“They want us to be Creoles. . . . There is no in-between”: Creole Representations in Ernest J. Gaines’s Catherine Carmier and Lyle Saxon’s Children of Strangers

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2017-07-12 21:55Z by Steven

“They want us to be Creoles. . . . There is no in-between”: Creole Representations in Ernest J. Gaines’s Catherine Carmier and Lyle Saxon’s Children of Strangers

Studies in the Literary Imagination
Volume 49, Number 1, Summer 2016
pages 113-127
DOI: 10.1353/sli.2016.0008

Matthew Teutsch, Instructor
Department of English
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Mary Agnes LeFabre, the Creole teacher at Samson Plantation in Ernest J. Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, “comes from a long line of Creoles back there in New Orleans” that eventually moved after the Civil War to the community called Creole Place (166). Gaines does not provide the specific location of Creole Place in the novel, but one can assume that the community that Gaines describes, one where the “people . . . did everything for themselves” and did not let anyone, no matter how white, enter into the community, has a real-world antecedent (167). Quite possibly, that antecedent could be Frilot Cove, the community Vivian is from in Gaines’s 1993 novel A Lesson Before Dying. Thadious M. Davis observes another possibility for Creole Place’s real life inspiration, the Isle Brevelle Creole community on Cane River near Natchitoches, Louisiana (“Headlands” 7). While Gaines’s Creole community may perchance be drawn from the Isle Brevelle community, we know for a fact that the Creoles that Lyle Saxon writes about in his novel Children of Strangers have their origins in the Creole population along Cane River.

This essay explores Saxon’s novel in relation to Gaines’s first novel, Catherine Carmier. Gaines has not mentioned whether or not he ever read Saxon’s text when working on his own, but that does not change the importance of reading the two novels in conjunction with one another. They appear less than thirty years apart, and both deal with a unique aspect of social structure in Louisiana, the separation of communities into four distinct categories: white, Cajun, Creole, and black. Davis argues that the presence of a Creole community—for our purposes referring to individuals of mixed Spanish, French, Native American, and African ancestry—where individuals of African and African-American descent were free during slavery and had the opportunity for social mobility, provided a possible exemplar for race relations in the United States during the nineteenth century; however, after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the gradual Americanization of the new territory, and specifically New Orleans, Louisiana’s possible example faded into the darkness (Southscapes 186).

Saxon’s depiction of the Isle Brevelle Creole community borders on stereotypical and patronizing. While he tries to provide an accurate portrayal of the community and its inhabitants, he fails to humanize them fully. However, he does provide a much more sympathetic representation than he originally did in his short story “Cane River,” which appeared in 1926. In this story, Saxon depicts Susie stereotypically as “a wild nigger girl” and “an untamed savage” (225). As well, he places himself in the black community by inserting “we” into the narrative. In Children of Strangers, Saxon’s representation of the community becomes more sympathetic and humanizing, but at points he does revert back to pervasive oppressive images, especially in his description of Henry Tyler talking with Paul Guy. Henry Tyler becomes “like an animal trying to tell a man it is thirsty” (Children 169). Though clearly Children of Strangers is a flawed novel, I argue that we should read the two novels together to help us understand the cultural milieu in which both authors wrote, specifically the flattening of racial binaries during the period, and to understand each author’s presentation of the increasing modernity of rural Louisiana during the early-to-mid part of the twentieth century.

In April 1923, Saxon made his first visit to Melrose Plantation on the Cane River. Invited there by Cammie Garrett Henry, whose husband inherited the plantation in 1898, Saxon would make frequent trips to the artist colony that Henry established in order to compose what would eventually become Children of Strangers, a novel that took him close to fourteen years to complete. Known for his newspaper writing and nonfiction works, Saxon attained celebrity status both at Melrose and in New Orleans writing about the Crescent City’s history, the flood of 1927, Jean Lafitte, and local folklore. However, he always wanted to write fiction, and…

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White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing

Posted in Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Louisiana, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2017-05-30 20:53Z by Steven

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing

Skyhorse Publishing
2017-10-03
304 pages
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1510724129

Gail Lukasik, Ph.D.

