Monday, November 12, 2012


Saturday evening, while other literary enthusiasts enjoyed the highly-successful Flannery O’Connor Symposium organized by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette this week-end, some of us attended sessions of the Festival of Words that culminated in readings by Louisiana poet laureate, Julie Kane, and award-winning author, Randall Kenan in the St. Charles Chapel (formerly Christ the King Church), Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Grand Coteau is a small town located on a ridge where ancient oaks create alleys and groves, and French, Acadian, Victorian, and Creole architecture is represented in the town’s residences and stores. It’s a lovely venue for literary and art festivals.

I recently wrote about the Festival of Words, a program taught by acclaimed authors in Creative Writing workshops to promote creativity and literacy. The program has a special focus on young people who frequently do readings at drive-by businesses, in schools, and at Casa Azul in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The Saturday night readings attracted an adult crowd and must have had the saints reeling with laughter in that sacred space of the Chapel. Randall Kenan led off with a short story, “New York City,” followed by Julie Kane’s whimsical rhyming poetry from several of her books. Kane ‘s rendition of poems using some of Emily Dickinson’s first lines, which she finished in her own version of “I Heard A Fly Buzz When I Died,” “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” etc. brought down the house.

Julie Kane, a native of Boston, has been a resident of Louisiana for many years and teaches at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She has been garnering awards that include a stint as Writer-in-Residence at Tulane University and Fulbright Scholar at Vilnius Pedagogical University, as well as a 2007 SIBA book Award Finalist, and her poems have appeared in the Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, London Magazine, Feminist Studies and others. Kane’s repertoire includes Body and Soul and Rhythm and Booze,and she’s noted for her volume of poetry about post Katrina entitled Jazz Funeral.

An excerpt from Jazz Funeral entitled “The Terror of the Place:”

“Like Juliet reviving in the tomb,

you blink and blink and still your eyes behold

the walls of what was once a music room

grown over with great roses of black mold,

the grand piano caving in on shat-

tered legs as if a camel knelt to let

a tourist with a camera on its back…”

Randall Kenan grew up in Chinquapin, North Carolina and has been a finalist for the National Book critics Circle Award (1993), has been awarded the Mary Francis Hobson Medal for Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writer’s Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters ‘Prix de Rome, and many other recognitions for his writing about African Americans. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence, Columbia University, Duke University, the University of Mississippi, the University of Memphis, and is now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. One of his non-fiction books, Walking on Water, is an interesting study of what it means to be black in America today. The book features Kenan’s travels throughout the U.S. during a six year period in which he interviewed 200 black Americans to provide material for “Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century.”

I’m a latecomer to the Festival of Words, but Saturday evening’s program convinced me that literature in south Louisiana is still alive and well, and programs like Festival of Words at Grand Coteau and the Flannery O’Connor Symposium at ULL continue to feature gifted writers and artists from within the borders of Cajun country and farther afield. My next field trip is slated for Arnaudville, Louisiana, a small town near Lafayette, where the same kind of cultural activity has been going on for several years. It’s good to be back in Acadiana and to be part of the joie de vivre characteristic of this part of the world.

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