17
Nov 17

Finding Promise in Poetry

It’s rare that I write a poem that doesn’t in some way draw upon the work I have read by other poets, writers or artists, be they living or dead, famous or lesser known. Throughout the house, small stacks of books and magazines of poetry, essays, art catalogs, fiction and non-fiction, entice me to spend time with them every day.  While reading, I keep a running list of words and phrases that inspire me, spark my interest or look like they might be good source material for one of my own poems.

In my third collection, Promise, the titles of several of my poems owe debts to other writers’ works. For instance, “Housewife as Poet” came about after I read “Poet as Housewife” in a 2009 issue of Poetry magazine written by contemporary Dutch poet Elisabeth Eybers. For another poem title, I borrowed the phrase “The Book of Usable Minutes” from the first line of the poem, “Train Rising Out of the Sea” by late great John Ashbery. After reading the artist Jenny Holzer’s truisms in her “The Living Series” and “Laments,” I re-purposed her words and phrases in two of my poems. As Trent Brown noted in his recent LSU Press Blog post, Tennessee Williams is a vibrant source and my poem “The Kindness of Strangers” lifts its title and other diction from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It feels often like I’m making word collages as I add layers of text and images that I have discovered through reading others.

Over the years of building my poetry library, my gratitude has increased for the many presses committed to publishing poetry, LSU Press being one of them. In graduate school, I was introduced to the work of Jay Wright in his collected poems Transfigurations (LSU Press, 2000) and continue to be intrigued by his distinctive depictions of the poet in place and time. I have earmarked about half the pages in Liesel Mueller’s Alive Together (LSU Press, 1996) in admiration for her deft ability to describe living lyrically and unabashedly. In Bonneville, from Elixir Press (2007), Liesel’s poet daughter, Jenny Mueller offers poems of introspection in varied landscapes. In Matt Rassmussen’s Black Aperture (LSU Press, 2012) I was jolted from the comfort of my morning reading chair into these bold and tender variations on a sibling’s suicide.


In addition to reading poems in books, magazines and online, I also rely upon anthologies and collections of essays about poetry and art to support the creation of my work and broaden my knowledge and experience. Here are just a few of the many resources I hold dear.

Mary Oliver, Upstream (Penguin, 2016). Encouraging essays about writing and paying attention.

Carl Phillips, The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf, 2014). Chock full of compelling reasons to write poetry with emphasis on assertion and resistance.

Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr, American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan, 2002). Excellent revelations about craft and theory from the perspective of ten featured writers.

J.D. McClatchy, editor, Poets on Painters: Essays on the Art of Painting by Twentieth Century Poets (University of California Press, 1989). Intoxicating essays about art from diverse poetic points of view.

Ed Hirsch, How to Read a Poem and Fall In Love With Poetry (Harcourt, Brace 1999). An engaging love to song to poetry in all its forms with an indispensable Glossary.

Molly Peacock, How to Read a Poem . . . and Start a Poetry Circle (Riverhead, 1999). Illuminating lessons on how to look, hear and make poetry part of your life.

Susan Stewart, The Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics (University of Chicago Press, 2005). Lucid examinations of the creative process in contemporary art.

Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (HarperPerennial, 1998). Exacting and sensitive accounts revealing the magic, mystery and power of poetry.


Sally Van Doren has published two previous poetry collections with LSU Press: Sex at Noon Taxes (2008) and Possessive (2012). Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, including American Poet, Boulevard, the Cincinnati Review, the New Republic, and the Southern Review. She has taught poetry at the 92nd Street Y in New York and curates the Sunday Poetry Workshops for the St. Louis Poetry Center.

Buy Promise today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


10
Nov 17

Understanding the Televisual South

It’s hard to turn on the television and not think about the U.S. South. From reality shows such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Southern Charm, and Duck Dynasty, to fear-inducing thrillers like The Walking Dead, True Blood, and True Detective, and bingeable shows including Atlanta, Ozark, Queen Sugar, and Dexter, the U.S. South seems to be broadcast everywhere, functioning on the small-screen as a spectacle of fascination, ridicule, danger, and desire.

