GAME CHANGERS: THE ROUSING LEGACY OF LOUISIANA SPORTS
A testament to the Bayou State’s athletic prowess has been, in recent years anyway, on display in the fact that more players in the National Football League are from Louisiana (or who played collegiately in Louisiana) than from any other state. For some reason — the weather, the humidity — we just turn out studs. Marty Mulé’s Game Changers (UL Press) celebrates that athletic legacy, not just in football — but football comprises the bulk of the book — but in baseball, basketball, boxing, track and field, horse racing and golf. One inescapable observation to be made in flipping the pages and perusing the many historic photographs is how white sports used to be, at least until the 1970s. Pre-desegregation athletics, not just in Louisiana but virtually everywhere in the United States, was a celebration of Caucasian prowess. Fortunately, Mulé’s tome brings us nearly up to the present, and women’s athletics receives its share of coverage as well. But issues of race aside, Mulé’s history of Louisiana sports is at its best when it’s blowing the dust away from history and bringing to life the people and outsized personalities of the past. Yes, there are the usual suspects — the Billy Cannons, Pete Maraviches and Ron Guidrys — but Game Changers does a fine job of resurrecting some of the best athletes (see sports columnist John Mikell’s tribute to half back Christian “Red” Cagle of Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now UL Lafayette, on page 22 of this issue) college and professional sports have ever witnessed.
THE HISTORY OF THE ACADIANS OF LOUISIANA
Best known as a Cajun-French songwriter and musician, Zachary Richard is an accomplished poet and longtime scholar of Acadian history — he graduated with honors from Tulane in 1972 — so an illustrated history of the Acadian diaspora is a natural extension of his talents. A year on the heels of Histoire des Acadiennes de la Louisiane, a Francophone version of the textbook he co-produced for French Immersion students in Louisiana, The History of the Acadians of Louisiana (UL Press) makes the rich saga of the people we call Cajuns accessible to the English-language reader. Working with a team of teachers and scholars — Kristi Guillory, Michelle Haj-Broussard and Glenda Cormier-Williams — as well as graphic designer Scott Long, Richard’s History of the Acadians is a well-illustrated, page-turning account of the arrival in Canada, deportation by the British and diaspora to the eastern seaboard (where they were not welcomed by British colonists on the cusp of the American Revolution), France and ultimately Louisiana under the leadership of Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard. While History of the Acadians is first a textbook for students, it is also a lively, well-told account not only of the history of the Cajuns, but how the contemporary culture has reinterpreted its past to forge a culturally rich future.
SOUL EXCHANGE: THE WORKS OF DENNIS PAUL WILLIAMS
The term spiritual somehow falls short of describing Dennis Paul Williams’ artwork. It is used often to describe the artist, but fails to fully characterize a style and devotion to subject matter with which most of us here in Acadiana are well familiar via festival posters and popular media. Mystical will have to do. Maybe mythic, too. A new collection of images of Williams’ work, Soul Exchange (UL Press) offers a representative sample of the artist’s characteristically washy, pastel-hued mixed-media paintings. Essays by photographer/musician Philip Gould and poet Darrell Bourque launch the book’s cavalcade of mysterious, beguiling works — an indication of the esteem in which Williams is held within Acadiana’s creative class. Produced often in series with such names as “Spiritual Squaring” and “The Purification,” Williams’ art is highly idiosyncratic, populated much of the time by images of African mother figures. His use of graphic black lines etched over fuzzy watercolor backdrops imbues the work with intensity and nuance. But while we may wonder and guess at the meaning of the many recurring motifs and tropes in Williams’ delicate almost ephemeral work — the abdominal circles that mimic wombs, the outstretched arms suggesting Jesus on the cross — we can be content, ultimately, in not knowing, in failing to divine their meaning, and simply and gratefully enjoying the artist’s mastery.
TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN COASTAL LOUISIANA
Joshua Clegg Caffery
Perhaps no greater debt is owed for the preservation of South Louisiana’s early musical forms than it is to a pair of Texans — John and Alan Lomax. The father-son team — John was then the curator of the Library of Congress’ Archive of American Folk Songs — traveled through Acadiana (long before it was called Acadiana) in 1934 with a recorder and an ear for capturing the indigenous music — not just early versions of Cajun and Creole music, but the Irish jigs, slave spirituals and European folk songs — that was played on porches and in kitchens by a rural and often isolated people. The Lomaxes’ labors in Louisiana are examined in deep and fascinating detail in Dr. Joshua Clegg Caffery’s new book, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana (LSU Press). Chair of the Episcopal School of Acadiana’s English Department and an accomplished musician with such bands as Red Stick Ramblers and Feufollet, Caffery took up residence in Washington, D.C., in late summer, the winner of an Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies, to study and document the Lomaxes’ work in the region nearly 80 years ago. The result is at once a scholarly examination and a celebration of our indigenous music, providing a history of the people and music complete with French lyrics and English translations of songs that might otherwise be lost to history — great scholarship indeed, but Caffery’s devotion to the music and folkways of the region and his insider status make Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana as much a love song for a people and its music as it is a work of academia.
In 2008, one of the most extraordinary people to live in Lafayette passed away, an old woman at the end of a rich life. Gisele Carriton, Gigi to friends and family, was a French Jew by birth who married an American soldier at the end of World War II and ended up in Lafayette. In the 1960s and ’70s she owned a nightclub in the Hub City, Chez Gisele — not remarkable in itself, except it was a gay cabaret. In Lafayette, La. In the 1960s. Lafayette writer/playwright Dennis Ward, who met Carriton in 2001 and like so many before him was drawn into her orbit and enchanted by her convivial, cosmopolitan spirit, wrote a play about Carriton’s life, Chez Gigi, that debuted to sold-out houses at Cité des Arts in 2010, eventually winning accolades and awards at the New Orleans Saints and Sinners Theater Festival a year later. Chez Gigi the play has now evolved into Mademoiselle Gigi (self-published), Ward’s fictionalized account of Carriton’s rather extraordinary life. The author takes creative license to be sure, but cleaves closely to a biography that needs little embellishment. There’s an argument to be made that Lafayette, now in a slow lurch toward tolerance and, dare we say, an embrace of LGBT culture, would be years behind were it not for the playfully persistent woman with the French accent who dared convention nearly a half century ago. Mademoiselle Gigi is a celebration of a life well lived.
SHOW AND TELL
All the cliches about the eye of the beholder and pictures telling a thousand words dissolve away in photographer William Greiner’s Show and Tell (UL Press), a coffee table book comprising a mere 28 photographs. What makes it more than a photography book are the 46,000 words that accompany the photographs — short works of fiction based on an assortment of chosen writers’ interpretations of the photographs — pictures of which they knew nothing going into the process: here’s a photograph you’ve never seen before; now let your imagination loose. The stories run from a few hundred words to a few thousand, drawing on virtually all narrative perspectives. They pull the reader in to the mystery of the photography, which ranges from portraiture to landscapes to images that are nearly journalistic in their interest in fleeting moments of daily life. Show and Tell takes the concept of a caption and expands it into fiction. The result, Greiner’s captivating photography notwithstanding, is a delightful glimpse under the hood of fiction, where possibilities are only as limited as the reality to which they’re grounded, and the narrative power of photography informs the process of spinning prose from almost-thin air.