Posts Tagged ‘St. Francisville’

My furniture doesn’t think. Does yours?

Can furniture be racist?  Apparently, along with anything else covert right-wing social media trolls gleefully use to PROMOTE racism, national division and the slaughter of U.S. democracy.  If you live anywhere near the Mason-Dixon Line, you’d better hide great-grandma’s old rocker!  Because if it was ever anywhere near a slave-run plantation (which it and everything else would have been in not only the South but also in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland), that rocker is troll-prey.

Anne Butler

My friend Anne Butler lives in the 210-yr-old main house of a Louisiana plantation in St. Francisville, Butler-Greenwood, belonging to her family since the 1700’s and on the National Register of Historic Places.  Six cottages on the expansive grounds are B&Bs, and I was Anne’s guest there countless times while visiting my friend Doug in the nearby prison at Angola.  This gorgeous, fascinating place is the setting for a serialized short story, The Hollering Tree, I wrote for the Lands’ End catalogue, and for An Unremembered Grave, a novel I loved writing because, well, it has a vampire. Butler-Greenwood is too much a part of my history to remain silent, but what has happened in regard to it extends far beyond a little village in Louisiana.

The Reconstructed and Now-Forbidden Parlor at NOMA

Until recently, Anne maintained areas of the main house as a museum, including the original Victorian formal parlor with its 12-piece set of (Connecticut-made) rosewood furniture in its original upholstery, floor-to-ceiling pier mirrors and Meeks étagère. That parlor, scrupulously recreated down to walls and windows, was transported in 2013 to the New Orleans Museum of Art.  Except even if you’re really into Victoriana, you won’t be able to see it.  Why?  Because it’s boarded up now, forbidden, anathema to seeming “social justice” types who advocate burning history to the ground.

So who are these people who manage to hate pier mirrors and a marble-topped table for their proximity to a plantation?  My guess is that they’re NOT righteously angry African Americans and white liberals, although they may account for a few.  My guess is that these extremist social media attacks that are taking place all over the country are planned and carried out by highly-skilled professional trolls paid by right-wing organizations to amplify the social division that has torn this country apart.

Don’t fall for it!

Throwing statues in rivers, boarding up museum exhibits and annihilating intellectual platforms like the recent debacle laying waste to Poetry Magazine do absolutely nothing to change the lives of Black, Brown, Native and other disenfranchised Americans.  What these tactics do is obscure what’s really going on – an out-of-control pandemic that’s killing Black, Brown and Native folks in brutal numbers, a desperate national financial crisis caused by federal incompetence, massive voter suppression, open corruption at the highest levels of both government and social organizations, all on a planet quickly dying under the corporate knife. And more subtly, these tactics make rational, thoughtful people recoil in discomfort because tactics like anthropomorphizing furniture are ridiculous.  They drive a wedge between rational, thoughtful people and the very issues the trolls only pretend to advocate.  The method is calculated and effective.

Just don’t fall for it.  Call it out for what it is – politically-engineered melodrama designed to create an “Oh, for crying out loud, this has gone way too far!” attitude that can obscure real calls for social change.  Instead, support an end to redlining, gerrymandering and voter suppression as you work for vastly expanded educational and health care resources for “underserved” Americans.

And drop a courteous note to the New Orleans Museum of Art saying, “Please reopen The Greenwood Parlor exhibit, a treasure of Victoriana no item in which was in any way responsible for slavery because it’s just furniture!”  Here’s the link – https://noma.org/

Read Full Post »

imagesThink the entire South is an intellectual wasteland?  No way!  If anything, that unsavory political climate seems to nurture enclaves of cutting-edge brilliance.  (Always has, actually.  The list is endless, but sorry, Faulkner, my heart belongs to Flannery O’Connor.)  Below is the text from www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com about a literary festival at which I’ll be a speaker in February.  Check out the other three honorees – LA Poet Laureate Ava Haymon (whose Eldest Daughter smashes incestuous silence), Richard Sexton (whose photography of forgotten architecture is also a kind of poetry), and Moira Crone (all of whose books I ordered as soon as I realized she tackles issues of psychiatric illness in award-winning prose).  I’m thrilled to be honored beside these southern writers despite not being remotely southern.  So read their work and if you’re anywhere near St. Francisville, join us!

