Monday, March 16, 2015

Welcome to Braggsville an innovative novel about prejudices by T. Geronimo Johnson.

            D’aron Davenport of Braggsville, Georgia, sports an unusual name, one that evolves when he enters the halls of UC Berkeley. He befriends a cast of characters and is exposed to the liberal leanings of the northern California town, an education that shapes him in ways he never anticipated, in the innovative novel, “Welcome to Braggsville” by T. Geronimo Johnson.
            The book sports a sarcastic look at both Berkeley and its overt liberalism until the story moves to small-town Georgia with its Confederate flags, segregated neighborhoods and Waffle Houses. When D’aron lets it slip in his alternative history class that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War re-enactment, one of his friends, known as the “4 little Indians,” suggests a “performance intervention” in protest. The incident takes a tragic turn, spurring the story down a darker road and showcasing prejudices in its many forms.
            Johnson is a native of New Orleans who now lives in Berkeley, directs the UC Berkeley Summer Creative Writing Program, where he received his masters degree, and teaches at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received his MFA. His first novel, “Hold It ‘Til It Hurts,” was a finalist for the 203 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.
            “Welcome to Braggsville” veers effortlessly from humor to tragedy in its evocatively written pages, leaving ideas to ponder long after the book is finished. I was exhausted by the time I read the last page, but thought about the tale for days. It’s a richly crafted story and, as author Wiley Cash remarked, the “most powerful form of satire; it sets fire to your brain while expanding your hearts.”

New releases
            When I decided to drop pounds at New Year’s I was also determined to eat better. I’m no stranger to healthy eating but wanted to take the challenge a few steps further. Stefanie Sacks’ “What the Fork Are You Eating?: An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate” was just the ticket, a handy explanation of exactly what’s in our foods today. The book contains information on artificial flavors, sugars, pesticides used in food production — you name it. I especially appreciated the label explanation (quite an eye opener) and how to better shop for food in grocery stores (hint: buy food at farmer’s markets). Haven’t gotten to the healthy recipes yet, but that’s next on my list.
            Now in paperback is Doug Seroff and Lynn Abbott’s “To Do This, You Must Know How: Music Pegagogy in the Black Gospel Quartet Tradition,” published by the University of Mississippi Press. Abbott works for the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane.
            Brittany Powell Kennedy of New Orleans has published “Between Distant Modernities: Performing Exceptionality in Francoist Spain and the Jim Crow South.” Kennedy is a lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Tulane.
            Arthur E. Jackson Jr. of Lafayette has published his life story titled “Out of the Darkness.” Jackson donates his inspirational story to prisons and rehabilitation centers. For more information, visit www.resminstries.org.
            Nick Douglas has updated his book, “Finding Octave: The Untold Story of Two Creole Families and Slavery in Louisiana,” that’s available on amazon.com and on Kindle books. “The updated book contains additional information and documentation about several of our ancient relatives,” Douglas said. “It also contains several new pictures kindly shared by Marianne Haynes.”
            J. Nelson Warner has published “The Bridge: Stories of the Church Body Becoming the Living Proof of a Loving God in its Hurting Urban Neighborhood,” an accumulation of short stories that describe his journey into the poorest neighborhoods in Lafayette. The book is published through LifeWay Book’s Crossroad Publisher and is available online at Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. All proceeds go to Bridge Ministry of Acadiana.
            Ayla and her family have just relocated in Carrie Simon’s Christian novel, “Save Them All.” But the quiet town they had hoped for with its charm and Southern hospitality hides a dark secret. When Ayla begins having unexplained dreams, they lead her to a boy in serious danger. Her journey will ultimately destroy the town or rally it together.

HNOC symposium
            The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Library of Virginia, and the UNO Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities hosts “To Be Sold: The American Slave Trade from Virginia to New Orleans,” a daylong symposium Saturday at the THNOC’s Williams Research Center in New Orleans and the Library of Virginia via broadcast. Speakers include both Virginia and New Orleans historians, many of which are authors. Admission is free and guests must register in advance to attend the live sessions. To register for the program in New Orleans, call (504) 523-4662 or email wrc@hnoc.org. To watch the program live online, visit www.hnoc.org/tobesold.html.
            The HNOC also presents “Purchased Lives: New Orleans the Domestic Slave Trade,” a free exhibition, beginning Tuesday and running through July 18 which examines the individuals involved in the trade and New Orleans’s role. Erin M. Greenwald, a historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection, curated the display, which includes period broadsides, paintings and prints illustrating the domestic slave trade, ship manifests and first-person accounts from slave narratives and oral histories. 

Book events
            I’ll be signing copies of my book, “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History” from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Louisiana Nursery Festival in Forest Hill. Look for me at a table next to festival organizers.
            M.O. Walsh signs and discusses his debut novel “My Sunshine Away” in a joint event with David Joy, author of  “Where the Light Tends to Go,” at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St. in New Orleans.
            Moira Crone discusses “The Ice Garden” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at East Bank Regional Library in Metairie. Also at the library this week, Renee Austell will discuss her book about corporate mayhem and murder titled “Royal and St. Louis” at 7 p.m. Thursday.
            Warren and Mary Perrin, editors of “Acadie Then and Now: A People’s History,” will speak about their new book at Tuesday at Nichols States and Friday at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge.
            Skip Horack signs “The Other Joseph” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.
            Sylvia Rochester will sign copies of her latest book “Mellow Yellow Dead Red” from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Bra La Vie, 221 West Thomas St. in Hammond. Rochester wrote me, “Since Book III opens with a fun run in costumes, the Zanies will be out in force. Best costume wins a copy of the book. Oh, and everyone who buys the book at the signing will get a special surprise.”
            The Jane Austen Literary Festival will be Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22, in Old Mandeville. Janeaustenfestival.org.

Louisiana Book News is written by Cheré Coen, 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 cherecoen@gmail.com.