful panel.” 

Dr. Elaine Frantz Persons, professor of history at Kent State University will discuss “Violence and Humor: When People Wear Bizarre Costumes to do Terrible Things.” Persons authored Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction. 

The last lecture will be by Dr. Kidada E. Williams, Assistant Professor of American History at Wayne State University. Author of I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction as well as They Left Great Marks on Me: African Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I. He will speak on “The Devil Turned Loose: African Americans in the War Against Reconstruction.” 

The day will end with a ticketed event, “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Development and Meaning of Catholic Ritual” by Father Aaron Williams at St. Mary’s Basilica. After the presentation, Emily Malloy will be signing her book, Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons.

The NLCC will conclude Sunday morning with a “Mimosas in the Morning” cemeteries tour. The tour begins with breakfast at Church Hill Variety, in Church Hill, Mississippi followed by tours of Christ Church cemetery and Wood’s cemetery, both in Jefferson County, as well as Dunbar cemetery in Adams County.

The event will be held in the Natchez Convention Center, on 211 Main Street. All lectures are free to the public. A complete schedule is available at Natchez Literary & Cinema Celebration – Copiah-Lincoln Community College (

About the Author(s)
author profile image

Susan Marquez

Susan Marquez serves as Magnolia Tribune's Culture Editor. Since 2001, Susan Marquez has been writing about people, places, spaces, events, music, businesses, food, and travel. The things that make life interesting. A prolific writer, Susan has written over 3,000 pieces for a wide variety of publications.