Kenyatta D. Berry (foreword)

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing is the story of Gail Lukasik’s mother’s “passing,” Gail’s struggle with the shame of her mother’s choice, and her subsequent journey of self-discovery and redemption.

In the historical context of the Jim Crow South, Gail explores her mother’s decision to pass, how she hid her secret even from her own husband, and the price she paid for choosing whiteness. Haunted by her mother’s fear and shame, Gail embarks on a quest to uncover her mother’s racial lineage, tracing her family back to eighteenth-century colonial Louisiana. In coming to terms with her decision to publicly out her mother, Gail changed how she looks at race and heritage.

With a foreword written by Kenyatta Berry, host of PBS’s Genealogy Roadshow, this unique and fascinating story of coming to terms with oneself breaks down barriers.

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Know Your Black History: Deconstructing the Quadroon Ball

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2017-04-30 21:03Z by Steven

Know Your Black History: Deconstructing the Quadroon Ball

Afropunk
2016-10-27

Nick Douglas, AFROPUNK Contributor


“The swooning woman of color” This was an advertisement from 1858 New Orleans and is the first proof I had ever seen of a Quadroon Ball. I had never come across any proof that these balls actually happened. I fully believed these balls were the creation of Southern white male fantasies about needy, swooning, sexual women of color hoping to have the opportunity to have a relationship with them—i.e., a white male privilege fantasy. But as I looked in wonder at the very first proof I had ever seen of a Quadroon Ball, everything about the advertisement struck me as wrong and contradicted every bit of history I knew about New Orleans and Louisiana society. Then I did something that too few consumers of history do: I began deconstructing the advertisement in the context of the history of Louisiana and New Orleans. When I did this it crushed and destroyed the mythical ideals behind Quadroon balls.

Quadroon” Referred to women of color whose ancestry was supposedly mixed with only one quarter black blood. The term was popularized by President Jefferson, a slaveholder who never arranged to free his own black children, borne by his slave Sally Hemmings, or any of the other 200 slaves he held at his death.

Grand, Fancy, Superior” In the myth of Quadroon Balls women of color attended lavish dances with the hope of forming a plaçage relationships with eligible white men. But the historic practice of plaçage relationships between white men and free women of color were legally binding contractual agreements, drawn up in the presence of a notary public. In these arrangements for monogamous or extramarital relationships, women were typically set up with a house and income, and any children were financially provided for by the white father. Americans had outlawed marriages between races and made it very difficult for children of color to inherit from their colonial fathers. Plaçage agreements were a logical alternative; couples also simply cohabited.

Free women of color in Louisiana were a powerful group in their own right…

Read the entire article here.

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The first real New Orleans saint? Henriette Delille’s path to canonization

Posted in Articles, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Religion, United States, Women on 2017-04-30 00:56Z by Steven

The first real New Orleans saint? Henriette Delille’s path to canonization

The Times-Picayune
2017-03-02

Kim Chatelain


Portrait of Henriette Delille. This “carte de visite” albumen photo was taken by New Orleans photographer A. Constant at his studio on Hospital Street (now Governor Nichols). It’s the only known portrait of Delille.

It was 2011, and Archbishop Gregory Aymond was seeking a sacred antidote to the violence, murder and racism infesting his hometown. He turned to a venerable figure in New Orleans history, but a person only vaguely known to even the most ardent Roman Catholics, and composed a prayer that is now recited at every local Mass. It ends with the plea: “Mother Henriette Delille, pray for us that we may be a holy family.”

Unknown to many Catholics, the object of their prayers was a French-speaking woman of African descent. She was born in 1812 and grew up in the 500 block of Burgundy Street, and she lived a part of her life as a mistress in a social system known as placage, whereby wealthy white European men entered relationships with free women of color to circumvent laws against interracial marriage.

After the deaths of her two young children born through a concubine relationship, however, Delille at age 24 formally rejected the societal norms and experienced a religious transformation that eventually led to the formation of the Sisters of the Holy Family order. The community of Creole nuns provided care for those on the bottom rung of antebellum society, administering to the elderly, nursing the sick and teaching people of color who at the time had limited education opportunities. To this day, Holy Family nuns continue to serve out the mission launched in the mid-1800s by doing good works around the globe.