Writers and Readers Symposium Coming Soon to St. Francisville, LA
By Anne Butler

As 2015 dawns, St. Francisville steps into the future with a number of improvements, from the grand new library and prospects of a commodious new hospital to several much anticipated new restaurants and shops. But location scouts have long appreciated the little town’s ability to step BACK in time, the many preserved historic structures making it possible to throw some dirt on the streets and…voila!…it’s the 19th century.

Residents deal daily with this dichotomy, the delicate balance of preservation and progress, recognizing that the present and hopes for a financially stable future are of necessity firmly grounded in the past, built upon history. Town founders had forethought and high hopes, laying out side streets with optimistic names like Prosperity and Progress. As that old Greek proverb proclaimed, “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
But how to connect past and present, especially in a meaningful and sensible way? Participants at A Celebration of Literature and Art’s Writers and Readers Symposium on Saturday, February 21, at Hemingbough Convention Center in St. Francisville will get a variety of unique views on the interconnections between past and present as four celebrated authors—mystery writer Abigail Padgett, poet Ava Leavell Haymon, New Orleans novelist and short story writer Moira Crone, photographer Richard Sexton, all with new books– share their creative processes both individually and in moderated panel discussions with audience participation encouraged.

Abigail Padgett’s latest book is An Unremembered Grave. A resident of San Diego who has visited St. Francisville over many years, Padgett was struck by a 1990s photograph showing excavations through the striated strata of Angola’s Tunica Hills. At the lowest level of a dirt pit cut deep into the loess soil, LSU paleontologists were shown examining mammoth bones, while at the very top ground-level layer, archaeologists and prison staff in the same photograph examined newly uncovered skeletal remains of an unidentified 19th-century burial.

Considering these layered connections, a single photograph linking time periods from prehistoric creatures through Native Americans and antebellum plantations to the present correctional facility, award-winning mystery writer Padgett has woven an imaginative web of intrigue involving a prescient history professor, a spooky Louisiana plantation, an innocent prisoner, an ancient slave-made quilt. And, oh yes, a charming vampire with a plausible explanation for these entwined moments of time, whose slumber under the oppressive weight of history was interrupted atop that loessial bluff on Angola, the vampire whose blood-thirst was essential to pass along the eternal stories, the immutable history of the race and the currents of collective memory coursing through the veins of living creatures.
creole world
Gifted writer-photographer Richard Sexton’s most recent book, Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere, explores and illustrates with dreamy images the Creole connections between New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean. It’s all in the eye, really—well, maybe the mind too, and the heart and soul. That’s how Sexton, with his strong architecture and art background, spots the elegance amidst the decadence and celebrates the colorful remnants of Creole culture even in the most desolate Caribbean slum or New Orleans housing project. Compelling images reflect the author’s four decades roaming across the Latin Caribbean capturing architectural and urban similarities connecting New Orleans’ Creole heritage with colonial cultures in Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador and other historic locales.

Sexton says his Creole book “isn’t about home decorating—or pretty architecture, or even about city planning, although I think it addresses those interests. It’s my attempt to sum up an outlook—and a culture—that feels Creole to me. I’m drawn to places that accept accidents and decay, that put the past to fresh uses, that proceed by trial and error and keep things that work even if they don’t fit the rules.” As Sexton, who has lived in New Orleans since 1991, explains in an interview with Chris Waddington of nola.com, “I don’t just celebrate the past. I’m looking to see how the past can help us get to the future.”
Prestigious LSU Press has published four collections of Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Haymon’s poetry, and she is editor of the press’ Barataria Poetry Series. A Mississippi native who grew up in Kansas City with a Baptist preacher father who made her memorize ten verses of Scripture each week and recite them perfectly before the television set could be turned on, she attended Baylor University and then moved to Baton Rouge so her husband could go to LSU Law School and she could get a master’s degree in English.

