Category Archives: Louisiana

New Books Coming Soon!

I’ve gotten a few communications on my annual appearance at the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and whether I will have any new books there and I thought I’d do a short post.

We have an anthology we have put together of some older (pre-1920s) pieces concerning Louisiana as well as the poems from the collection I’m still working on. Also included in the anthology will be the full version of The Bottle Tree, which will also be available as a standalone book. 

In addition, we are working to get a couple of other books together using pre-1920s works which we thought were interesting. Karren is coming across these while helping me do research for my novel, Louisiana, which is still a ways off.

Hopefully, I’ll also have the second book in the Junebug series completed. The title is Junebug and the Monkey. I’m about 25,000+ words into it (100 pages or so) but that’s only about a third finished. For some reason this books is fighting me as hard as I’m fighting it. As many of you know, I’ve always felt that the characters in my book come to visit and sit with me to tell their story but in this case they just won’t come to visit. Still, with any luck it’ll be ready for the festival which is July 15-16, 2016.

I hope to see all of you there!

Northwestern State University to Host the 7th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference September 11-12

LA Studies Conference Poster-2015NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University will host the Sixth Annual Louisiana Studies Conference September 11-12 in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex. The conference opens at 2:30 PM on September 11, and presentations start at 3:15 PM Scholars from throughout Louisiana and eight other states and the United Kingdom will make presentations on aspects of  Louisiana art, history, culture, and literature. Admission to the conference is free and open to the public.

This year’s conference theme is Louisiana Cultural Crossroads. Throughout the two days numerous scholars and creative writers will make presentations. Some of the many topics to be discussed include Louisiana literature, film, and TV, Solomon Northrup, discrimination, vernacular medicine, Choctaw-Apache foodways, voodoo and hoodoo, the blues, the African American experience along the Cane River, archival research and practice, the New Orleans Photo Alliance, oral history collection, the Civil Rights movement, the New Orleans Athletic Club, Buddhism in Louisiana, Creole interior design, colonial Louisiana architecture, the restoration of the African House at Melrose Plantation, mounds in Louisiana, post-Katrina regional competitiveness in New Orleans, traditional occupations, Louisiana wetlands, heritage education, cemeteries, cowboy and cowgirl culture, and language teaching, acquisition, and change. Also included will be panels on the Neutral Strip and professional wrestling in Louisiana. Several creative writers will also address the conference theme, including poets Nina Adel, John P. Doucet, and David Middleton. Also featured will be a dance performance by the Tekrema Center of Art and Culture, and an interactive hambone demonstration and performance with Ed Huey.

The Friday evening keynote, “The Crossroads of a Genre: Exploring the Innovation of Hurricane  Katrina Literature and Popular Culture,” will be given by Dr. Lisa Kirby, director of the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies and Professor of English at Collin College in Spring Creek, Texas, at 6 PM in the Magale Recital Hall.

The Saturday morning keynote, “The Louisiana World Tour: A Photographic & Philosophical Road Trip through the State of My World,” will be given by performance artist and photographer Natasha Sanchez, at 10:30 AM Magale Recital Hall. An exhibit of Sanchez’s photographs will be open for conference participants.

Ms. Sanchez’s address will be followed by the presentation of the winning essays from the 7th Annual NSU Louisiana High School Essay Contest. For this year’s Contest theme, “Louisiana Time Machine!” students addressed the prompt “If you could meet and talk with any Louisianan from the past, present, or future for one hour, who would you choose and why?” The winning essays will be presented at the conference and will also be published in the Louisiana Folklife Journal, the Louisiana Folklife Center’s scholarly journal. This year’s Contest winners are Brant Guerin from Redemptorist High School in Greenwell Springs, for his first place essay, “‘Pistol’ Pete Maravich,” Chelsea Franklin from Crowley High School in Crowley, with her second place essay “The Mysteries of Huey Long,” and Andrea Bradley of Westminster Christian Academy in Ville Platte, for her third place essay “A Talk with the Madam.”