Now, 175 years after she founded the order, Delille stands at the doorstep of sainthood. If canonized, she will become the first New Orleanian, and the first U.S.-born black person, to be recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church…

Read the entire article here.

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Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s “Fidèle”and Intrusion

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, Religion, United States on 2017-04-13 15:50Z by Steven

Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s “Fidèle”and Intrusion

Interminable Rambling
2017-04-13

Matthew Teutsch, Instructor
Department of English
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

Recently, I taught Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s The Land Baron’s Sun: The Story of LýLoc and His Seven Wives (2014) for the first time, and during this read through, I began to think about the topic of the American Dream even more along with colonization and intrusion. These themes pop up in numerous poems throughout the collection, and I have written about them before. Today, though, I want to focus on “Fidèle,” a poem that appears later in the book and talks about Pham and her family’s new life in North Louisiana.

“Fidèle” begins by outlining the religious landscape of Ruston. The town does not have any synagogues, pagodas, or temples; rather, it has “only churches whose steeples/ are wooden hands formed in prayer” (84). From the very beginning, we are told to question the Boudreaux family in the poem based on the title, ““Fidèle,” French for faithful. The Boudreauxs, with their children and dog, repeatedly ask Pham, as she works in her family’s garden, to come to church with them someday. Pham declines these invitations as her husband instructs her…

Read the entire article here.

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A Tale Which Must Never Be Told: A New Biography of George Herriman

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-19 14:32Z by Steven

A Tale Which Must Never Be Told: A New Biography of George Herriman

Los Angeles Review of Books
2017-03-18

Ben Schwartz

George Herriman, a Life in Black and White
By Michael Tisserand

Published 12.06.2016
Harper
560 Pages

ON MARCH 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office and became our 28th president. While we remember Wilson for his internationalist foreign policy and progressive labor laws, he was also the first Southerner elected since the mid-19th century, and his racial policies reflected it. Wilson saw Jim Crow as the necessary remedy to the aftermath of the Civil War. As president, he normalized his revanchist views from the White House by expanding segregation of federal workers. Not surprisingly, 1913 also saw a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan. An excerpt from Wilson’s revisionist writings proclaiming the Klan “a veritable empire of the South” even appears in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a box-office smash which Wilson personally screened at the White House, the first American film ever shown there.

In that reactionary atmosphere, on October 28, 1913, in the New York Evening Journal, William Randolph Hearst debuted a new comic strip, Krazy Kat, by one of his favorite cartoonists, George Herriman. It starred Krazy, an androgynous cat in love with Ignatz, a brick-throwing, cat-chasing mouse. They lived in Coconino County, Arizona, desert mesa country, and Herriman shifted their backgrounds panel-by-panel — night to day, day to night, mountain to desert to town to river — with no rhyme or reason. They spoke in a patois of slang, Elizabethan English, Yiddish, Spanish, French, and tossed off literary allusions. When asked once about his basic upending of the natural order of cats, mice, dogs, time, and space, Herriman summed up his Weltanschauung: “To me it’s just as sensible as the way it is.”.

Krazy Kat’s whimsy caught on quickly in the Age of Wilson, and its large and devoted fan base ranged from high society to poets to school children to the president himself. What none of them knew then was that George Herriman was black. He passed for white most of his life. And what we can only see now, thanks to an authoritative new biography of Herriman by New Orleans historian Michael Tisserand, is that, as far removed from social commentary as Krazy Kat may appear, race was as much on George Herriman’s mind as the president’s…

Read the entire review here.

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Apres Midi Afternoon Classics: March 7, 2017- “Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White”

Posted in Arts, Audio, Biography, Interviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-13 18:24Z by Steven

Apres Midi Afternoon Classics: March 7, 2017- “Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White”

Apres Midi/Afternoon Classics
KRVS 88.7 FM
Lafayette, Louisiana
2017-03-07

Judith Meriwether, Host

Interview with Michael Tisserand about his book Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White.

Listen to the interview (01:00:00) here.

