Festival highlights Arkansas history and literature

The South Arkansas Community College Library hosted the 5th Annual South Arkansas Literary Festival on Saturday and featured several varied speakers with backgrounds in literature, history and even psychology.

Featured speakers and presenters at the festival included Darrin Riley; Chrystal Gilkey; Dr. Travis Langley; Joe David Rice; and the Pine Poets.

Riley, curator at the South Arkansas Historical Preservation Society, was the first speaker. Riley gave a presentation on the Michael Fitzgerald Collection, a vast assortment of memorabilia and Hollywood movies that first belonged to the late El Dorado resident, Fitzgerald.

Riley gave the historical context of the collection, which was virtually unknown locally during Fitzgerald’s lifetime.

“I spoke a lot with [Fitzgerald’s] high school peers; in fact, his next-door neighbours, I talked to them. They didn’t know him beyond saying hello. They were noticing there were very busy people, people parked outside and a lot of traffic going in and out of his house, they never figured out what was going on,” Riley said.

Fitzgerald befriended a number of actors and actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age and published several books, including a landmark survey titled “Universal Studios” about that studio.

His collection, Riley said, came in part from gifts given by these friends.

The presentation included a locally produced short documentary about the collection and the efforts of Riley and the Preservation Society to preserve the delicate film reels and other artifacts.

Preserving the films is delicate and painstaking work, and Riley said the Preservation Society is currently looking to fund a scanner to help with the task.

The festival’s keynote speaker was Dr. Thomas Langley, a distinguished professor of psychology at Henderson State University and author of “Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight.”

Langley’s presentation explained his work, which focuses on using fictional characters as objects of psychological study, and went into detail about how he, his students, and like-minded psychologists have explored the concept.

Langley focused in part on how stories are used to shape lives and as inspiration for everyday struggles, including struggles over mental health.

“Thinking about fictional characters, especially in my class where I was doing [students] comparing them to themselves, can make you think about yourself or your values ​​in different ways,” Langley said.

Stories, Langley said, are an important way to convey lessons and play a crucial role in development.

“In my own area, we don’t just define something like conditioning or learning for people; we tell people about Pavlov and the dogs he trained,” he said.

Langley has also used the Batman example many times, noting the experiences of people who have drawn on the fictional superhero’s character and stories to help them in their own personal struggles.

Gilkey, a local author and educator who wrote “A Wisp of Faith,” and Rice, a former state tourism director and author of numerous books on Arkansas travel as well as fiction, also gave presentations during the festival.

The festival ended with performances by Poets of the Pines, a local poetry reading group.

The 2022 Literary Festival was the first since 2019 to be held at the SouthArk Library Auditorium. The 2020 and 21 festivals were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Thomas Langley, author of “Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight,” speaks Saturday at the Southern Arkansas Literary Festival. (Matt Hutcheson/News-Times)

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