Monday, November 29, 2010


As we crossed the Atchafalaya Basin Thanksgiving Day, I again thought about Greg Guirard, one of Acadiana’s premier photographers and writers about the people and scenery of the Basin. I’ve only visited with Greg three times during my forty-six years in New Iberia, but I hear about him often through one of his many friends, Janet Faulk. Janet, author of ROAD HOME, is the friend who told me about the publication of ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN II, which is a revision and expansion of ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN. It’s Greg’s seventh book about the people, wildlife and scenery of the Basin. The book contains 250 color photographs, and the text is written by Greg and thirteen other writers who recorded their viewpoints about the Basin. In advertising ATCHAFALAYA II, Greg makes a pitch for the "restoration of the environmental health and productivity of the largest river basin swamp system in the U.S."
I met Greg Guirard in 1984 when he was marketing his SEASONS OF LIGHT IN THE ATCHALAFAYA BASIN at a small festival in Washington, Louisiana. After leafing through the coffee table-sized book, I bought a copy because I recognized that he was an outstanding photographer of the Basin world, and I liked the quotations from William Faulkner that the book included and which, oddly enough, fit the theme of SEASONS OF LIGHT. Greg appeared to be an unassuming kind of man whose wife did most of the touting of the book as we stood there on a warm December day, admiring the color photographs of what he referred to as the "ruined woods" of the Atchafalaya. In the book, Greg includes a comment that photographs in the book were taken without the aid of filters or with any dark room manipulations, adding a caveat that on occasion, he had cheated for the sake of beauty by using a process of underexposure.

Later, during the 90’s, I met up with Greg when he visited a staff member in the offices of “Acadiana Lifestyle” where I worked as Associate Editor, and he complimented my writing of feature stories in “Lifestyle.” Several years later, I was invited to one of his “pie days,” an annual Good Friday celebration attended by people who bring and consume varieties of pies – sweet pies, vegetable pies, and seafood pies – but I couldn’t attend. However, every year, my friend Janet returns from the occasion, describing the delectable dishes she has eaten. The last time I saw Greg, he had stopped by Janet’s apartment before meeting another friend, Judy Neal, who had engaged him to plant seedlings on her lot around the corner from me. I have an idea that Judy’s property is one among many places where Greg has planted trees – photographs of trees abound in his books and reflect his love of the woods

Greg has many friends in the art and writing world, but he’s also noted for helping people in need wherever he travels, which could be North Carolina, Oregon, Costa Rica, Belize, and, of course, in his beloved Basin. His good friend, writer Rheta Johnson, who is a columnist for King Features Syndicate, describes him as the “most truly democratic soul” she has ever encountered. This morning, when I called Janet about Greg’s latest book, she said he had enjoyed supper with the composer and musician, Philip Glass, last night. Tomorrow he may be visiting with one of the numerous swamp friends he meets when he’s out on the water, photographing cypress trees, Spanish moss, black willow… While negotiating the swamp, he’s probably worrying about the future of the Atchafalaya and whether its waters will become too polluted to yield edible seafood or whether it’ll no longer be a wilderness and people who come out to visit him will have to look for wilderness solitude somewhere else.

In SEASONS OF LIGHT IN THE ATCHAFALAYA BASIN, Greg treats readers to a list of exotic names that give him enjoyment: Red-eye Swamp, Whiskey Bay, Lost Lake, Bloody Bayou. Little Devil Cut, etc. He also describes an incident in which he and his former wife, Bubbles, were hit by birdshot from a woodcock hunter who couldn’t wait for them to go by before shooting. However, he labels this mishap as an isolated incident and still believes in the essential goodness of Basin hunters and fishermen. To him, the Basin is as natural and beautiful as it was when he wrote and photographed its seasons of light 26 years ago.

We wish Greg success with the publication of ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN II.  You may have gathered, by now, that I haven't received my copy of the revised and expanded ATCHAFALAYA AUTUMN, but the brief description in the opening paragraph should titillate you to read Greg's new book.  May he sell 100,000 copies – that is, when he takes time to enjoy success. He spends most of his days crawfishing and pulling ancient cypress logs from the swamp country he hopes to save from the encroachments of civilization. He also makes furniture and movies and is a guide for movie crews who film the Basin. One of these days, before I get too old to climb into a boat, I’ll get Janet to take me out to Greg’s stronghold and ask for a private tour, via motor launch, of the Basin he loves so well.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


There’s nothing ordinary about Darrell Bourque’s poetry. His latest book, IN ORDINARY LIGHT: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, is an extraordinary collection of poems written during his career as a poet, teacher, director of poetry projects, and as an inspiration for those who love language, particularly the language of poetry. In this collection, Darrell speaks to us in the same manner as he lives his life –a life without dark areas and one that is warm with possibility and brilliance.

