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.