Multicultural Cities in Frank Yerby

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2018-03-08 00:12Z by Steven

Multicultural Cities in Frank Yerby

Interminable Rambling
2018-03-16

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

Throughout his oeuvre, Frank Yerby works to deconstruct myths of the Old South and historical misinformation. Along with these goals, he also dismantles the dichotomy of Black and White; instead, he populates his works with individuals and scenes that defy a simplistic characterization. In this manner, Yerby shows that race is not a biological fact; rather, it is a social construct. One of the key ways that Yerby accomplishes this, especially in regard to the commingling of individuals, is through his descriptions of cities and the multitude of different people that populate the space. Today, I want to look at a couple of scenes where he does this from his first novel The Foxes of Harrow (1946) and his seventh novel The Saracen Blade (1952). I chose these two texts because the first takes place in antebellum New Orleans and the second occurs in thirteenth century Italy. Both, though, comment on issues of class and race during the mid-twentieth century.

Walking through the Vieux Carre to catch a glimpse of the Marquis de Lafayette in The Foxes of Harrow, Andre LeBlanc gives Stephen Fox an education in the rules, customs, and racial stratification of New Orleans, a stratification that does not fall easily into the dichotomy of Black and White…

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“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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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…

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Interview with Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith on “The Land Baron’s Sun”

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive on 2017-03-19 01:47Z by Steven

Interview with Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith on “The Land Baron’s Sun”

Interminable Rambling
2015-12-10

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

Last post, I wrote about Genarao Kỳ Lý Smith’s The Land Baron’s Sun. Today, I am sharing a recent interview I conducted with Smith. In the video above, Smith talks more about his grandfather and reads two poems from The Land Baron’s Sun.

In the acknowledgements of The Land Baron’s Sun, you write about Darrell Bourque telling you that your grandfather’s “story needs to be heard” because it is an important story to everyone. What makes Lý Loc’s story so significant?

Lý Loc came from a privileged life: inherited land from his father who was only known as the land baron (to this day, my mother does not know his name), had seven wives, twenty-seven children, seven houses (1 per wife), mistresses to go with each wife; he was a major commander for the South Vietnamese Army.  When the Fall of Saigon occurred, he lost everything to the point of writing my mother a few years later asking for money, food, medicine, and clothes.  It is a tragic story that needs to be told.  The idea of someone who had it all to living as a pauper is and has always been an intriguing story.  Also, had I not known about his seven wives or his privileged lifestyle, his story would have died with my mother.  The goal therefore was to resurrect his life, the lives of his wives and their children.  The purpose of writing the book was to leave his legacy.  I simply did not want him to die…

Read the entire interview here.

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