Light illuminates poems throughout the collection, underscoring the theology of saints like St. Gregory who tells us that light is inside everything and outside everything; that it is all beauty and higher than all beauty. A glance at titles in the table of contents informs us that light is the core concept: “Light Theology and the Persimmon Tree,” which is used as a motif for the front and back cover of IN ORDINARY LIGHT, the beautiful glass work created by Darrell’s wife, Karen. Titles include “Summer Light,” “The Beam That Passes Through,” “Light Witness,” ”Winter Light”…

The poems of IN ORDINARY LIGHT generate in the reader a feeling about the light of a transcendent reality, and those that are written about his mother bathe the reader in the luster of her maternal ministrations. In every poem, the radiance of revelation persists. Darrell uses a range of meter and forms, but the work moves effortlessly. Subjects include family, friends, the landscape of Acadiana, poems about paintings which are composed after Darrell has viewed the art of Bonnard, Durer, Vermeer, and other notable artists. It is always clear to the reader that we are reading the work of an intellect that has been illumined by something beyond “ordinary light.”

The reader is also treated to haiku; e.g., “BASHO: Pecan trees open/green parasols on green fields/this year’s work half done,” as well as his “Eight Prayers In An August garden”: “That Fire Reflected in Blue Water;"  “The Clearing After Dark”…

Like an artist designing a cathedral to allow the light to filter through, Darrell creates images that capture us with their luminosity again and again, reflecting the two components Robert Frost spoke of that are characteristic of good poetry: wisdom and joy. We salute Darrell with two lines derived from his own, “My Father At Bay,” “He is doing what he has to do, / And the sun is still high in the sky.” We know that the poet has many poems and much light yet to share.

I’ve written many blogs about my friend, Darrell Bourque, poet laureate of Louisiana, and he continues to amaze me with his formidable gift. Darrell is Professor Emeritus in English and Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He has published six volumes of poetry and anticipates the publication of his seventh: HOLDING THE NOTES, a chapbook commissioned by Chicory Bloom Press, which will appear in 2011.

Bravo, bien fait, mon cher ami.
Cover paintings by Karen Bourque and cover art photograph by Philip Gould

Friday, November 19, 2010


When my daughter Elizabeth, who lives in Palmdale, California, visits me in New Iberia, Louisiana, we make an annual pilgrimage to St. Martinville, a small town approximately ten miles down the road from us. She goes down to get her yearly “fix” of baked goods from Dana’s Bakery, one of the oldest bakeries in Acadiana. Yesterday, we made this trip on Hwy. 31, a road pockmarked with holes created by cane trucks which transport their heavy loads of cane to nearby sugar mills. It was a typical Louisiana afternoon -- the sky threatened rain and dark clouds hung over us, as if any moment we would ride into a cloudburst. I told Elizabeth that my favorite description of Louisiana is: “looks like it might rain,” which doesn’t mean that rain will actually fall. The appearance of the sky in Sewanee, TN, my second home, has this same appearance, and I sometimes refer to it as Graytown.

Inside the small bakery, Elizabeth bought her usual store of petit fours, brownies, and chocolate drop cookies and ordered a beignet for Joel, my seven-year old grandson. “We don’t have good bakeries like this in California,” Elizabeth told the taciturn clerk, who managed a concise smile. Although the Grand Derangement occurred back in the 18th century, Cajuns are sometimes tentative about “come heres,” particularly when they announce they’re from California. When another customer came in, we overheard the clerk speaking in French to him, which reinforced Elizabeth’s feelings of being a “come here.” I reminded her that she was born in New Iberia and lived in Acadiana eighteen years before going out to “La La Land.”

I also take my grandchildren to St. Martin de Tours Church in St. Martinville when they visit, and we light candles for their families. Although we aren’t Roman Catholic, the old church has been a place of miracles for me. Each time family members have undergone serious crises, I travel down to the church and offer up prayers, then light candles for the suffering family members… and usually their problems are resolved.

