Thursday, March 19, 2015

THE RAPHAEL PAPERS


Helen and Rose Anne Raphael, wife and daughter of Morris Raphael, New Iberia author and historian (now deceased), deserve signal kudos for spending the last three years since Morris's death sorting and organizing news stories, magazine articles, and the original writings of this chronicler of Acadiana and Louisiana. Helen and Rose Anne recently donated the Raphael papers to the Archives of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the collection, along with Morris's 14 books, is now on exhibit in the Main Hall of the University library. The exhibit is sponsored by the Dupré Library Special Collections Division and covers the lifetime of a dedicated writer, project engineer, and artist.

During his lifetime, Morris and I teased each other about being members of a mutual admiration society, and every once in a while, he'd invite me into his crowded study to view some of the articles and memorabilia he had collected for over sixty years. He was a tireless researcher and historian and loved writing about Teche country—its people, culture, and history. He wrote fiction and non-fiction books, children's books, newspaper articles, plays, and did the artwork for some of his books, as well as for a unique collection of postcards. I know that organizing the mass of papers in his office was a task of love for Rose Anne and Helen, and valuable history would have been lost had they not been so diligent in making sure Morris's work was housed in a place that would appreciate this collection.

Morris and I shared equal time reviewing each other's books. Morris credited me with spurring him to complete his last book, a commemorative volume about the Civil War in bayou country entitled Civil War Vignettes of Acadiana. He died shortly after its publication during the sesquicentennial commemoration of the War Between the States.  

The exhibit at ULL includes seven glass cases of articles by and about Morris that appeared in the Daily Iberian, The Morning Advocate, Times Picayune, Times of Acadiana, the Franklin Banner Tribune, and other Louisiana periodicals. Copies of his "Bayou Browsing" column in the Daily Iberian are also showcased.

One of the glass cases is devoted to biographical articles and Morris's autobiographical books, My Natchez Years and My Brazilian Years. In this case, a handwritten copy of "Morris's Soup" and a copy of the naturalization certification letter for Khalil Monsour Rafoul, Morris's Lebanese father, are included.

Another showcase touting Morris's passion for the Shadows-on-the-Teche, a National Trust Property in New Iberia, contains articles about the Shadows, as well as the two books that are among my favorites of the books Morris authored: Weeks Hall, Master of the Shadows and The Weeks Hall Tapes. I think that Morris wrote the definitive biography of Weeks Hall, and I hope the National Trust for Historic Preservation will honor him posthumously for this work. 

My favorite fiction book written by Morris, also showcased at the ULL Library, is Mystic Bayou, which relates a story about German U-boats that operated in the Gulf of Mexico during WWII. Three of Morris's book covers are enhanced by paintings rendered by world-famous artist George Rodrigues, a native of New Iberia, Louisiana.

Morris received the Jefferson Davis award from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in recognition of his historical contributions, was inducted into the Iberia Parish Second Wind Hall of Fame, and received the Cajun Culture Award for his work in advancing Cajun culture. He was a member of the Louisiana Writers Guild, the Louisiana Historical Association, and served on the Council of the Shadows-on-the-Teche, to name a few of his civic associations.

On Sunday afternoon, Helen, Rose Anne, Vickie Sullivan (owner of Border Press Books, which published Morris's last book), and I will lift a glass to toast Morris Raphael, Master Chronicler of Teche Country, whose papers and books are now on exhibit at ULL. I only wish he could have seen the exhibit and joined in the congratulatory toast. But maybe he will.

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