My pal and one of favorite storytellers and literary critics, Dr. Nancy Dixon was on Susan Larson’s Tricentennial Reading List this week. This whole series by Susan is magnificent. But start with “DoctorDix”
The Nola Files is preparing stories of the most influential people and places in New Orleans history. To do this history project justice we need to first focus on the people and places that had the widest impact and connected with most of the city. Please look through some of these options and vote for those you think need to be our focus first.
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Spread the word. Have a New Orleans novel you want to get published?
Crescent City Books, has launched its publishing imprint for New Orleans fiction, CCB. If you have a New Orleans novel you would like to pitch to Michael Allen Zell, this is your opportunity. To register for a spot and for specific details, email email@example.com. Deadline: March 15, 2017.
Available Slots: Friday, March 24 3:00 PM • 3:20 PM • 3:40 PM • 4:00 PM • 4:20 PM • 4:40 PM
Listen to The Anthology of Louisiana Literature‘s 2-part interview with Dr. Nancy Dixon, editor of one of the necessary books for any New Orleans scholar or armchair historian: N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature. Even if this brilliant woman wasn’t my pal, I’d still be urging you to get a copy. I open it up again and again to read her selections from different authors.
The 560 pages includes a well-curated set of short fiction and plays that reflect the city’s literary history, from Paul Louis LeBlanc de Villeneuve’s 18th-century play The Festival of the Young Corn, or The Heroism of Poucha-Houmma to Fatima Shaik’s 1987 short story “Climbing Monkey Hill.”
Dixon provides informative introductions to each author’s section, placing the works and their creators within the context of the city’s history and the history of its literature, making the anthology both an enjoyable artful artifact and an important academic resource.
One relevant reason for this book is the recently reignited protests centering on race inequities and immigration across America, a conversation that is always sadly necessary in the American South. Local historian Rien Fertel addresses it by writing about the elite Creole literary circle that, starting in the 1820s/1830s, largely created and sustained the story of the region’s “exceptionalism.” That era of virtuous manifest destiny – not just in the South of course- is largely to blame for the lack of understanding among those who continue to grow up amid their own ethnic myths in the U.S.
For New Orleans, most people know the story of Creole culture only through Creoles of color who continue to inhabit the city, partly because they are largely responsible for much of what we continue to value culturally in New Orleans such as live music, public and family culture, and informal Carnival activities. But it is also convincingly identified here as resulting from the profiled writers unapologetic and sometimes incorrect assertion of their whiteness and its embedded privileges during Reconstruction through the turn of the 20th century. Yet the historical details contained here give those actions context and perspective; Fertel’s description of the politics of post-Louisiana Purchase New Orleans and the concern from the White House on any potential allegiance to the Old World as partially responsible for the Creoles’ sensitivity about the eclipse of their history is especially informative.
By offering individual profiles of prominent writers of Creole history starting with eminent historian Charles Gayarré, “Transcendentalist” New Orleans Choctaw missionary Adrien Rouquette and through those writers who took up the “cause” in the 20th century, including Grace King, Robert Tallant and Lyle Saxon, Fertel offers a human-scaled trek through that complicated history and time. Having the book end with the profile of George Washington Cable and his more inclusive history of the city, he shows the reordering of history that began with Cable as well as the tension among writers, which (partly) led to Cable’s self-imposed exile from the city. Fertel does his best to fairly catalogue both good and bad (or the long and the short) of that tension; for example, he shares how Grace King’s later-in-life acknowledgement of Cable’s value to the city showed the potential for change among those earlier devoted only to the “gallant” Creole story.
The details gathered by many of these writers will continue to offer us a rich tapestry of Louisiana life and cannot be entirely eclipsed by their love of heroic epics or even their insistence on racial “purity” and entitlement that belied the truth that existed in the tumultuous and complicated times of Jim Crow’s America. Yet, the dismissal of most of these writers works in the last 50 years as provincial cheerleading with either a stated or unstated allegiance to the “Lost Cause” should be a lesson in these Tea Party days and is vitally important for any writer in these times to consider.
Two of my favorite writers/people discussing Dixon’s new book:
The Pirate’s Alley Alley Faulkner Society, Inc.
624 Pirate’s Alley
The Faulkner Society is a (501) (c) (3) literary and educational non-profit. Donations are, therefore, tax deductible.
Our major projects for the fall will include our festival, Words & Music, a Literary Feast in New Orleans, December 4 – 8. Part of the programming will focus on
the work of Walker Percy, author of The Moviegoer, which won the National Book Award, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, and other works of fiction, as well as
entertaining and enlightening non-fiction, such as Signposts in a Strange Land and The Last Self-Help Book. Our literacy project concurrent with Words & Music,
will include distribution of free copies of a Walker Percy novel, as well as a master class for students and teachers on his work.
Our next free event will be a multi-author My New Orleans event July 21 at the Cabildo. Among authors will be Liz Wiliams and Rick Barton.
For more on the Faulkner Society, visit our web site.