St. Martin de Tours is called “the mother church of the Acadians,” and was probably the church of choice for the descendants of one of my ancestors, Pierre Vincent, a cattleman who came to Louisiana after he had been exiled in Europe following the Grand Derangement from Nova Scotia. St. Martin de Tours, a lovely crème and white structure built in 1836, is the fourth oldest church in Louisiana. It’s filled with light and has white walls and “gated” white and tan pews which Acadians once reserved for family members. In 1790, Fr. George Murphy, an Irish priest, associated the church with the patron saint, St. Martin, and a portrait of this saint hangs behind the main altar. The very ornate baptismal font and sanctuary lamp are said to have been gifts from King Louis XVI of France.

Joel, fascinated with the statues, dutifully lit his candle for his other grandmother (who is now dying). He was awed by the fourteen white columns leading up to the main altar and the beautiful stained glass windows. However, he seemed to be more fascinated with the old gravestones, including the one of Evangeline (who was really Emmeline Labiche), subject of Longfellow’s lengthy poem of that title. After a visit to the interior, Joel walked around the church yard, reading the dates on the graves. I remember being fascinated with cemeteries when I was his age, and although this may seem morbid, I think he, like I, was trying to imagine how people looked and acted centuries ago.

I mentioned St. Martin de Tours in my book, MARTIN’S QUEST, in which Grandmother Eulalie goes down to the church and lights candles for Martin’s ailing father, then requests that Fr. Meaux perform a Novena for him. Joel is too young to enjoy MARTIN’S QUEST, but someday he’ll be able to say that he visited the authentic site of one of the scenes in his grandmother’s book about traiteurs.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Last year before we departed from New Iberia, Louisiana for Sewanee, Tennessee, we drove over to Franklinton, Louisiana, my birthplace, and visited with my Aunt Eleanor and Uncle George. I came away from that visit feeling that I might not see my beloved aunt again. Three days ago, she died. I am deeply saddened at her passing, but I have some wonderful childhood memories of her that give me solace and feel the satisfaction of having enjoyed an “authentic” aunt, the kind you read about in novels who take over when mothers sometimes fall short in their maternal role or when they need a break from mothering during the summers or during family crises.

Aunt Eleanor Ruth Brown (and I always referred to her using all four words instead of two) lived in a small southern town in which I spent seven short years of my life, between the ages of 11-18. The town of 3500 people, about 60 miles north of New Orleans , was established in 1819. My great-grandfather, Lawrence Dade Greenlaw, built a Victorian home with a cupola on its roof on 10th Avenue in Franklinton during the early 20th century. The old home is now on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a handsome middle class residence that my Grandfather Paul inherited after Lawrence Dade died. It is the place to which my family migrated after my father uprooted us for a summer-long journey called “Going to Diddy Wah Diddy,” a camping trip to California that he announced would last the rest of our lives because we were going to become gypsies. At 11, I felt vast relief when he turned around in Los Angeles and took us back to Franklinton where he bought a small home. Before we moved into it, I spent a lot of time with Aunt Eleanor, sleeping in her bedroom at night and learning about the art of applying make-up, getting the skinny on the boys in Franklinton who would be eligible as boyfriends, and learning how to feel secure in the bosom of a family that was free of wanderlust and my father’s “craziness,” as my Grandmother Nell called his yen for adventure.

My first curls were coaxed into being by my Aunt Eleanor who painstakingly pinned up my straight hair with bobbie pins, rolling the curls so tightly that my scalp burned for hours after she twisted the hair around pins. She was devoted to this process for years, attempting to make me feminine looking to match the sash-tied dresses my Grandmother Nell made for me on an old pedal-operated Singer in a back bedroom. Aunt Eleanor and my Aunt Kathryn spent hours worrying about my lank hair, and in many photographs of me between the ages of 7 – 13, I appear with my hair pinned down with black bobbie pins, a frown creasing my forehead because I had been subjected to this hair-curling operation.

Aunt Eleanor was the Santa Claus for all of us on Christmas mornings when we spent the holidays at my grandparents’ home. She always had a book of some kind for me under the tree and became one of my coaches in literature, although her first books to me were penned by Johnny Gruelle, author of the famous Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy series. Later, she gave me used volumes of the Outdoor Girls series. She loved history and was the family genealogist, providing, with pride, many of the stories about the Greenlaw family and collecting photographs dating back to the days when my Grandfather Paul and Great-Uncle Ed Greenlaw owned a lumber business, then entered the transportation business. She told me about the time my grandfather, a civic leader in Franklinton, established the first fire department in town and about the famous radio room in the old Greenlaw home that was destroyed by lightning (Grandfather was registered as owning radio Station KFLD back in 1924).

One of Aunt Eleanor’s failures with me involved an attempt to convert me to the Baptist religion. I am a cradle Episcopalian, and I think that my Grandmother Nell and my aunts felt that I belonged to a heathen religion, so Aunt Eleanor took on the project of bringing me into a real Christian fold. She’d roll my hair extra tight on Saturday nights, dress me in a white dress on Sunday morning and take me down to the First Baptist Church where we sat on leather-bottomed seats that resembled those in a movie theatre.  After two or three hellfire and damnation sermons delivered by Brother Albritton (who had two boys Aunt Eleanor deemed worthy of my attention), I began to decline her invitations to attend and only my mother’s intervention saved me from a second night of revival where I was urged to go down the aisle to be saved. I kept glancing at the mural of a river behind the baptismal bath and was terrified about the idea of immersion. I ran from the church following the first night of preaching at this revival and haven’t attended a southern Baptist service more than twice after that experience. Aunt Eleanor was disappointed but when I became archdeacon of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, she was one of the first in the family to tell me, “I am so proud of you.” She could have added, “although you do belong to a heathen church,” but she didn’t.

Aunt Eleanor always bought or asked for copies of my books and wrote letters to me in which she said I was the latter day literary figure in the family, declaring each of my books “the best one yet.” When CHANT OF DEATH, my latest mystery, came out in August, she was one of the first to order a copy from Pinyon Publishing. Usually, several months after she purchased or received a copy, she ‘d pen a glowing letter of appraisal, and some of those letters were good enough to use as a blurb on the back cover of the book. I never received her appraisal of CHANT. She had begun to complain of not being able to use a pen very well, so I know that this prevented her from giving me one of her well-written literary reviews. She was actually the most literary of the Greenlaws of her generation (several Greenlaws have written textbooks about literature) and knew the classics better than I, but she also liked a good “read,” of the contemporary ilk. During my last visit with her, she asked me to take away any of the books in her house I wanted. This threw up a red flag for me, as if she had some prescience about her death. I told her that my own bookshelves in both New Iberia and Sewanee were filled and overflowing, thinking that if I took them, I might not see her again.

This blog is just the tip of the iceburg, and perhaps readers will get a better glimpse of Aunt Eleanor through the poem I wrote in GRANDMA’S GOOD WAR, A VERSE RETROSPECTIVE OF THE FORTIES, the only book of rhyming verse I have written:

In 1940 she returned from Blue Mt., riding the Southern railway,
snow had forced her home from school in her fashionable array –
short brown coat, matching hat, gloves, stepping into my heart again,
beloved Aunt Eleanor Ruth with signature southern double name,
the aunt who snipped out paper dolls, Sears catalog photos configured
and of the myriad furnishings – beds, chairs –she transfigured
for my delight, entire houses she kept folded away
to entertain me on an icy winter day.
The first application of mascara I watched as she
lined her pale eyelids in black so perfectly.
At Christmas she presented me with a new edition
of Raggedy Ann and Andy, issuing an admonition:
“Don’t ever turn down a page in a sloppy dog ear,
always regard your books as friends to hold dear.”
She married a Navy man after WWII,
took me to New Orleans to buy new white shoes,
white dress with mint green trim,
insisted I remain fit and slim
until the wedding, and rolled my hair on bobbie pin,
dismayed by lank locks, said it was tantamount to sin
that my mother allowed me to wear it straight,
yanked my hair in anger that would quickly dissipate.

Now at 86, she sometimes sends a letter,
spidery handwriting but much better
than my own broken-lettered handwriting,
asks for a book or two, something exciting,
lamenting she can no longer type messages of love,
and I respond by dispatching a treasure trove
of mysteries, classics, even unrhymed poetry,
to my Aunt Eleanor Ruth, idolized since infancy,
her letters evoking old feelings of expectancy,
waiting for the old Southern to bring her home to me.