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‘Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White’: A life as unorthodox as his comic strip

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-12 02:21Z by Steven

‘Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White’: A life as unorthodox as his comic strip

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
2017-02-19

Wayne Wise


Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White” by Michael Tisserand.

Ignatz Mouse: “Hey, this isn’t black coffee!!!”

Krazy Kat: “Sure it is. Look unda the milk.”

Krazy Kat,” created by George Herriman, is one of the most influential comic strips of all time. Centered around the iconic love triangle of Krazy, Ignatz Mouse and Offisa Pupp, the feature ran as a syndicated newspaper strip from 1913 to 1944. To a modern audience the strip can be difficult to understand, if not impenetrable. The pacing and sense of humor of 100 years ago feel foreign to current trends. There are references that were common at the time that are lost to us now. The language used is an idiosyncratic patois of nonsense poetry.

The backgrounds, while beautifully rendered, are a constantly changing surreal backdrop. Characters frequently broke the fourth wall, commenting directly on their status as cartoons. The title character, Krazy Kat, was of indeterminate gender, referred to with shifting pronouns, sometimes within the same sentence. As a whole, Krazy Kat was an ongoing challenge to the reader’s perception of definitions and boundaries.

Creator George Herriman was born in New Orleans in 1880. In the latter part of the 19th century his family moved to Los Angeles where his father worked as a tailor and George began his art career, eventually becoming one of the most famous and celebrated cartoonists in history. This is a distinction that would not have been possible if the truth of his life had been known at the time.

In 1971, while researching Mr. Herriman for an entry in the Dictionary of American Biography, professor Arthur Berger discovered a previously unknown fact. On his birth certificate Mr. Herriman was listed as “colored.” It had always been assumed that he was a white man. Mr. Herriman, to use the terminology of the time, “passed for white” his entire life, at a time when his color would have prevented him from many, if not all, of the achievements he is known for…

Read the entire article here.

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30 Books #9: Colette Bancroft on Michael Tisserand’s ‘Krazy’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-02 03:07Z by Steven

30 Books #9: Colette Bancroft on Michael Tisserand’s ‘Krazy’

critical mass: The blog of the National Book Critics Circle Board of Directors
2017-02-23

Colette Bancroft

In the 30 Books in 30 Days series leading up to the March 16 announcement of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle award winners, NBCC board members review the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Colette Bancroft offers an appreciation of biography finalist Michael Tisserand’s Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (Harper Collins).

In a surreal desert landscape, a tiny white mouse throws a brick at the head of a black cat. On impact, the cat lifts lightly off the ground, hearts floating in the air above its lovestruck head.

That image, and the story it suggests, might sound slight. But it was the heart and soul of Krazy Kat, a tremendously influential comic strip that ran for more than 30 years at a time when newspaper comic strips were among the most popular American art forms.

Its creator is the subject of Michael Tisserand’s engaging, revealing biography, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White

…In exploring the artist’s life story, Tisserand reveals something that adds even more depth and complexity to the strip: Herriman came from a mixed-race New Orleans family that moved to California during his childhood and ever after passed as white

Read the entire review here.

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Episode 199 – Michael Tisserand

Posted in Arts, Audio, Biography, Interviews, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-01-08 20:48Z by Steven

Episode 199 – Michael Tisserand

Virtual Memories: The chief of the Inner Station
2017-01-02

Gil Roth, Host

“I always feel like Herriman’s a a step ahead of me. When I read Krazy Kat I think I know what I’m reading; the next week I read the same strip and I realize I’m reading something different than I thought I was reading.”

For our 199th episode, Michael Tisserand joins the show to talk about his fantastic new book, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White (Harper). We discuss Krazy Kat, race in America and the phenomenon of racial passing, newsroom culture, conducting research on microfilm in the age of Google, the allure of New Orleans, what it was like to write the biography of an enigma, and a lot more. So don’t be a bald-faced gazooni! Give it a listen! And go buy KRAZY!

“Herriman treated language as something that wasn’t up to shouldering the kind of burdens that we put on it.”

Listen to the episode (01:31:23) here download the episode here.

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