Louisiana Book News by Cheré Dastugue Coen

Published Sundays in The Daily Advertiser of Lafayette and Monroe News Star of Monroe.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Isaacson up for National Book Award

            The National Book Awards nonfiction longlist were announced and include Walter Isaacson of New Orleans, for his book “The Innovators,” and John Lahr, who wrote about New Orleans’ most famous playwright, “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh.”
            The list includes:
            Roz Chast, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury)
            John Demos, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (Knopf)
            Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes (Metropolitan Books)
            Nigel Hamilton, The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941 - 1942 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
            Walter Isaacson, The Innovators (Simon & Schuster)
            John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Norton)
            Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
            Ronald C. Rosbottom, When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 (Little, Brown)
            Matthew Stewart, Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic (Norton)
            Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence (Norton)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

'Chained to the Land' a rich collection of slave narratives

             During the 1930s the Federal Writers’ Project interviewed more than 2,200 ex-slaves throughout 17 states, including Louisiana. The narratives were catalogued in the Library of Congress and published by George Rawick in the 1970s as “The American Slave: A Composite Biography.” Rawick’s massive tome was a bit intimidating so John F. Blair Publisher broke the narratives down by state in its “Real Voices, Real History” series.
            The latest in the series is “Chained to the Land: Voices from Cotton & Cane Plantations,” edited by Lynette Ater Tanner, co-owner of Frogmore Plantation outside Vidalia. Tanner’s research into plantation life and African-American culture has won her praise from travel organizations such as AAA and the National Park Service and she is the recipient of the Rural Tourism Award from the state of Louisiana.
            The book contains 42 of the best Louisiana narratives, many of which were not sent to Washington with the rest of the interviews but housed at Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches. These invaluable interviews have been seen by few.
            The Depression-era interviewers published the narratives using their own transcriptions for dialect and added personal notes such as descriptions of the former slaves and their surroundings and an occasional opinion. Regardless, the first-hand accounts of slavery contain stories of cruel abuse, the Civil War and the freeing of slaves, Louisiana farming techniques, housing and relationships, to name a few.
            “Chained to the Land” is a small but precious glimpse into an era rarely written about by its victims. It’s a must read for those wanting to learn the larger picture of a sad time in Southern history.

Celebrating Gaines
            October marks 50 years since the publishing of Ernest Gaines’ first book, “Catherine Carmier.” The Ernest J. Gaines Center on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus and the Lafayette Public Library will celebrate Gaines’ literary genius this fall with several events.  
            A film series will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the South Regional Library. Films to be shown include “An Obsession of Mine: The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines” and “The Sky is Gray” on Sept. 17, “A Lesson Before Dying” on Sept. 24, “A Gathering of Old Men” on Oct. 1 and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” on Oct. 8.
            A collection of Gaines books, manuscripts, film memorabilia and more will be on display at the South Regional Library from Oct. 9 to Nov. 9.
            A book discussion on “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (celebrating its 40th anniversary this year) will be led by Matthew Teutsch, interim director of the Ernest J. Gaines Center, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at South Regional Library.
            The Ernest J. Gaines Center at UL Lafayette also has events planned throughout October. Visit ernestgaines.louisiana.edu or facebook.com/ErnestGainesCenter for more information.
            Gaines, himself, is also scheduled to speak at the Louisiana Book Festival on Nov. 1.

Award winner
           Baton Rouge fiction writer Olivia Clare Friedman has received a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, given annually to six women writers who demonstrate excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers. The awards are $30,000 each and will be presented to the six recipients Thursday in New York City. Clare received degrees from UC Berkeley and USC, an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a Black Mountain Institute Ph.D. Fellow in literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While her first book of poems, “The 26-Hour Day,” is forthcoming from New Issues in 2015, her award recognizes her work in fiction. Her stories have appeared in Granta Online, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review Online and The Yale Review. Her first published story, “Pétur,” appeared in Ecotone and received a 2014 O. Henry Prize. Her novel, “The Norns,” takes place in a small, unnamed town in post-Katrina Louisiana. Clare plans to use her Writer’s Award to travel to Germany, where part of her novel takes place, and take time off next summer to devote herself to these projects.

Book fest
            The Washington Parish Library is hosting its inaugural book festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Franklinton Branch Library, with activities for the whole family. New York Times-bestselling author Erica Spindler will be the featured speaker, discussing her more than 30 books, including her latest, “Justice for Sara.”  Other authors include J. M. Richardson, author of “The Twenty-Nine,” “The Apocalypse Mechanism” and “A Line in the Sand;” Leon Puissegur, author of “The Oil Man;” and David Vince, author of the memoir “When Life Throws You Curves, Keep Swinging.” In addition, there will be 30 authors signing books on “Author’s Row.” 