P.S.  As I was writing this, the telephone rang, and Uncle George asked me to deliver her eulogy tomorrow, and much of what I will say is herewith contained.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


At lunchtime yesterday, on the return trip from Florida, I tired of reading aloud from PEOPLE OF THE LIE (an arresting study about what human evil really is) by Scott Peck, and we veered off course to the little town of Abita Springs, Louisiana, population 2000. It’s known as part of the “North Shore,” an area near Lake Pontchartrain that includes Slidell, Covington, Abita Springs, Madisonville, and Mandeville, Louisiana. We had sampled the cuisine of the Abita Brewing Company Restaurant several times during the past ten years and had enjoyed the fare, as well as a tour of restored buildings that had been constructed during the early 20th century. Abita Springs’ claim to fame is a microbrewery where beer is brewed with the pure water from artesian springs in the town, then bottled and distributed throughout the U.S. It’s also the site of the Abita Springs Opry , an organization that presents and preserves music with Louisiana roots in six concerts yearly, performed by musicians from every corner of our country.

We ate at the Abita Springs Café across the street from the restored Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, a white clapboard building constructed in 1905. The day was filled with sunshine and white clouds, and the temperature hovered around 70 degrees so we ate outdoors where salespeople with real estate brochures and notebooks sat at small, cafe tables, chatting with clients. The town is undergoing a resurgence of interest in Victorian cottages and turn-of-the-century houses, and unlike other areas of the country, it seems to be enjoying a real estate boom.

We sampled the roasted pumpkin/eggplant soup but were told emphatically that no oysters or shrimp were available. Since I developed an allergy to shellfish back in the 80’s, I had no interest in any of the dishes made with this delectable seafood, but I was dismayed about the non-availability of shellfish. The absence of seafood could only mean that nearby waters of the Gulf of Mexico had been contaminated, and the BP spill had affected oyster communities in Lake Borgne, a shallow bay of oyster reefs bordering the Gulf of Mexico. I surmise this because abundant seafood, including oysters and shrimp, was once served daily in restaurants at Abita Springs because of the town’s close proximity to Lake Borgne and Lake Ponchartrain.

Lake Ponchartrain consists of 5,000 square miles and is located on the northern edge of New Orleans; thus the origin of the name “The North Shore,” which designates communities in this vicinity. I recalled family outings when my father and mother fished and lowered crab nets from the Lake Ponchartrain bridge which stretches across this large lake. The lakes that border the Gulf of Mexico have always provided catches from the sea, both for commercial and recreational purposes, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to travel further down to view the altered shores and waters in this area.

My dismay at the absence of shellfish from the Abita Springs menu reminded me of my sadness earlier this year when the oil spill occurred and I was moved to write the following poem about the environmental disaster:


The green blood of live oak trees
courses through,
and insects hiding in the branches
sing of dark intent.
Summer breezes move the brown sand,
its grains wishing for a clear sea
lately become oil slick,
the shore itself changed
and men speaking about the way it was
before the oil rig blew,
before the cracked coast
became its own natural enemy.

The men in hard hats have vanished,
alien now in their own territory,
pelican bodies have become angel wings
in a soft ooze of sorrow.
The chef of a former rig boat tells all,
how the safety inspectors turned their backs,
bribed by the godfathers of oil,
talks of how he once lived on Grand Isle
in an ancient trailer he could climb atop
and pass into the lower limbs of oaks
where he lay on his back,
looking up at the blue stars,
feeling the coastal wind on his face.

The trees, green blood coursing through
without a clear path,
warned him of the way
the coast would become its own enemy,
the cost more deadly than big winds
of a hurricane blowing wild,
the marsh becoming a skeleton of itself,
shaped like the ribs of a fallen oil rig.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Back in the late 80’s I submitted a short story to Ernest J. Gaines and was selected to be one of a dozen members in his Creative Writing class held at a university then called USL, the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana. It was a memorable time in my life, and Gaines became one of my writing mentors. Only a few years prior to the class, he had been invited to become resident writer at USL, and a home near the campus had been bought especially for him. At that time, Gaines had gained acclaim as the author of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and was working on A Lesson Before Dying. “It is going very slowly,” he remarked to our class. “But I believe you must make every word count.” I learned a major lesson during that semester I sat in his Creative Writing class–his favorite instruction was: “revise, revise, revise.” He instructed us in basic word pruning, saying that even the word “the” could be inserted or omitted in the appropriate place and would make a difference in a good sentence. He also told us that if he read the first few sentences of a story or a novel and they didn’t impact him, he had reservations about the quality of writing.