“The essays by this year’s contest winners are magnificent,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center at NSU and co-chair of both the conference and the essay contest. “These young writers have managed to capture in words just what makes the historical figures they imagine meeting both interesting and significant.”

“Louisiana is one of those places with great diversity,” said conference participant Dr. Hiram “Pete” Gregory, Professor of Anthropology at NSU. “They come down the rivers, they come along the roads, and they all get together here.”

“This year’s conference theme will highlight some of the many ways that folks in Louisiana have influenced each other at a variety of cultural crossroads,” said Rasmussen. “The significance of these influences upon Louisiana culture cannot be overestimated. Louisianans are stronger and better because of our diversity. I am excited to hear and see what this year’s conference participants will tell us. The conference is free and open to the public, and we want to invite anyone who is interested in how Louisiana has become the state that it is to join us and to take part in these conversations.

A complete conference schedule can be found on the Louisiana Folklife Center’s website at https://louisianafolklife.nsula.edu/. For more information call the Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332.

The Conference is co-sponsored by the NSU Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Cultural Studies, the Friends of the Hanchey Gallery, the Louisiana Folklife Center, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the NSU College of Arts and Sciences, the NSU Department of Fine + Graphic Arts, the NSU Writing Project, the NSU Office of the President, and the NSU Office of the Provost.

 

My Journey of Re-evaluation

It's really strange how things, good and bad, always seem to happen for a reason. I've also noticed time and time again that God, Fate, Gaia, the Cosmos, or sheer, dumb coincidence, depending on your belief system, tends to remind us some things need to be addressed or taken care of at different times in our life.

If you're reading this post, then there's a 99% chance you already know I'm a writer and have been writing to some degree since I was in junior high school. I don't profess to be a great writer or a gifted writer, just a writer.

But there are a lot of writers out there and there are various levels to being a writer, not only levels of talent but also levels of willingness. These include a willingness to write about things which make us uncomfortable, a willingness to try and write a short story (because those are hard),  or the willingness to devote enough AIC (Ass in Chair) time to finish writing a book and then the willingness to either seek a publisher or spend extra time and effort self-publishing, which comes with its own challenges and rewards.

In another post I'll discuss a trip I took to Natchitoches on June 6, and finding a patch of low bush huckleberries with my Uncle Mike in Kisatchie National Forest. For those of you who read my book, The Bottle Tree, you'll remember huckleberries played a part in the story.

Not long after, I was writing at my desk when my Jack Russell Terrier 'Sup began barking and having a fit on my desk, his usual resting place when my wife isn't home. I looked out the window to see a raccoon in the front yard, calmly eating something she was picking from the ground. While I live in a small East Texas town, I do live in the city limits and  this is the first raccoon I have ever seen in the area but she has apparently taken up residence here now. Again, raccoons and 'coon hunting play a part in The Bottle Tree.

Other things kept happening to remind me of my book, the first one I published although not the first one I'd written but those are enough examples for me to share and, as I said, sometimes things happen to get our attention for a reason.  

On June 17, 2015, 21 year old Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, sat through a church service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and then, after discussing Scriptures,  pulled a Glock .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from a fanny pack and shot ten African American members of the congregation, nine of whom died. While shooting them he is reported to have shouted racial epithets and said, "Y'all want something to pray about? I'll give you something to pray about." He also reloaded his pistol five times. The victims ranged in age from 26 to 87.

The book description of The Bottle Tree on Amazon and other sites is:

Deep within the piney forests of central Louisiana, three children learn that life amid the turpentine and lumber camps they call home is not what defines who they are, or who they will become as adults. In the early 1900s, Louisiana’s forests were home to hard working men who made turpentine from the piney lumber by day, and then went home to the clapboard houses in company camps set up around the sawmills. If they were lucky, they had families waiting for them when they got there. The Bottle Tree is a gripping account of life in a turpentine camp for 3 resilient families and their children, who must face this harsh environment in order to survive. Leesie, Johnny, and Caleb endure many of the same hardships as their parents, but once their bond is forged, the trio takes a stand against one of the camp’s most common problems: the struggle with racism. While the segregated camp feeds adult insecurities, Leesie and Caleb befriend Johnny and begin teaching each other that racial divides are fabricated by ignorance and fear; 2 qualities each child refuses to possess. The Bottle Tree will make you laugh and cry and leave you entertained.