She found Louisiana a poet’s dream, “a wonderful place to write poetry about. It has exotic weather, all sorts of ethnic groups and fabulous music. It’s sensory.” And yet, she finds inspiration in family dynamics across the generations as well. Her most recent book is titled Eldest Daughter, in which LSU Press says the poet combines the sensory and the spiritual in wild verbal fireworks. “Concrete descriptions of a woman’s life in the mid-20th-century American South mix with wider concerns about family lies and truths, and culture that supports or forbids clear speech. Haymon’s poems encourage us to revel in the natural world and enjoy its delights, as well as to confront the hard truths that would keep us from doing so.”

Also inspired by family dynamics in the South is Moira Crone, respected New Orleans novelist and short story writer. Called one of the best American writers, Crone attended University of North Carolina and Smith College, then studied writing at Johns Hopkins. After moving to Louisiana, she directed the MFA Program in Creative Writing at LSU in Baton Rouge before relocating to New Orleans with her husband, writer Rodger Kamenetz.

When she received the Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction from the Fellowship of Southern Writers for the body of her work, it was said that her interest in things spiritual “has led her work to be wittily described as ‘Southern Gnostic.’ In books like What Gets Into Us, Period of Confinement, and Dream State, Crone charts a zone of family resemblance and family claustrophobia. Her work can be hilarious in dealing with contemporary moral relativism. She is a fable maker with a musical ear, a plentitude of nerve, and an epic heart for her beleaguered, if often witty characters.”
ice garden
Moira Crone’s newest book, published in late fall 2014, is The Ice Garden, called “a story as dazzling and dangerous as ice, a heart stopper. This may just be the most haunting and memorable novel you will ever read.” The book’s narrator is ten years old, daughter of a mother trapped in the suffocating southern culture of the sixties, and only she can save her family. Of all Crone’s prize-winning novels and short stories, reviewers call The Ice Garden her finest book yet.

Tickets to the Writers and Readers Symposium, including lunch with these authors and a juried exhibit of photographs linked to literature, may be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com ( OLLI members can sign up through LSU); January tickets are $40, February $50, at the door $60. Seating is limited. Thanks to the Town of St. Francisville, this program is supported in part by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council, and as administered by the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. Funding has also been provided by Entergy and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Adjuncts to the program include Ava Hayman teaching a poetry workshop for Bains Elementary School students, and Abigail Padgett, who has taught creative writing at Harvard and other institutions, working with promising upper class students. In addition, Hayman and Padgett will conduct a Writers’ Workshop for aspiring and professional adult authors Saturday, February 28, in a stimulating plantation setting.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 13 January 2015 )


Read Full Post »

AbigailPadget-FRONTcoverA new book! Three characters. Spooky Louisiana setting. Blood.

I don’t live in Louisiana, do not teach history, have never been imprisoned and don’t “believe” in vampires. Yet An Unremembered Grave is the story of a history professor, a prisoner and yes, a vampire, in Louisiana. So what was I thinking?

The History Professor

Danni Telfer was abandoned as a toddler and has no history, which may account for her getting a Ph.D. in the subject. But amphitheater classrooms of bored college freshmen aren’t doing it for Danni. When an ill-advised affair with her department chair results in an invitation by the dean to get out of Dodge for a semester, she scrounges an obscure grant to study the history of cotton in Louisiana. Danni has always been “different,” prone to odd experiences no one else seems to share. And now she’s about to find out why.


“History” in my long-ago formal education was an agony of boredom. Kings, wars, names and dates memorized and instantly forgotten. A wasteland of data actually painful to recall. But I hang out with friends now who are History professors, and from just listening to their shop-talk quickly learned that “history” isn’t like that any more. Approached creatively, it’s a vast cache of stories, most of which do not involve kings, battles or specific dates. Had I to do it over again, I might major in History! Thus is born Danni, an alter-ego whose academic skills I admire and envy even as I create them from the distant perspective of the English major.

