Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sternberg returns to River Road between New Orleans, Baton Rouge in LSU Press book

            Mary Ann Sternberg, author of “Along the River Road: Past and Present on Louisiana’s Historic Byway,” now available in a new and updated edition, follows up with “River Road Rambler: A Curious Traveler along Louisiana’s Historic Byway,” both available through LSU Press. 
            It’s a sweet little hardback book full of great explorations of places, people and events that occurred along the River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. There’s the Lourdes grotto at St. Michael’s Church in Convent created like no other, the little known slave insurrection of 1811 that happened outside New Orleans, now considered “the largest and bloodiest slave uprising in the history of the United States,” the former Jewish temple now located inside a hardware store, and much more.
            I had ancestors who settled the “German Coast” upriver from New Orleans who helped start and feed a colony, so I know the extensive history that lines the Mississippi River. Sternberg brings it to vivid life in “River Road Rambler” and offers a varied, well-researched telling, giving readers more food for thought than a simple history lesson.
            “Sternberg guides us to that rare intersection of lively writing and intellectual curiosity in her book about Louisiana’s famous River Road,” writes Rheta Grimsley Johnson, author of “Poor Man’s Provence and Hank Hung the Moon.”
            I’d recommend buying both books and taking a drive up or down the curvy River Road, using Sternberg’s “Along the River Road” as a travel guide, then stopping for lunch or coffee and enjoying “Rambler” while you soak up the region’s ambience and history.
            Sternberg is also the author of “Winding through Time: The Forgotten History and Present-Day Peril of Bayou Manchac.”
            She will speak about the River Road in a lecture sponsored by The Foundation for Historical Louisiana at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Old Governor’s Mansion, 502 North Blvd.

New releases           
            John LaFleur of Washington follows up his Creole cookbook with “Louisiana’s French Creole Culinary & Linguistic Traditions: Facts vs. Fiction, Before and Since ‘Cajunization’,” with additional text by Brian Costello and photographs by Norris Fontenot. LaFleur believes that Creole is a person of European or African descent born in the colonies, which pretty much relates to everyone, even those who call themselves “Cajuns.”
            In his book, he attempts to correct historical teachings in Louisiana, offering that “Cajun Country” was originally Creole Country and still is, and that Creole in Acadiana doesn’t simply mean those of color. He takes aim at those who have “Cajunized” the region, misrepresenting history, and also those who stopped calling themselves Creole in order not to be associated with those of color.
            La Fleur offers good points in his argument. Being of Creole ancestry from New Orleans I understand the need for clarification; many times have I stressed the differences between Creole and Cajun cooking to outsiders. The culinary traditions of Louisiana have been blurred, and lean way too far toward Cajun, and LaFleur provides research to set things straight.
            His insistence that Cajuns should have assimilated, that they were anti-Creole in a sense, did not sit well with me, however. There is a distinct Cajun culture in Louisiana, mainly because they did not assimilate, and their isolation may be one main reason why the Louisiana French language has survived. Because South Louisiana as a region didn’t assimilate into mainstream American culture is why we’re still so unique to the rest of the country, why our food and music draws the world.
            We need to teach the truths of Louisiana history, and this book strives to do so. But Cajun culture is the reason I moved to Lafayette. I think a panel of historians and LaFleur would make for an interesting discussion.
            The book retails for $49.94, but is also available online as an ebook. LaFleur and Costello are also the authors of “Speaking In Tongues, Louisiana’s Colonial French, Creole & Cajun Languages Tell Their Story: Louisiana’s Creole Linguistic & Cultural Heritage.”
            And if you have an opinion to add, please visit the Louisiana Book News Facebook page and post. We’d love to hear from you.

Library news
            “Partners by Nature,” a lecture series presented by the Acadiana Resource Conservation and Development Council and the Lafayette Public Library System, will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Lafayette’s South Regional Branch Library. These lectures focus on ways to conserve natural resources through cultural and economic enhancement. Speakers include: Collin Bercier of Louisiana Solar Solutions and Jeff Shaw of the Louisiana Solar Energy Society. The event is free.

Book events
            Elana Bell will read her poetry at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at the UNO Fine Arts Gallery, followed by a booksigning and wine and cheese reception. This event is free and open to the public. Elana’s first collection of poetry, “Eyes, Stones” (LSU Press 2012) was the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. Elana also received grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, the AROHO Foundation, the Brooklyn Arts Council and the Drisha Institute. Her work has recently appeared in Harvard Review, Massachusetts Review, CALYX Journal, and elsewhere.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She teaches writing at UL-Lafayette’s Continuing Education. Write her at chere@louisianabooknews.com.