At its core The Bottle Tree is about racism and hate for no reason other than the color of a person's skin.

Many of you know that the Johnny Robinson in the story  was named after a friend of mine I went to school with in Provencal, Louisiana. Although he was the first black person I knew, I never really thought of his or his family's skin color. He was always just a nice kid that I wish I'd kept in touch with when I'd moved away. I still saw him when I'd come back to the school to visit, just as I'd see the other people I'd known, but anytime I saw racial issues pop up wherever I was my mind would always snap back to Johnny and how race had never really been an issue in that small, Louisiana school way out in the country.

As I mentioned in the prior post, I had always been "proud of my southern heritage" based on oral family traditions and was surprised to learn from my research that my family had actually owned slaves. Not only slaves but teenaged slaves.

Once I learned that, all the crap about Southern Heritage goes out the window. While my forefathers may have believed in state's rights, etc., the simple fact is that if they owned a slave, even one, at the time of the Civil War then the presumption must be that they were fighting to preserve the right to own that human being and, I'm sorry, say what you will but only an uneducated fool can call that something of which to be proud.

Not only that, but the simple fact is that many of the black (or African American, whichever term you prefer) families that live in the rural south are direct descendants of the slaves who were freed in that area.

For me, what that means is the kids I went to school with, Johnny and others, could very well have been descended from or relatives of the very people my ancestors once owned.

I'm all for learning about your ancestors. Studying history, good or bad, is important because as philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

I'm not getting into a discussion of the Confederate Flag here, this isn't a political website, although I'll be glad to discuss my views one on one if anyone wants to talk to me about it but what I will say is that between 1900 and the segregation years of 1950s-1960s the flag wasn't being used or flown anywhere on a regular basis and the talk of it representing "Southern Heritage" simply didn't exist in any resources I've been able to find other than those dedicated to the history of the confederacy.

As I said at the beginning, this is my journey of re-evaluation, so make of it what you will and choose to stand pat on your own views or re-examine them as your conscience sees fit. It's not my duty to judge you.

It is, however, the duty of history and future generations to judge us.

Heritage and Facts – This Will FORCE Me to Re-evaluate

The kick in the teeth came today while I was looking over the internet and all of the discussion regarding the church shooting in Charleston, SC, and, by the way, the number of idiots posting on the internet about this is astounding.

As you know, a little while back I wrote a piece on my journey of self discovery as it regards family history, slavery, and civil rights.

I knew that several of my ancestors had fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and I was proud of the fact, just as I'm proud of the ones who fought in all the other wars and the ones who didn't serve in the military at all. 

When you are judging what your ancestors did, to a certain extent you have to judge it in the climate and the circumstances of that time. It doesn't necessarily excuse "bad" behavior, but it may make their actions less reprehensible or make it more understandable that they did such things than the same actions (or omissions) would today.

I had always assumed that my ancestors fought on the side of the Confederacy because they lived in the South, they viewed the attitudes and actions of the North as offensive, and because, at one point, their homeland was "invaded" (for more information on that topic see the Red River Campaign of 1864).

The oral family history indicated we'd always been "dirt poor farmers" (my words) and I'd looked at census records when I started doing genealogical research (I am an absolute novice at this) and had never seen any indication that the farmers had slaves at all, just a bunch of children which I'm quite sure had been put to work in the fields at as early an age as possible.

However, I wondered if I had the whole story and so, on a whim, I decided to dig a little deeper and do some research on how to find out if someone owned slaves right before the Civil War. What I discovered was unsettling in a number of ways.