Even when the South isn’t the central setting of the show, it somehow manages to work its way into the frame. Take, for example, HBO’s latest David Simon and George Pelecanos venture The Deuce, set in Manhattan in the late seventies. Not even five episodes in, and there we are outside a barbeque restaurant on the outskirts of Charlotte as one of the main characters—a prostitute named Darlene—lures an unsuspecting “country cousin” back with her to the city and into the sex-industry of 42nd street. It’s not hard to think of other examples of shows harnessing the South’s signifying powers, often engendering the region in the process—Charlotte as “southern belle” on Sex in the City, or Detective Amanda Rollins’ role as southerner on the long-running Law and Order: SVU. The premise and pleasure of these series emerges in part from their play with foundational myths of southern womanhood and ideas about region in relation to nation.

Yet this “southern programming” is hardly a new phenomenon. From 1960s favorites The Andy Griffith Show and The Beverly Hillbillies to the 80s and 90s series Dallas and A Different World and the 2000s teen drama One Tree Hill, the U.S. South has managed to hold on through multiple TV turns. Of course, some of the recent proliferation of the South on television is a result of the numerous tax incentives the industry has received from southern states and cities eager to bring new business into their borders. Regardless of one’s geographical home, there’s a good chance a TV viewer has been watching some version of the South for years—and in turn people in the South have been watching themselves imagined on the small screen.

While recent collections such as Deborah Barker and Katherine McKee’s American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary have stirred interest in visual representations of the region, the role of television, we noticed, was largely neglected, despite a proliferation of programming set in and about the South. Our work in Small-Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television seeks to fill in this gap and to raise meaningful questions about what it means to watch the South across the domestic intimacy and public ubiquity of the televisual medium. As the first book-length study broadly dedicated to the relationship between television and the U.S. South, our collection considers the region and its televisual archive from the classical network era to our contemporary “post-broadcast” era, focusing on how the televisual South speaks to national and transnational transformations, including changing ways of thinking about race, class, gender, and regional identity itself.

We worked consciously to solicit work from contributors from diverse fields, so as to emphasize the variety of intellectual approaches that are possible at the intersections of television, regionalism, nationalism, and globalization, and to reflect a nuanced vision of place. The result, we think, is an intensely readable and teachable collection of sixteen essays that offer dynamic new ways of thinking about the televisual South.


A few key texts functioned as foundational scholarship for our understanding of the relationship between the U.S. South and mass media in Small-Screen Souths: Region, Identity, and the Cultural Politics of Television.

Deborah Barker and Kathryn McKee, American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary (UGA Press, 2011). This book is a key inspiration for our collection: we admire its scope, its readability, and the way in which it persuasively makes the case that that, far from being a marginal or merely regional set of tropes and images, the South has been integral to the development of filmmaking on a national scale. Barker and McKee’s concept of “the southern imaginary,” which they define as “an amorphous and sometimes conflicting collection of images, ideas, attitudes, practices, linguistic accents, histories, and fantasies about a shifting geographic region and time,” was influential for our development of our central concept of the “televisual South.”

Karen L. Cox, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture (UNC Press, 2013). Cox traces the history of the U.S. South in popular culture from the late nineteenth century through World War II, drawing attention to the establishment of key southern icons—the mammy, the belle, the plantation—in film, popular music, radio, and literature, while emphasizing the connections between regional and national identity.

Allison Graham, Framing the South: Hollywood, Television, and Race during the Civil Rights Struggle (Johns Hopkins UP, 2003). Graham brilliantly surveys the ways in which the media, particularly television and film, presented southerners during the period of the civil rights revolution, with a special emphasis on how films have confronted—or avoided—issues of racism.

Jack T. Kirby, Media-Made Dixie: The South In the American Imagination (UGA Press, 2004). Kirby’s study develops a portrait of how “Dixie” comes into fashion through popular culture from early cinematic sensations such as The Birth of a Nation to the plays and cinematic adaptations of Tennessee Williams to Jimmy Carter’s presidency. While we offer a different portrait of the South and popular culture than Kirby, his book is an early touchstone text in a developing conversation about the interplay between mass culture and regional identity.

Amanda D. Lotz, The Television Will Be Revolutionized (NYU Press, 2007). Lotz persuasively details how the television is not dead in the age of digital media and the “post-network” era; rather, she argues, it is being “revolutionized” by portable viewing devices and digital recording.