Yesterday, I attended the dedication of the Ernest J. Gaines Center in the Edith Garland Dupre Library at ULL (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette), and following the ceremonies I re-introduced myself to Gaines. It was a brief encounter in a long line of hundreds of people who congratulated him for his lifetime achievements. “I remember you,” he said simply as he clasped my hand. When I told him I was still writing, he smiled and said, emphatically, “Good!” Someone had already begun pushing me to step aside as Gaines said those words, but it was a pleasant exchange with an author who had inspired me to become serious about writing as a vocation (even if my genre was poetry and he had said that “poetry writing was often just work for little old ladies.” It was a jest because he knew I wrote poems, and at the time I was in my mid-fifties).

Gaines has put down his pen and recently voiced that he has nothing to say except what he says about rescuing and maintaining the old cemetery in which his ancestors are buried on the plantation he helped work as a child. Gaines and his wife Dianne now own a home on the Riverlake Plantation property . He told us that if he hadn’t heard stories about and from the Afro-Americans (he uses the word “colored” without self-consciousness) of Louisiana who peopled his life, he would have had nothing to write about and that he wanted his epitaph to read “To lie with those who have no mark.” His relatives who are buried in that graveyard include his disabled Aunt Augusteen Jefferson who raised him. He often mentioned her in our Creative Writing class, telling the story about her having to crawl all over the kitchen floor to prepare meals for him because she was unable to walk.

Gaines responded to the accolades given by UL Lafayette President, Charles W. Triche, III, Dean of Libraries, and Marcia Gaudet, Director of the Gaines Center and the showing of a short film entitled "'An Obsession of Mine': The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines” with typical humility, reading the response in his soft-voiced, rhythmical style that characterizes his writings about the people of his childhood. Since he lived in California a large part of his life and had joint residences in both Louisiana and California, he relied on his amazing memory to create stories of compelling pathos about the characters in his past. In a response that deeply moved his audience, he related his rise from an impoverished black in rural Louisiana to become “the luckiest man in the world,” telling the story of his success without a trace of self-pity or rancor.

In the Creative Writing class of which I was a part, I remember that Gaines told us he was often criticized during the time of the Civil Rights movement for not being militant, but he felt that, for him, recording his wonderful stories about his relatives and friends who struggled through the hardships of a plantation economy was more important than marching or writing militant prose. My favorite among his books is his first novel, Catherine Carmier, a romantic novel that he wrote when he was 17 and burned after a New York publisher rejected it, later re-writing it and enjoying the success of publication.

Special highlights of the ceremony included the commemorative poem, “Of Men and Rivers,” written and read by my friend and Poet Laureate of Louisiana, Darrell Bourque. A copy of his poem appears below:

A broadside, 14” by 20”, of this poem, was created by Kevin Hagan of the UL Lafayette Department of Visual Arts and is a permanent piece in the Center. Those who attended the ceremony received a copy of Darrell’s poignant tribute to Gaines.

Darrell’s wife, Karen Bourque, created beautiful glass works at the entrance of the Center, which contained a center panel 23” x 72” entitled “Just Like a Tree,” based on Gaines’ story of the same name in his book, Bloodline, and the recurring images of an oak tree and the river. Side Panels, each 23” x 104,” entitled “That’s My Church,” depicted a passage from The Louisiana Thing That Drives Me, The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines: “…My church is the oak tree. My church is the river. My church is walking right down the cane field road, on the headland between rows of sugar cane. That’s my church. I can talk to God there as well as I can talk to him in Notre Dame. I think he is in one of those cane rows as much as he is in Notre Dame…” Karen explained that she used rocks, stones, sliced agates, and gems to “show the human connection to the earth and to give dimensionality to the piece. Each stone or gem has a special meaning in the energies and the powers inherent in them and I used stones in these pieces that I thought represented spirituality, insight, healing, and strength, qualities that are ever present in Ernest J. Gaines the man as well as in his powerful and compelling work.

The Ernest J. Gaines Center at ULL is an international center for scholarship on Ernest J. Gaines and his work. Gaines’ papers and manuscripts will be housed there, as well as awards, artifacts, and memorabilia. The Center will also collect materials on Gaines and his work, and it will be the only complete collection of Gaines scholarship in the world.

The Center has begun a fundraising campaign to establish an endowment, and those who want further information about the Ernest J. Gaines Center or instructions about how to contribute to this campaign can do so at or e-mail Director Marcia Gaudet at

The opening of this center was a historic occasion, and I was glad I attended to acknowledge the influence that Gaines had on my own career as a writer. To borrow from Karen Bourque’s words in the legend accompanying her glass work: “He is the epitome of basic goodness, deeply spiritual and possesses the kind of expansive soul that inspires and leads us all to the inhabitation of our better selves…