Wednesday, November 2, 2016


My mother, Dorothy Greenlaw Marquart, loved books and words. In 1984, I published Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women, which includes a preface about my mother’s love of words: “Every month for years, Mother would take one of the three children in our family to Claitor’s Bookstore in Baton Rouge, Louisiana [where I lived for eight years of my childhood] to choose two books for our nightly reading session. She was the first family member to open the books, touching pictures with credulous delight. My mother began to fly in the heavens long before Mary Poppins opened her first umbrella to make her wonderful flights…”

When I was nine, a Methodist minister’s daughter accidentally knocked out most of one front tooth with a croquet mallet while I was visiting my grandparents in Franklinton, Louisiana, and my grandfather pacified me with $25 (a lot of money back in 1944). When I returned to Baton Rouge, my mother promptly took me to Claitor’s Bookstore where I spent the entire day and the entire $25 on books.

At that time, the old Claitor’s was located downtown, not far from the State Capitol, and was a general bookstore with shelves of colorful children’s books; the store didn’t specialize in books pertaining mostly to law, as it does today (in a different location). The day that I spent my $25, Mrs. Otto Claitor looked after me, fed me books she thought I might like, and even gave me lunch while I searched for books to enliven our family’s nighttime reading.

Saturday, while I was waiting to deliver a reading from my latest book of poetry, A Slow Moving Stream, in the Capitol View Room of the Louisiana State Library at the Louisiana Book Festival, not far from the old Claitor’s, that memory of the $25 book day flashed into my mind. It was followed by the wish that the first owners of Claitor’s and my mother were alive to participate in such a wonderful festival of books sponsored by the Louisiana Center for the Book. I also wished that my mother could witness me reading my poems aloud in a room that included four Louisiana poet laureates: Darrell Bourque, Julie Kane, Ava Haymon, and Peter Cooley.

The 2016 Louisiana Book Festival was commemorated by a special art piece created by Kelly Guidry that now hangs in the Louisiana State Library and a prose poem by Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana Poet Laureate, entitled “Words, A Poem” about the “transformative nature of books in culture…” The sculpt piece, made of cedar and mounted on a base metal framework, is an angel with outspread wings nicknamed “Libby,” which is a shortened version of “Librarian.” Darrell’s prose poem, a powerful tribute to words and language, is too long to record here, but I couldn’t resist publishing an excerpt from the end lines: “ language is a flight from one word to another, how sentences are made of those kinds of flying words, how stories are filled with the hum of bees telling us who we are, how to get to China, how to get to Malaysia, how to get to how we got here in the first place in the stories we keep finding inside the words set down inside us before we ever knew we could fly with them and in them.”

In 2004 the American Library Association honored the Louisiana Book Festival with the John Cotton Dana Award, citing the Festival’s “community partnerships, exceptional programs, and extensive media coverage.” In 2006 the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress recognized the Louisiana Book Festival with a 2007 Boorstin Center for the Book award, and I know that more awards will be forthcoming for this 13-year old event. Through recent communications with Jim Davis, Director, Louisiana Center for the Book, I can see why this Festival has achieved the excellence for which it has been recognized.

A special treat for me was an informal afternoon conversation with Rebecca Wells, author of the famous Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood: A Novel, who was interviewed by my good friend, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, English professor at ULL. Over 200 writers were featured at the Festival, and it was certainly a “Mary Poppins flying in the heavens” event for me.

As I said, I’m sorry my mother missed it… but perhaps she didn’t. After all, the event was immortalized with a literary angel and a transformative poem that fit on the angel’s wings! And one of the poems I read was about my mother changing forms to become a brilliant cardinal – she must have been aloft Saturday!

Photograph by Darrell Bourque

No comments: