Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lifewriting class a great chance to record history, leave behind real stories

            Years ago, UL-Lafayette started a lifewriting or memoir class for senior citizens, to encourage those among our population who have lived the stories to write them down. The UL “Lifewriting” class has been ongoing for years, with many of those stories being published in The Advertiser’s “Atchafalaya Voices” column.
            Today, Kim Graham and I teach lifewriting, an experience that’s more an honor than a job. They say teachers learn more from their students and this couldn’t be more true in our positions. Over the past few years I’ve learned colorful Cajun and Creole traditions, that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sister lived in Crowley and was buried in Lafayette, that McComb is a vibrant neighborhood in Lafayette with a fascinating history and so much more.
            But it’s not just about local history. It’s about personal history. One of the most valuable aspects of writing down one’s story is how the events of life pertained to individuals. It’s also about healing; writing can be the most therapeutic. I’ll never forget, for instance, the healing power of a volunteer choir at M.C. Anderson who sang for a student of mine battling the worst kind of cancer.
            Funding for our classes is being squeezed and Kim and I are always worried this valuable class will be cut. If you or someone you know would love to learn how to write down their personal history, create a genealogy record for their children or pen their memoirs, please let me know. It’s also a fun, social event where writing brings likeminded people together.
            The classes are three hours long with a coffee break (food and good conversation is involved) at Grace Presbyterian Church and in New Iberia. Students receive a UL ID that offers all kinds of lagniappe, such as discounts at restaurants, free admission to concerts and access to the UL fitness center. You can learn more about the class — plus other senior courses — that are offered through UL’s University College at

LSU releases
            Louisiana’s poet laureate Ava Leavell Haymon has a published a new collection of poetry through LSU Press titled “Eldest Daughter.” Haymon is the author of the poetry collections “Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread,” “Kitchen Heat” and “The Strict Economy of Fire.” She teaches poetry writing in Baton Rouge and directs a writers’ retreat center in the mountains of New Mexico.
            Professor Brij Mohan, Dean Emeritus of the LSU School of Social Work, made his debut this week as a novelist with his 18th book, “Death of an Elephant.” The novel is described as “an allegory of existence.” The book is being simultaneously released by iUniverse (Penguin),, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.

Nonfiction releases
            If you’ve been to Gulf Shores lately you’ll equate the Alabama coastline with that of its touristy neighbor, Destin. Gulf Shores, and parts of the Florida Panhandle were once referred to as the “Redneck Riviera,” comprised of small fishing villages, rustic camps and houses. Jacksonville State University history scholar Harvey H. Jackson III shares this history and the growth of its tourism industry in “The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider’s History of the Florida-Alabama Coast” (University of Georgia Press). Included in the book are historic and current photos, the impact of World War II and disasters both natural and manmade.
            Peggy Frankland became involved in environmental affairs much like many women; she saw a problem, was horrified of the possible consequences and worked to demand solutions. She spotlights, with Susan Tucker, 38 individuals who helped shaped Louisiana’s environmental movement in “Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement,” published by University Press of Mississippi.
            The book includes oral history narratives, biographies and photography by Lafayette’s Gabriella Mills. Acadiana women highlighted in the book include Mary Tutwiler, owner of Saint Street Inn, who led the environmental group War on Waste (WOW) to oppose a solid waste landfill in Cade. Others mentioned are a group of seven women who fought Marine Shale in Morgan City; Mary Brasseaux of Crowley, who fought proposed waste incinerators and was a founding member of Help Our Polluted Environment; and Clara Baudoin and Florence Gossen, who fought the North Dugas Landfill in Lafayette.
            My favorite line and one that sums up the courageous actions of these women so well, was said by activist Ruby Cointment: “Industry can intimidate a man with a job, but never a woman with a child.”
            “If a mother does not stand up for the health and welfare of her family, there is no hope for families,” Gossen says in the book. “It was a challenge to take on the city the size of Lafayette. It was a real challenge, but somebody had to do it.”

Book events
            James A. Cobb Jr. will read from and sign his book, “Flood of Lies,” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Octavia Books in New Orleans. Also at the store will be Alex McConduit at storytime, featuring his latest children's picture book, “Thorn in My Horn,” about a young musician in New Orleans who loves to play his horn against his mother’s objections. McConduit will read his book for kids at 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “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