Anna McCarthy, Ambient Television: Visual Culture and Public Space (Duke UP, 2001). Arguing against the ways that television studies has long focused on domestic spaces, McCarthy examines how television is a pervasive phenomenon outside the home, filling our time in airports, sporting events, and waiting rooms. She also discusses the different roles that television plays in these contexts, focusing on how “ambient television” mobilizes us into captive audiences for ideas about gender, class, and consumption.

Tara McPherson, Reconstructing Dixie: Race, Gender, and Nostalgia in the Imagined South (Duke UP, 2003). McPherson’s masterful book reinvigorated southern studies through inventively drawing on a diverse archive—fiction, film, television, southern studies scholarship, journalism, music, tourist sites, the internet, and autobiography—to reveal how the “lenticular logic” that has dominated the U.S. South’s remembering of its past has also shaped our national identity.

Scott Romine, The Real South: Southern Narrative in the Age of Cultural Reproduction (LSU Press, 2008). Romine examines what it means to understand the U.S. South in the “age of cultural reproduction,” wherein cultural identity must be understood within the broader context of mass media, global corporations, and the logic of commodification. Romine’s compelling arguments about artifice, authenticity, and “reality” resonate throughout our collection.


Lisa Hinrichsen, associate professor of English and director of graduate studies at the University of Arkansas, is the author of Possessing the Past: Trauma, Imagination, and Memory in Post-Plantation Southern Literature.

Gina Caison is assistant professor of English at Georgia State University.

Stephanie Rountree is a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Department of English at Auburn University.

Buy Small-Screen Souths today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


03
Nov 17

Five Howard Chaykin-esque Contemporary Comics

In Neon Visions, I discuss the ways in which Howard Chaykin’s work, once routinely hailed as groundbreaking in its themes and innovative in exploiting the unique properties of the comics medium, has in recent years been underappreciated or mis-understood in academic comics studies and comics fandom alike. But what about within the world of comics artists and writers? How have comics creators both within and beyond the mainstream responded to the work of an artist who expanded the boundaries of the possible in monthly adventure-genre comics? Here are five works indirectly or directly shaped by Chaykin’s influence.


Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon, Casanova (Image Comics, 2006-). Superstar indie comics writer Matt Fraction is an avowed Howard Chaykin fan and a frequent collaborator, most notably on Satellite Sam, an unblinking look at the seamy underbelly of 1950s children’s television that Fraction has frequently described as “Howard Chaykin fan-fiction.” But I tend to think of Casanova as the true spiritual successor to Chaykin titles such as American Flagg! or Time2. With Brazilian artists Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon trading art duties on alternating story arcs, Casanova is a series in which Fraction transforms a deeply personal and idiosyncratic set of obsessions and preoccupations into a crypto-autobiographical thrill ride.

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Fatale (Image Comics, 2012-2014). Brubaker and Phillips have carved out a distinct niche for themselves doing sophisticated crime comics in a marketplace dominated by superheroes, expanding the territory that Chaykin helped to establish with series such as The Shadow and Black Kiss. Like Chaykin, Phillips is clearly an aficionado of classic twentieth century American illustration, and his elegant, moody art calls to mind the work of illustrators such as Robert Maguire or Robert McGinnis. I could have picked just about any of their collaborations for this spot – their anthology series Criminal, their supervillain crime caper Incognito, their blacklist-era Hollywood mystery The Fade Out – but their supernatural noir Fatale seems to owe a clear debt to Black Kiss, picking up its themes of obsession, identity, and the place of women in genre entertainment and taking them in a new direction.

Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov, Fury MAX: My War Gone By (Marvel, 2012-2013). Chaykin’s Blackhawk drew acclaim and controversy for taking DC Comics’ stalwart, square-jawed, and slightly dull World War II aviator and putting him in a carefully researched, richly imagined historical context, eschewing “greatest generation” rhetoric for a nuanced look at the interlocking political forces and ideological fantasies that characterized the immediate pre-war years. Written by Garth Ennis – another sometime Chaykin collaborator, most notably on the WWI flying ace series War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle – and beautifully cartooned by Goran Parlov, My War Gone By makes a similar move with Marvel Comics’ World-War-II-hero-turned-superspy Nick Fury, transporting the character to (somewhat) more realistically imagined post-war hotspots like Vietnam and Cuba for a tale about the follies of American empire. (Side note: Goran Parlov is also the artist for Marvel’s The Punisher: Welcome to the Bayou by Baton Rouge’s own Victor Gischler, a story in which the Punisher dresses up in an LSU tracksuit.)

