Sunday, April 24, 2016

Discovering Gwen Bristow and her 'Plantation Trilogy'

I recently discovered Gwen Bristow, an author who loved bringing American history to life in novels, including her “Plantation Trilogy,” which was set in Louisiana. After graduating from Judson College in Alabama and attending the Columbia School of Journalism, Bristow worked as a reporter for The Times-Picayune from 1925 to 1934 in New Orleans. She began writing novels and screenplays after meeting her husband, screenwriter Bruce Manning, and they moved to Hollywood. Her literary career took off with “Deep Summer,” the first novel in her Louisiana trilogy, which follows Puritan pioneer Judith Sheramy who strives to build an empire in Louisiana around the time of the America Revolution. The trilogy included “The Handsome Road” and “This Side of Glory.” Bristow wrote other books about the American South and later the American West in her bestselling novels “Jubilee Trail,” which was made into a film in 1954. She also wrote the nonfiction “Golden Dreams” and a 1946 novel, “Tomorrow Is Forever,” which became a film starring Claudette Colbert, Orson Welles and Natalie Wood. Bristow died in 1980.  

May Fest
The Thensted Center of Grand Coteau presents two days of family fun at May Fest this upcoming weekend, which includes the Family Amazing Race that allows families to compete for prizes as they make their way through challenges throughout Grand Coteau starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. Registration is $40 per team and student/teacher teams are required to have an adult sponsor. On Sunday, there will be barbecue dinners for sale, family bingo, games for children, music and other attractions. Author Mel LeCompte Jr. presents his new children’s book, “T-Boy and the Terrible Turtle” and local authors will share stories and sign books. In addition, the public can purchase spring plants for home and yard. To compete in the Amazing Race, buy dinner tickets or for more information, call Julia Richard at (337) 662-5838.

Festival of Words
Tony Duffy of Grand Coteau and poet John Warner Smith are the featured performers for the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective evening of true stories and poetry beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Chicory’s Coffee & Café in Grand Coteau. There will be an open mic to follow.
Duffy is from Carencro where he learned to work with horses from his father; he will speak on the experience. Smith’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and his debut poetry collection, “A Mandala of Hands,” was published by Aldrich Press/Kelsay Books in 2015. His second collection, “Soul Be A Witness: Songs to Boys of Color,” is forthcoming from MadHat Press. Smith’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for the Sundress Best of the Net Anthology. A Cave Canem Fellow, Smith earned his MFA in Creative Writing at UNO. 
The oral history presentation will be videotaped and placed in the Cajun and Creole Archives at the Center for Louisiana Studies in the “Grand Coteau Voices” collection. Participants are welcome to bring poems, songs or stories for the open mic. For more information call Patrice Melnick at (337) 254-9695 or email 
Book news
Rosalyn Spencer, a leader in literary arts and education in South Louisiana, was chosen to lead a panel last week at the Split the Rock Poetry Conference in Washington D.C. The presentation titled “Language of the Unheard: Rural Children of Color and Literature” consisted of Spencer, Alex “Poetic Soul” Johnson, Patrice Melnick and Latasha Weatherspoon. The team presented strategies for teaching and planning activities that help advance local youth in the literary arts. 
Actor Wendell Pierce of New Orleans won a Christopher Award for his book, “The Wind in the Reeds,” the story of the city’s Pontchartrain Park and Pierce’s efforts to rebuild that community after Hurricane Katrina. Pierce is recently starring as Clarence Thomas in the HBO film “Confirmation,” as Teddy on CBS’s “The Odd Couple” and was a recurring character on the HBO series “Tremé.”

Book events
John Troutman will speak on “Kika Kilaawaiian: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music” as part of McNeese University’s SAGE Program from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, April 25. A booksigning will follow. Registration is required; visit
Poetry Month at the Ouachita Valley Branch Library will discuss children’s author Shel Silverstein at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 26.
Retired Assistant U.S. Attorney Charlie Spillers has published a non-fiction account of his experiences during 10 years undercover, six with the Baton Rouge Police Department and five with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics in “Confessions of An Undercover Agent: Adventures, Close Calls and the Toll of a Double Life.” He will sign books at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Miss.
Bring plants, cuttings and seeds to share at the Spring Plant Swap beginning at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at the West Ouachita Branch Library.