New releases
            Four Louisiana Book Festival featured authors have had three books released in the past week. All three books will be presented at this year’s book festival. They are Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of “Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead (Secrets of the Ancient Gods);” Meriah Crawford, co-author and Michaux Dempster, editor of “Trust & Treachery” and Rolland Golden, author of “Rolland Golden: Life, Love, and Art in the French Quarter.”
            Novelist Steven Well Hicks as a new book out, “Destiny’s Anvil: A Tale of Politics, Payback & Pigs,” concerning revenge between a sociopathic politician and the campaign puppetmaster who unleashes him on the people of Louisiana.
            Baton Rouge lawyer Randy Roussel has published two books of his photography, “Meandering Through the Red Stick Region” and “Baton Rouge: Views Along the Meander.” His books are available at Cottonwood Books in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana State Museum and Octavia Books in New Orleans.
            Lee Roy Pitre Jr. has published “Window Into Yesteryears,” a book that took more than 30 years of research to document the family of Pitre. In addition to explaining the origins and history of the surname, the book is “a testimonial of one man’s journey into lifelong questions, hunger for knowledge, and thirst for absolute universal truth,” according to Pitre’s web site. For more information, visit http://windowsintoyesteryears.com.
            Nancy Duplechien of Ville Platte, author of “The Dark Trilogy” paranormal novels, has published the third book in the series, “Dark Legacy.” The first book “Dark Bayou” was set in Acadiana but the second book, “Dark Carnival,” is mostly set in New Orleans around Mardi Gras time. “Dark Legacy” is partially set in Paris. The ebooks are available from Amazon.com or paperbacks/hardcovers from Lulu.com.

Book events
            Jesmyn Ward, the National Book Award winner will discuss race, Mississippi, the untimely deaths of five young black men and her struggles to survive at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans. Ward, who joined the Tulane faculty this past summer, is the author of 2013 memoir, “Men We Reaped.”


Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Her next book is “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time to show off those spelling skills


            Can you spell Tchoupitoulas?           
            The Lafayette Public Library Foundation presents Spell-a-bration, a corporate spelling bee benefiting the Lafayette Public Library on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, at the Lafayette Science Museum. Corporate-sponsored teams of three can compete in this spelling bee for adults with a “To Bee or Not to Bee” theme in celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. 
            Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Proceeds go toward funding for the Children's Entrance at the new Main Library downtown. Call (337) 593-4770, email spellabration@lplfoundation.com or visit www.lplfoundation.org/spellabration for more details and to purchase tickets.

Celebrating Ernest Gaines

            October marks 50 years since the publishing of Ernest Gaines’ first book, “Catherine Carmier.” The Ernest J. Gaines Center on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus and the Lafayette Public Library will celebrate Gaines’ literary genius this fall with several events.  
            A film series will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the South Regional Library. Films to be shown include “An Obsession of Mine: The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines” and “The Sky is Gray” on Sept. 17, “A Lesson Before Dying” on Sept. 24, “A Gathering of Old Men” on Oct. 1 and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” on Oct. 8.
            A collection of Gaines books, manuscripts, film memorabilia and more will be on display at the South Regional Library from Oct. 9 to Nov. 9.
            A book discussion on “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (celebrating its 40th anniversary this year) will be led by Matthew Teutsch, interim director of the Ernest J. Gaines Center, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 22, at South Regional Library.
            The Ernest J. Gaines Center at UL Lafayette also has events planned throughout October. Visit ernestgaines.louisiana.edu or facebook.com/ErnestGainesCenter for more information.
            Gaines is also scheduled to speak at the Louisiana Book Festival on Nov. 1.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Her next book is “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Two great book events this Saturday in Lafayette

            Edward Reed of Ville Platte became the masculine head of his large family at age 12, during the height of the Depression. He later went on to become a star high school athlete and an aerospace program quality assurance manager and space pioneer. He relates his life story and its trials in a memoir titled “I Remember When.”
            Reed will be one of several authors signing their books from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Barnes & Noble Local Author Expo.
            Authors include:
            Dianne Alexander, “Divine Justice: The Dianne Alexander Story;”                 
            David J. Barczyk, “Wellness Wake Up Call;” 
            Angela Cortello, “Angel: The True Story of an Underserved Chance;”
            Alan G. Gauthreaux, “Italian Louisiana: History, Heritage,and Tradition;” 
            Celeste Goodwin, “Boy Back From Heaven;” 
            Michael Martin, “Russell Long: A Life in Politics;” 
            Donna McGee Onebane, “House that Sugarcane Built;” 
            Constance Monies, “A House for Eliza;” 
            Edward Reed, “I Remember When;” 
            Rosemary Smith, “Lizard Tales;” 
            Please come out and support local writers.