The Prisoner

Antoine “Monk” Dupre didn’t murder anybody in Opelousas ten years ago. Yet he was convicted and sentenced to life in Louisiana’s infamous maximum security prison at Angola. Monk, in the company of his cat, Bastet, works as head inmate counsel, helping other men struggle toward freedom even though his own case is hopeless. In the prison hobby shop he fashions exquisite wooden cats in the image of the Egyptian deity for which his own cat is named, only joking that his carvings might have magical power. But all that is about to change.


Once a plantation, Angola is an entire town that, as such, appears on no map. It lies imagesat the end of a single, two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild, snake-infested hills and a treacherous stretch of the Mississippi River. Isolated even now, seething with brutal history and snared in Louisiana’s traditional laissez-faire political corruption, Angola might be seen as the prison exemplar, a fantasy prison embodying all prisons. Except Angola is real. For seventeen years I visited a friend imprisoned there and talked on the phone with him every week. We even wrote and published a short story together. But that’s another whole book, a memoir in progress. For now, Angola belongs to Monk, a desperate man whose life hangs on the skill of a History professor… and a vampire.

The Vampire

sabrewolfThe man, Stephane Grimaud, was born to Basque shepherds near Bayonne, France, before there was France. But Grimaud is no longer a man; Grimaud is a vampire. Staked and buried by a courageous but dying slave during the Civil War, Grimaud has slept beneath the soil of the plantation called Angola for 150 years. When a crew of prisoners grading a golf course for the warden unearths his grave, Grimaud struggles to stand, starving and terrified. He will need help if he is to survive in a world unimagined before he slept. How fortunate that an adept is nearby, one of the mortal humans who see and understand realities beyond the accepted one. Her name is Danni and he knows what she is, but why does she flee from him in terror?


Kids love stories of the occult, witches and vampires, magic and all things outside the quotidian. Most outgrow it. I never did. So it was with fascination that I observed the recent, sudden and unprecedented popularity of vampires in fiction and media. (At this writing there are 10,920 vampire novels listed on Amazon Kindle, most written in the last five years!) What is this about? I dived into the research and came up with a theory. Interest in vampires demonstrably increases during periods of social change. The current time is such a period, a paradigm shift of incomprehensible dimensions, and so of course there are vampires everywhere. But why? Why do people, particularly young adults, crave endless stories of deathless, humanoid beings who drink human blood?

Eureka!  In human blood is encoded the history of the human race. But history is threatened with obliteration by social change, and the blood-coded stories in every individual perish when the individual dies. Vampires cannot die, and so shoulder the task of consuming and preserving human history. The vampire, born of a Balkan folk belief and refined by the minds of many writers, including mine, is a symbol rising from our collective unconscious. Young adults, teetering between the dying world of their parents and grandparents, and the unknown world in which their children will live, are acutely, if unconsciously, aware of the shift. They, and I, long for the vampire, who preserves what we cannot. And so… Grimaud!


Read Full Post »

My Vampire

Graveyard, St. Francisville, LA

Louisiana is strange but deliciously atmospheric, what with its mind-altering heat, ghostly Spanish moss and ominous tombstones blooming in lichen.  That so many vampire novels are set there is not surprising.  What self-respecting vampire would choose to hang out in, say, Oklahoma?  So when a friend and I, in an unaccustomed fit of pragmatism, decided to write a vampire novel, Oklahoma did not occur to us as a setting.  It had to be Louisiana, a choice seething with convenience since my co-author lives there.  Plus I’d already written a serialized short story for Lands’ End (“The Hollering Tree”) that was set there.  “Why not?” we said, and then spent weeks writing those necessary character histories 95% of which never make it into the book.  I was thrilled, because, frankly, I love vampires and I get to write the vampire character!  Joy.

