Sunday, November 9, 2014

Several new books examine New Orleans of 19th century

             Examinations of 19th century New Orleans seem to be on everyone’s minds these days for several exciting new books have hit the markets.
            One of the country’s first sensationalized kidnapping cases, in which two established Creoles of color are accused of stealing a blond, blue-eyed Irish child, makes up Michael A. Ross’s “The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era.” Not only does Ross keep readers hanging as the crime and resulting court case unfolds, but he showcases the city in the light of Reconstruction, when black men serve on both the police force and the jury.
            Gary Krist moves on to late 19th century New Orleans when Reconstruction and its efforts at race equality have failed and the city’s elite white leaders fight to reestablish control against an underworld of vice and crime in “Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz. Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans.” The book takes readers through the murder of Chief of Police David C. Hennessy, the riot and lynching against Italians accused of his murder, prostitution and the establishment of a red light district known as Storyville, the emergence of a new sound called jazz and the “Axman” serial killer. New Orleans has seen many decades of varied interest, but this time period is especially fascinating. Krist will be speaking at the New Orleans Book Festival this Saturday in City Park, New Orleans.
            Alan G. Gauthreaux looks at the large influx of Italian immigrants into New Orleans — and Louisiana — in the 19th century, their impact on the city and state and its economy, their contributions and the massive riot following the death of Hennessy that resulted in 11 Italian deaths in “Italian Louisiana: History, Heritage and Tradition.”
           Bayou St. John curving through New Orleans near City Park used to be a major source for transportation to the colonial city. In 1708 Antoine Rivard de Lavigne built a house on the bayou, and James Pitot purchased the architecturally significant home in 1804. In 1964, the house was in danger of demolition and the Louisiana Landmarks Society moved the Pitot House and restored it. To get a sense of the history of this magnificent house, read the newly released book “The Pitot House: A Landmark on Bayou St. John” by James Wade, a member of the Society’s board of directors, where he is also the correspondence secretary, chair of the publications committee, preservation editor and docent at the Pitot House museum.
            Rien Fertel, a visiting professor of history at Tulane, honors the early writings of white Creoles in New Orleans — literary names such as Grace King and George Washington Cable — in “Imagining the Creole City: The Rise of Literary Culture in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans.”

            Lake Charles resident Mike McHugh is a featured contributor in “Not Your Mother’s Book…On Cats” with his story “Cat-awampus.” The series creators Dahlynn and Ken McKowen spent 10 years developing and co-authoring books for Chicken Soup for the Soul before launching their own anthology. There are now 10 books in the “Not Your Mother’s Books” series.

            The Lafayette Public Library Foundation presents Spell-a-bration, a corporate spelling bee benefiting the Lafayette Public Library on Thursday at the Lafayette Science Museum. Corporate-sponsored teams of three can compete in a 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. For information or purchase tickets, call (337) 593-4770, email or visit

Book events
            The fifth annual New Orleans Book Festival featuring authors Wally Lamb, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Trombone Shorty, Richard Campanella, William Joyce and many more will be Saturday at City Park in New Orleans. For more information, visit
            The Center for Louisiana Studies’ Bayou State Book Talks presents Genaro Ky Ly Smith, author of “The Land Baron’s Sun: The Story Ly Loc and His Seven Wives” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the South Regional Branch Library. The event is free and open to the public.
            Ava Levell Haymon, author of “Eldest Daughter,” and Kelli Scott Kelley, author of “Accalia and the Swamp Monster,” will sign copies of their books from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday at the Barnes and Noble at LSU in Baton Rouge, in honor of University Press Week. 
            Author Mona Lisa Saloy, author of “Red Beans & Ricely Yours,” will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday at Peltier Auditorium at Nichol’s State in Thibodaux. The discussion is part of the university's Fletcher Lecture Series and is free and open to the public. Saloy also will take questions from 10:30 a.m. to noon Thursday in Le Bijou Theater in the Bollinger Memorial Student Union. Saloy is a folklorist and English professor at Dillard University in New Orleans.

            New Orleans Comics and Zines Fest will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the New Orleans Main Library. For more information, visit

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” 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.” Write her at