 WordCrawl
            The Festival of Words is hosting an unusual fundraiser this Saturday, a spoken word marathon that will be held throughout downtown Lafayette. WordCrawl will spotlight authors and spoken word performers every hour from noon to midnight in various venues such as the Acadiana Center for the Arts, Artsmosphere and the Blue Moon Saloon. Each hour will feature different poets, spoken word artists and musicians, all sponsored by doners to support Festivals of Words, a literary festival happening every fall in Grand Coteau.
            This year’s Festival of Words, Nov. 6-8, will feature poet, essayist and novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, Poet Laureate of Louisiana Ava Leavell Haymon, spoken word artist LaTasha Weatherspoon, songwriter Roddy Romero and poet-activitst Anderson Dovilas, among many others.
            For information on WordCrawl or the November Festival of Words, visit http://festivalofwords.org.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lafayette Library fall book sale this week

            The Friends of the Lafayette Public Library fall book sale will be Wednesday through Saturday, Sept. 10-13, at the Heymann Convention Center Ballroom. The sale offers wonderful deals and the money supports the library system. If you are a member of the Friends of the Library you can attend the first night of the sale (for Friends only) on Wednesday, Sept. 10. It’s such a deal — $5 a year! And you can join the night of the sale. For more information, visit http://friendsofthelafayettelibrary.org/. Also, check out the Silent Auction at the South Regional Library, where you can bid on high quality books. Bidding ends Sept. 26.

Clash of Titans
            The Special Collection Services at UL’s Dupré Library continues a series of lectures in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. Dr. Harry Laver, professor and graduate coordinator in the History Department at Southeastern will speak on “The Clash of Titans: Robert E. Lee vs. Ulysses S. Grant” at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 9, in the third floor hall outside the Ernest J. Gaines Center. Laver is a recent Fulbright Scholar whose fields of study include the American Civil War and military leadership. A question and answer session will follow the lecture. The free event is supported by Gilda Lehrman Institute of American History and is open to the public. For more information, contact Bruce Turner, assistant dean of Special Collection Services, at bturner@louisiana.edu; 482-5702.

Gaines deadline
            Oct. 1 is the deadline for entries to the eighth annual Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Sponsored by the donors of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the award honors outstanding fiction from rising African-American writers and includes a $10,000 cash prize. The award is named in honor of Pointe Coupee Parish native Gaines, a nationally acclaimed fiction writer and creative writing instructor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Information on submission criteria and entry forms for the award are available at www.ernestjgainesaward.org.
            The most recent winner is Attica Locke for her novel "The Cutting Season." Previous winners include Stephanie Powell Watts for "We Are Taking Only What We Need," Dinaw Mengestu, who was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2012, for "How to Read the Air" and Victor LaValle for "Big Machine."
            Gaines' critically acclaimed novel, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," was adapted into a 1974 made-for-TV movie that won nine Emmy awards. "A Lesson Before Dying," published in 1993, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Gaines first novel, Catherine Carmier.

Book events
            The Center for Louisiana Studies’ Bayou State Book Talks presents Jason Theriot, author of “American Energy, Imperiled Coast: Oil and Gas Development inLouisiana’s Wetlands” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the South Regional Branch Library, 6101 Johnston St. The event is free and open to the public.
            Keith Weldon Medley, author of “We as Freeman: Plessy v. Ferguson” and the upcoming “Black Life in Old New Orleans,” will be giving a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Hubbell Library in Algiers Point, New Orleans.
            Nicholas Meis, author of “New Orleans Hurricanes From the Start,” will be signing books and lecturing from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Jefferson Parish East Regional Library, 4747 Napoleon Ave. in Metairie.
            Sherry Lee Alexander leads a panel discussion with co-authors Alfred Lawrence Lorenz and Vicki Mayer in connection with their new book, “The Times-Picayune in aChanging Media World” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans. The book is a study of the 2012-2013 transition of The Times-Picayune of New Orleans from a daily newspaper to a three-day-a-week publication with emphasis on its online edition.


Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana,” both from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Her next book is “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Opelousas's Ken Wheaton enjoys Cajun family dynamics in 'Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears'

             Ken Wheaton of Opelousas, author of “The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival” set in St. Landry Parish, has published a new novel with Louisiana ties, “Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears,” where a freak accident forces a New Yorker to return to Louisiana and confront her Cajun past. The novel centers on Katie-Lee Fontenot, who goes by Katherine Fontenot in her new New York life. She’s one of several sisters with equally hyphenated names and two brothers hailing from St Landry Parish, a place no doubt where Wheaton mines his colorful characters. Katie-Lee’s upbringing around strong family members and a tragic incident in her youth forces her north and she’s not happy about heading home again years later. Her trip back to Acadiana forces her to confront old truths and a few misunderstandings, not to mention those crazy Cajuns she calls family. It’s a fun book with a few laugh out loud moments, not to mention heartfelt touches that invariably lie beneath tough sibling behavior. Many Louisianans will recognize family members. Wheaton, who now lives in Brooklyn, is the managing editor of the trade publication Advertising Age.