In 1860, the US census was a little different than some of the others, which listed slaves on the same pages as the other members of the household. This particular year, the slaves were listed on a separate document called a "slave schedule" which lists the slave owners by name and then the slaves they owned by gender and age.

I'm researching the maternal side of my family at this moment and so I chose one ancestor that I knew who was alive in 1860, had been in the Civil War (he died of Typhus or Typhoid in 1862), and who owned land. I looked up his name on the slave schedule.

In 1860 he owned two slaves, one 16 year old male and one 14 year old female.

Admittedly, I was a little shaken. I chose to look up another ancestor, one who isn't listed in the official records as having served in the war.

In 1860 he owned one slave, a 14 year old male.

I stopped my research at that point. I'll go back to it later, because ignoring history doesn't change it or make it go away.

To those claiming the right to fly the Confederate flag is a matter of heritage and that it wasn't about slavery, it may be time for you to go back and do a little digging in your family tree. I thought my ancestors were fighting for an "ideal" and now I have to acknowledge that at least a portion of those principles were that they wanted to own another human, in the limited research essentially three kids, to make it easier on themselves. Not something I particularly want to celebrate.

What's particularly troubling to me about this isn't that I was operating under erroneous facts, that happens to everyone occasionally, it's not really that my ancestors owned slaves because while that was wrong, there is really nothing I can do about that. What is really troubling is that there is a good chance that I may know the descendants of these slaves quite well.

This all plays into the real characters that influenced my first published book, The Bottle Tree, and I must say it has really, really had a deep and, I suspect, a lasting effect on me.

More on that at another time, when I've had the chance to reflect and consider.

2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival

2015-Folk Life Festival

Summer is here and everyone is looking for something fun to do. I'd like to suggest that you consider visiting the 2015 Natchitoches-NSU Louisiana Folklife Festival held in beautiful and historic Natchitoches, Louisiana at the Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University. Most of the exhibits (including my booth) are inside the air conditioned coliseum so you can escape the heat and see some great craftsmen, hear good music and try Louisiana foods.

The Folklife Festival is set for July 17th-18th, 2015, and the theme this year is Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife.

The link to the festival website with the schedule and bands is here.

My wife and I used to visit this every year from when we were first married continuing through when we moved away and then we were lucky enough to be invited to start attending as exhibitors when I started publishing books a number of years ago. The festival is put on by the folks at the Northwestern State University Folklife Center and they do a great job every year. The cost is low and it is well worth the expense plus, if you've never been to Natchitoches, it's a great time to visit my hometown.

Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, founded in 1714, just a short distance from the location of the festival.

If you do decide to attend be sure and stop by my booth and visit with me. I'll have books there for sale but I like to visit with everyone whether they purchase or not and my family has lived in the Natchitoches are since its founding. I've actually been learning about its history since I was a very, very small child through the stories my relatives told in addition to the enormous number of hours I've spent doing formal research so I can probably point you to some interesting places that most people don't know about as well as the more touristy ones. My kids can tell you that no matter where you are in Natchitoches Parish I can probably point in a direction and tell you something fun or historic not far away (much to their boredom at times).

Anyway, it really is a great festival and Dr. Shane Rasmussen and his staff are working hard to preserve the Louisiana culture and heritage, focusing on not just the bayous and swamps of the southern part of the state or New Orleans. 

36th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival

2015-Folk Life FestivalI've been invited back to participate in the 36th Annual Natchiotches-NSU Folk Festival this year.

The 2015 NSU Folk Festival will be held July 17-18, 2015 at Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana.  The festival hours for Friday are 4:30 p.m. until 11:15 p.m. and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.

The festival theme is "Backroads and Bayous: Celebrating Louisiana's Rural Folklife." There will be great music, food, crafts, learning sessions and the State Fiddle Championship.

Come visit my booth at the festival, say hi and check out my books.