Saturday, May 2, 2015

Holt's latest a sweet tale told in letters to Hank Williams

            Young Tate P. Ellerbee lives in a small town in central Louisiana in 1948 and listens to the “Louisiana Hayride” music show on her radio every Saturday night. So when her teacher suggests writing to a pen pal, she choses Hank Williams. The adults in her life question her choice of recipient but Tate doesn’t care, spilling her heart out to her new musical hero in “Dear Hank Williams” by Kimberly Willis Holt.
            I first met Holt, a National Book Award winner, at a Book Expo convention in New York City, the national conference for publishers. Over coffee she first told me about her family in Forest Hill, located about 20 miles south of Alexandria. Her father was in the navy, so during a tricky transfer Holt lived with her grandparents in Forest Hill for a while, a memory she holds dear.
            Years later Holt and I reconnected when I began writing my history of Forest Hill, a town of about 900 people but also 220-plus plant nurseries and a multi-million dollar industry. Again, Holt gushed about the small town that had captured her heart. She had used the town in most of her books, although she routinely renamed the location.
            For instance, in “Dear Hank Williams,” her latest young reader novel, the town is called Rippling Creek but Holt includes the cemetery across the street from Tate’s house, based on Butters Cemetery where Holt’s grandmother is buried, and many other central Louisiana locations. The Louisiana Hayride is real as well, a live music show on KWKH where Williams — and Elvis — got his break.
            “Forest Hill was the kind of place that when people are sick they care about you,” Holt told me when I was interviewing her for my Forest Hill book. “It’s a really special place and I’m so glad it’s a part of me — and always will be.”
             Readers will deeply feel this love in “Dear Hank Williams.” The story is told through Tate’s letters to the musician, at first informative and fun — what you would expect from an elementary school girl — then becoming heart-breaking as we learn of her family’s situation. Through it all, however, Tate is surrounded by love from her extended family and those in the community. In the end she finds her voice for both the town talent contest and truths buried deep inside.
              Holt will be signing books at 2 p.m. today at the West Baton Rouge Library, at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans and at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble Lafayette. For more information, visit http://www.kimberlywillisholt.com/.

Writing workshop
Amédé Ardoin grew up in Acadiana and recorded more than 30 songs in recording sessions in New Orleans, San Antonio, and New York City. He was beaten in a racial assault in the mid-1930s and suffered severe brain injury, landing him at the Central Louisiana Hospital in Pineville. He died in 1942 and is buried in an unmarked grave on the hospital grounds.
People have tried for years to get Ardoin’s remains moved to his home place near the Eunice area but because of the circumstances of the burial, such retrieval is impossible. The Amédé Ardoin Project is a community effort of the Acadiana Cajun and Creole communities along with the Ardoin family to “bring Amédé home” symbolically. The Project includes the creation of a statue to honor Amédé’s contributions to the combined and often overlapping Cajun and Creole cultures.
Former Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque has written a poetry chapbook in honor of Ardoin and to raise funds for the project. He will present a Writing Workshop from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Cité des Arts, 109 Vine St. in downtown Lafayette, open to writers of all levels of experience. Each part of the workshop will be designed with a writing prompt and the writers will be encouraged to write in any genre. Prompts will be taken from the works of Naomi Shihab Nye, Ernest J. Gaines and Raymond Carver and from Ardoin’s songs. The workshop fee is $50, money to be donated to the Amédé Ardoin Project.
            That evening, an “Amédé Ardoin Veillée” will take place at 6 p.m., with Bourque reading from his chapbook, accompanied by musicians playing the old time music of the pre-LaLa and LaLa traditions. Works from the workshop writers will be interwoven into the program, books will be sold and donations to the Ardoin fund will be accepted.
To sign up for the workshops, contact Danny Ladmirault at danny@citedesarts.org or call (337) 291-1122.

Book events
Kimberly Willis Holt, author of “Dear Hank Williams,” will be signing books at 2 p.m. today at the West Baton Rouge Library, at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans and at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble Lafayette. For more information, visit http://www.kimberlywillisholt.com/.
Greg Iles discusses and signs copies of his new novel, “The Bone Tree,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.
Christophe Pourny will discuss and sign his book, “The Furniture Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Identify, Restore and Care for Furniture,” at 6 p.m. Thursday at Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans.
Warren and Mary Perrin, editors of “Acadie Then and Now: A People’s History,” will speak about their new book from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Acadia Parish Library in Crowley. For more information, call (337) 233-5832, or email perrin@plddo.com.
Louisiana authors Tina DeSalvo, author of “Elli,” and Stella Barcelona, author of “Deceived,” will sign copies of their books Sunday, May 10, at Bent Pages Bookstore and Coffeeshop in Houma. For information, visit

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.