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The author Charles Portis joined John Wayne on the set of the 1969 film adaptation of his novel “True Grit.”Photograph from Paramount Pictures / Photofest

The author Charles Portis joined John Wayne on the set of the 1969 film adaptation of his novel “True Grit.”Photograph from Paramount Pictures / Photofest

Arts and Sciences | Community | Events | NewsOctober 16, 2023

Charles Portis Symposium to Educate, Inspire

In homage to the prolific author Charles Portis, the University of Arkansas - Fort will host a symposium exploring his profound impact and lasting legacy Nov. 2-4. The symposium comes in conjunction with the May 2023 release of "The Collected Works of Charles Portis," a contribution to the Library of America series meticulously curated by writer and editor Jay Jennings.

Portis, a noteworthy Arkansawyer, has touched the world with more than his highly acclaimed “True Grit,” permeating the literary scene with works like “Norwood,” “The Dog of the South,” “Masters of Atlantis,” and “Gringos.” His extensive contributions to publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Oxford American showcase the range of his literary mastery. The symposium will delve into various aspects of his works, including critical literary interpretations, film adaptations, historical fiction approaches, and frontier studies.

The three-day event welcomes academics, independent scholars, and admirers of Portis’ work, with registration available online. It will feature enlightening discussions, film showings, Q&A sessions with Jonathan Portis and Jay Jennings, and an engaging live podcast recording of Tales of the True Grit Trail. Attendees can also enjoy optional museum tours.

“Charles Portis is an American author worth our attention,” said Dr. Kevin Jones, professor of English at AV and a co-chair of the Planning Committee. “As an author, veteran, journalist, and bureau chief, Portis may be best known for his novel ‘True Grit,’ but this Arkansawyer’s influence goes well beyond a single publication. … With a great ear for dialogue similar to Twain’s and the ability to bring to life quirky characters and situations often rooted in his travels and life experiences, Portis should be studied, and AV has a unique opportunity to explore and share his contributions.”

The symposium’s keynote speaker, Jay Jennings, a distinguished writer and editor with works featured in numerous national publications, has extensively explored Charles Portis’ creations. Jennings’ editorial prowess is exhibited in his most recent project, “Charles Portis: Collected Works from the Library of America,” which encapsulates Portis’ complete novels and other significant writings. Jennings’ book “Carry the Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of an American City,” about the Little Rock, Arkansas, Central High School football team 50 years after the 1957 integration crisis, was recently reissued in a revised edition with a new author’s preface by the University of Arkansas Press. The Wall Street Journal said it ‘transcends the season-on-the-brink genre.”

Jennings’ work has been recognized by The Best American Sports Writing annual and has appeared in the humor anthology “Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor.” A regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Books” section, he is a two-time MacDowell Colony fellow in fiction and a winner of a fiction grant from the Arkansas Arts Council for a novel-in-progress.​

Special guest Jonathan Portis, Charles’ youngest sibling, brings a familial perspective to the event, sharing insights from his experiences growing up in the Portis household and his subsequent ventures in journalism and public relations.

Presentations will be conducted at AV and the U.S. Marshals Museum, with prominent presenters, ranging from Emmy-award-winning director Larry Foley to renowned academics from across the state. Attendees will gain insight into Portis’ works and leave empowered to study them further.

Extensive support for the event includes contributionsfrom the city of Fort Smith, several local museums and organizations, the Fort Smith Historical Society, the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (ACTELA), the Arkansas Historical Association, and members of the True Grit Trail.

Academics who attend will pay $65, which includes all events and presentations and will carry professional development credits. The general public can attend all sessions and events for a registration fee of $50. Administration, faculty, staff, and students of UA Fort Smith will be admitted free of charge with ID.