Sunday, January 25, 2015

Barry Gifford concludes cycle with 'Up-Down,' 'Dollbaby' author McNeal speaking in Monroe

            Barry Gifford began a series of novels in 1990 titled “Wild at Heart,” based on the fictional couple, Sailor and Lula. His latest, “The Up-Down,” is the eighth novel in the cycle and the conclusion of the couple’s story.
            The novel’s subtitle “The almost lost, last Sailor and Lula story, in which their son, Pace Roscoe Ripley, finds his way” summarizes the book. At 58 and following Hurricane Katrina, Ripley decides to leave New Orleans and move in a new direction. He had read that several cultures believed in the “Up-Down,” a place more centralized than the compass points. He decides to seek out this “fifth, mysterious direction” and embarks on a journey that will take him many places — including a sojourn back to New Orleans — and experiencing many people and events, some brutal and tragic. What he seeks the most, however, is an unchartable destination, one that’s located within.
            Along the way, Ripley writes the story of his parents, Sailor and Lula.
            It’s an intriguing novel with keen insight discovered by a fascinating character.
            Gifford has been the recipient of many awards, including from PEN, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Library Association, the Writers Guild of America and the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. His books “Sailor’s Holiday” and “The Phantom Father” were each named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and his book “Wyoming” was named a Novel of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. His film credits include “Wild at Heart,” “Perdita Durango,” “Lost Highway,” “City of Ghosts,” “Ball Lightning” and “The Phantom Father.”
          Gifford will sign copies of his books from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.

            Eleven-year-old Liberty Alice Bell, otherwise known as Ibby, is dropped off at her grandmother’s rundown Victorian in New Orleans after the death of her father in 1964. Ibby has never met her eccentric grandmother Fannie, nor does she know anything of her father’s Southern family and life. Her grandmother’s cook, Queenie, and her outspoken, Civil Rights activist daughter, Dollbaby,” teach Ibby about both in Laura Lane McNeal’s coming-of-age novel, “Dollbaby.”
            The book was a Top Ten finalist for Best Historical Novel, Goodreads Choice Awards and a LibraryReads and Okra Pick in 2014. Walter Isaacson, author of “Steve Jobs,” calls “Dollbaby” a “deeply personal tale about growing up and searching for family as well as a provocative exploration of race and kinship.”
            McNeal is a New Orleans native and a graduate of Tulane and she will discuss her book at 6 p.m. Monday at the Louise Williams Branch Library. Refreshments will be served. For more information on events, visit the Ouachita Parish Public Library.

Book events
            The Writers’ Guild of Acadiana will hold its monthly meeting at 7 pm Tuesday at Barnes & Nobles in Lafayette. Gary Stewart, author of “The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father and Finding The Zodiac Killer,” will speak. To read my review of Stewart’s book, visit the June 1, 2014 post on this blog.
            Teacher and librarian Dan Gutman will read and sign his latest in the New York Times best-selling series, “Genius Files #5: License to Thrill” at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books in New Orleans.
            Morgan McCall Molthrop and Ronald Drez will read from and sign their respective books, “Andrew Jackson’s Playbook: 15 Strategies for Success” and “The War of 1812,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans.
            Judith Fradin, co-author of the middle grade book “Stolen Into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup, Free Black Man,” will sign and discuss the book from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Octavia Books in New Orleans. Fradin and her late husband Dennis have published more than 150 books for children, nearly all of them nonfiction. They are the recipients of many awards, most recently the 2004 SCBWI Golden Kite Honor book Award for “The Power of One: Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine.” In 2005 they published “5,000 Miles to Freedom with The National Geographic Society,” named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults among many other honors. Judith Fradin is a professor of children’s literature and multicultural literature at National Louis University in Chicago.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “ExploringCajun 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