New releases
            Emmy Award-winning documentary film producer Sally Rosenthal pens a fun tale about a group of frogs who assist Minnie Feinsilver when she drops her pot of matzo ball soup in “Matzo Frogs.” Since Minnie had to help a friend with a broken leg, she losses her Shabbat meal and her cousins are due that evening. The neighborhood frogs hear of her predicament and decide to help out, putting together matzo ball soup following Minnie’s kosher recipe. They even throw in some matzo in the shape of a frog, which tips Minnie off on who made the soup. In payment , Minnie leaves a bowl on the window that night. David Sheldon illustrates the charming book about Jewish traditions told in an unusual way.
            Best-selling author Laura Childs travels to New Orleans during Halloween for No. 12 in her Scrapbook Mystery series. Scrapbook maven Carmela Bertrand discovers the owner of Oddities Antiques murdered and a Napoleon death mask stolen in “GossamerGhost.” In addition to a good mystery, there are scrapbooking tips and New Orleans-style recipes.
            New Iberia librarian and romance author Lynn Shur has published several new romances, the latest “Always Yellow Roses,” released this week. The book concerns a feud between the Courville and Niles families in the 19th century. More than 100 years later, reincarnated lovers are destined to end the feud with their marriage but hatred still flares between the two families.  
            Carol McMichael Reese has authored “New Orleans Under Reconstruction: The Crisis of Planning” with contributors, looking at the variety of responses from politicians, writers, architects and planners in the restoration of New Orleans and examining how to plan for the future. She and several contributors will discuss and sign the book at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.

Lafayette Gazette
            The Lafayette Gazette newspaper was established in 1893, representing a faction of the Democratic Party opposed to the Democractic Party view of the Lafayette Advertiser. The weekly paper was published on Saturdays and existed until 1908, when it merged with the Advertiser. The original bound papers were kept intact by Jeanne Mouton Jeanmard and William H. Mouton and will be donated to the Special Collections Archives of UL’s Edith Garland Dupre Library at 10 a.m. Friday in the Jefferson Caffery Reading Room. Digital scans of the Gazette can viewed online here.

Author Dinner
            The Friends of the Lafayette Library have chosen award-winning newspaper columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson to the Friends’ annual Author Dinner. Johnson is the author of “Poor Man’s Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana” and “Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming.” The dinner will be from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30, at the Petroleum Club. For information or to order tickets, call 984-8661.

Fearless Voices
            “Fearless Voices of the Struggle: A Spoken Word Stage Play,” directed by Tony Wilson, features a cast of spoken word artists, writers and performers collaborating on this exhibit of activism through art that tackles themes such as sexual assault, relationships, religion and racism. The performance begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at UL’s Burke Hall. Tickets are $15.

Library cards
            September is Library Card Sign-Up Month, a time to remind people that enjoying your local library is the best value imaginable. Library cards are free and are the gateway to wonderful services, such as computer usage, study rooms, videos, music, downloadable materials and so much more. Of course, it’s also filled with wonderful books. All you need is a form of ID and this magical kingdom is yours. What are you waiting for?

Book events
            Katy Simpson Smith of Jackson, Miss., will sign copies of her debut novel, “TheStory of Land and Sea,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3, at Maple Street Book Shops in New Orleans and at 6 p.m. Thursday at Octavia Books in New Orleans. Smith has been working as an adjunct professor at Tulane University and is the author of “We Have Raised All of You: Motherhood in the South, 1750-1835.”
            Author Johnette Downing will perform a concert at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park Visitor’s Center from 11 a.m. to noon Friday, Sept. 5, with a booksigning to follow at noon at A Tisket a Tasket on Decatur Street in New Orleans.
            Gary Stewart and Susan Mustafa sign “The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father... and Finding the Zodiac Killer” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at Barnes & Noble, 5705 Johnston St, in Lafayette.
            The Bayouland Storytellers Guild of Southwest Louisiana present folktales and fairy tales for ages 4-12 at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, at the South Regional Library. Donations of canned fruit and vegetables will be accepted, to benefit the Council on Aging-Meals on Wheels Program.
            The Free Expressions Seminars and Literary Services will offer a “Writing the Breakout Novel Intensive Seminar” Sept. 15-21 at the Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center in Olive Branch, Miss. Literary agent Donald Maass, author of the “Writing the Breakout Novel,” will teach daily classes. Registration is limited to 35 students. For information, visit http://www.free-expressions.com.


Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana,” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History” from The History Press, and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.