I mean I love real vampires, not the current avalanche of sweetly fanged teenage-boy vamps – mystical, doe-eyed vegetarians who’ve waited centuries to find the right girl with whom to thwart werewolves and thereby establish world peace.   No, my vamp has his roots in those Tales from the Crypt comics I was forbidden to read as a child, although my cousin Ralph was not.  Ralph had a vast collection of them in the attic playroom where his sister Rosalyn and I played trampoline on an old mattress until we got tired of jumping and settled in to read.  I devoured Tales from the Crypt up there, never missing an issue while my mother drank coffee below, oblivious.  And even now among the Halloween decorations just pulled from the shed is an illuminated crypt-keeper who will take his place tonight atop a bookcase in the living room.  Some childhood enthusiasms, mercifully, do not fade.

But on to research and the framing of a halfway coherent theory of vampirism.

More graveyard, St. Francisville, LA

I could give a three-day symposium by now on the theories churning out of various academic contexts (psychological, theological, medical, sociological, political, blahblah…) to account for the current obsession with vampires, except that the current obsession isn’t mine.  Yes, we’re in a huge paradigm shift considerably more comprehensive than the last paradigm shift (the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Era, all that), in which there was a resurgence of interest in vampires.  Clearly, there is a documentable correlation between paradigm shifts and vampires.  Change terrifies many people, creating a need for something fictionally concrete through which to channel all that free-floating terror.  Vampires work well, apparently.

However, by now “change” is hardly a source of terror for me.  Who could live this long and not notice that it’s, basically, endemic?  I remember my childhood fondly because everybody remembers their childhoods fondly, but I love being able to find obscure information on the Net at 3:00 a.m. and have no desire to go back.  So I can’t mine some subconscious fear of change for vampire material; I like change.  What I can mine is – voilà! – original data.  Enter The Book that I must have – Emily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest: Facts, Figures and Fancies from Transylvania (1888), widely believed to have inspired Bram Stoker’s penning of Dracula.  I’ve read fragments of this work available on the Internet, and now list Emily Gerard among those whose style and erudition are so charming and compelling as to make of her a friend.  She was a marvelous writer with a biting wit, and she knew her stuff!

There are 127 copies of this out-of-print book available in U.S. libraries, five of these copies in California.  However, the university inter-library loan service at my disposal (and undoubtedly all inter-library loan services) can only access books that are in circulation.  The Land Beyond the Forest  is 113 years old and thus hardly circulating among the grimy hands of all and sundry, including mine.  Two librarians at public and university libraries fought (and still fight) valiantly to get me a copy, but in the meantime it seemed efficient to wallow in the other original source – Louisiana.

The specific vampire image Stoker immortalized has its roots in Eastern Europe and nobody loves Prague more than I do, but the contemporary American vampire, thanks to Anne Rice, has its roots in Louisiana.  So there I was only weeks ago, recording the creepy choir of frogs and cicadas, snapping photos of tombstones and loving the fact that friends’ now-adult children still call me that soft-spoken “Mizz AYuby.”  I plotted my vamp’s grotesque movements in those first hours after his disinterment, the stake driven through his heart during the Civil War now a rotted shred in his bony fingers.  A water moccasin and several rodents perished in the frenzy of his hunger, but that was only the beginning.  I knew the crypt-keeper applauded my efforts, and I would have stayed longer except that I had to get home in order to fly someplace else.  But I got what I needed – atmosphere!

Now the real work begins, even though I still haven’t got hold of The Book.  (If worse comes to worst I’ll just break down and buy a reproduction copy of it for an inflated sum.)  My vampire, Stéphane Grimaud, isn’t the only character, and we have our hands full with a traditional mystery and love story set in the dark heart of Louisiana’s maximum security prison, Angola.  Angola, that was once an obscure plantation on the Mississippi River.  Where a vampire driven  from New Orleans by his own kind in 1863 was shot and thrown overboard by a riverboat captain, only to crawl from the river to wait out the war amid Angola’s cotton.  But a shrewd and courageous old slave saw the vampire for what he was, and… fast-forward to now.

The only problem so far is the title, or lack thereof.  We can’t think of one sufficiently evocative, so if anybody has suggestions, please send them on!

Read Full Post »