Ho Che Anderson, King: A Comics Biography (Fantagraphics Books, 1993-2003, 2010). Chaykin is one of Anderson’s oft-cited inspirations, and the evidence is all over his monumental graphic biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. – not only in the clashing patterns and textures and disorienting page layouts that recall Black Kiss and Time2 but also in Anderson’s consideration of both the value and danger of American mythology, in his attention to the place of human failings and foibles in grand political narratives, and in his unsettling depiction of the ways in which mass media shapes our response to and understanding of history.

Michel Fiffe, Copra (2012-). Fiffe’s one-man showcase – long available only through his Etsy store, now available digitally – began as a love letter to titans of 1980s comics such as Chaykin, Frank Miller, and Bill Sienkiewicz, filtered through an affectionate riff on John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s classic Suicide Squad. As the series evolved, however, it became clear that the series was something purely his own, an eye-popping visual delight whose sketch-on-the-back-of-a-notebook energy was the expression of an original and uncontainable vision. Taking secondhand scraps of genre entertainment and making them truly your own – I can’t think of anything more Chaykin-esque than that.


Brannon Costello, associate professor of English at Louisiana State University, is the editor of Howard Chaykin: Conversations and Conversations with Michael Chabon; and, with Qiana J. Whitted, coeditor of Comics and the U.S. South.

Buy your copy of Neon Visions today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


20
Oct 17

Writing Hood’s Texas Brigade: Books on Civil War Soldiers and Families

Over the last fifteen years, historians have increased their focus on the indelible link between Civil War military units and their families and home communities. This connection played a defining role in soldiers’ decisions to volunteer, to continue or abandon their military service, and veterans’ ability to adapt to postwar life. While historians have recognized the influence of regional and cultural traditions, class, and age in shaping enlistment or desertion patterns, it is only recently that scholars have come to appreciate the significance of Civil War units as communities in their own right that reflected the values of the families and towns in which they were raised and to which many of them returned.

As a war and society scholar by training, my research and writing were first influenced by this new approach to Civil War unit histories about ten years ago. Early drafts of my book Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit focused on traditional questions of military service: Why did these men volunteer? Why did they continue to serve? What drew them to this unit? What motivated them in combat? What made this such an elite brigade? How did the war change these men? I came to realize, though, that while I was studying the men in battle, in camp, and on campaign, they focused instead on events at home. They worried about their wives managing their farm, the diseases that plagued their children and livestock, and economic devastation that could follow poor crops and worse weather. Texas Brigade soldiers certainly discussed the war and what it meant to them, their families, and their communities. They struggled to describe the horrors of a battlefield and the fear and exhilaration combat inspired. But this was only a part of their wartime experience. To capture the full picture, I realized that I had to study their families and home communities too. Not just their socio-economic backgrounds, but rather the familial and community connections that I saw reflected in their companies, regiments, and brigade. I noticed references to men on neighboring farms in letters home, and how casualty lists often predicted long term economic as well as personal hardships for entire communities. Only by incorporating these issues could I understand the Texas Brigade’s full experience in the Civil War.


Seeking the help of other scholars, I turned most often to these books (and sometimes to conversations with manuscripts in progress) while writing Hood’s Texas Brigade:

Ward Hubbs’ Guarding Greensboro: A Confederate Company in the Making of a Southern Community (University of Georgia Press, 2003) and Richard M. Reid’s Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). Ward Hubbs and Richard Reid were models of the argument that, when analyzing a Civil War unit, scholars must examine soldiers and their home communities as one entity. Companies and regiments become their own communities, but their families constantly pulled on them, supported them, and inspired them. A volunteer’s civilian roots, Reid and Hubbs remind us, could infect soldiers with petty grievances, but they also offered a much-needed support structure and could inspire a tremendous willingness to sacrifice.

Lesley J. Gordon’s A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2014) examines a unit known during the war for their failures rather than their successes. But through the veterans’ and their families’ efforts to reclaim their honor and redefine their service, a broken unit became a celebrated regiment.

In Shades of Green: Irish Regiments, American Soldiers, and Local Communities in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2017), Ryan W. Keating rightly argues that it was connections to soldiers’ home communities, more than their ethnic traditions, that proved their strongest motivating influence.

In General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (Free Press, 2008), Joseph T. Glatthaar analyzes the socio-economic influences, political connections, and relationships between officers and men that helped make the Army of Northern Virginia so successful but that also sowed the seeds of its defeat.

These works influenced my conclusion that when we study Civil War soldiers’ military service, it’s not just their service that we need to understand. Units raised from neighborhoods and small towns were reflections of their families and the entire community. When regiments were celebrated or castigated in the press or long after the war, so too were the families and communities from which they came. Sweeping studies of Civil War soldier service and motivation like James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades or Kenneth Noe’s Reluctant Rebels were path breaking, but historians are right to now argue that service in specific units and a man’s home community could have just as much influence on a soldier’s wartime behavior than the more commonly studied factors of age and socio-economic background.

In the Texas Brigade, for example, men volunteered to serve over a thousand miles from home despite the fact they could have fought much closer to their homes without dishonor. They returned to their brigade after capture or wounds despite the unusually high casualty rates their regiments suffered, and they made these dangerous decisions when desertion rates in the army overall were rising. The officers and men of the Texas Brigade expected much from each other and gave much to each other, they came from families who were able to sustain that level of sacrifice. These men returned to communities where the brigade’s veterans and families continued to support one another long after the war ended. They remind us that this new approach to writing unit histories — which examines the interconnected experiences of soldiers, families, and home communities — is essential to more fully understanding the Civil War generation.


Susannah J. Ural, Ph.D. is author of the forthcoming Hood’s Texas Brigade: The Soldiers and Families of the Confederacy’s Most Celebrated Unit with LSU Press. She is professor of history and co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War & Society at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Buy Hood’s Texas Brigade today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


13
Oct 17

Writing Girl after Girl after Girl: Women Poets, Permission and Risk

The poet Lucille Clifton once said that with her poetry, “I hope to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” When I wrote the poems in my new book Girl after Girl after Girl, I thought often of Clifton’s words. In fact, I wrote them on an index card and taped it on the wall above my desk.

I love Clifton’s quote because it speaks to both poetry’s intimacy and the work it can do in the world. Here, Lucille Clifton explains most accurately why I both write and read poetry.

In my new book Girl after Girl after Girl, I was writing about being a daughter in the 70s and 80s, about my own daughters, about raising young girls in the dangerous world in which we live. I was writing about female bodies, and the damage the world inflicts upon them. I was afraid of much of what I wrote in my first drafts of poems: stories of addiction, stories of violence, stories of fear and danger.  I kept Clifton’s words close as I worked.

And then one day as I struggled through the poems in my new book, I recalled Emily Dickinson’s famous dictum—“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”  I wrote those words beside Clifton’s above my desk.  To “tell it slant,” as Dickinson suggested, I turned to objects to tell the stories of mothers and daughters and girlhood—I read books of recipes, I visited doll and miniature museums, I studied the history of the breast pump, the cocktail, the mourning dress.

In different ways, Clifton and Dickinson gave me permission to write my poems. And as I read and reread their words and wrote my own poems, I also I remembered my second daughter, and how when she was younger and I left the house to give reading, she would stand at the front door, face pressed to the glass panes, as I closed the door between us, and shout, “Don’t go to poetry!” It was heartbreaking to leave her, but it also struck me that her exhortation also gave me a way to think about poetry.

My daughter was right. Poetry is a place I go. Sometimes it’s a deep, cold river where I sink down in darkness alone. Sometimes it’s a site of solace, more interior, a quiet and safe room, and a reminder that others have felt as I have felt. Sometimes it’s a geographical journey—I travel with Muriel Rukeyser to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia or with CD Wright to Angola Prison. I read poems both to come closer to myself and to enter a whole new world.

Most of all, I read poems that give me permission to take a risk, poems that make me wonder, How did she do that? She is not supposed to be able to do that! I want to learn to do that!

So sometimes, in search of poets who give me permission to take risks, I go out with a poetry book as I would with a new friend. I take a collection of poems out for coffee and spend a few hours with the book. The book and I sit together and I write in my notebook and we talk.

I have taken many books out for coffee, and I look to many women poets as guides to poetry. Here, below are six books of permission and risk that I have taken out for conversation many times, six books that I kept—and keep—on my desk as I wrote my poems in Girl after Girl after Girl, six books that I return to again and again.


Anya Krugovoy Silver, From Nothing (LSU Press, 2016). From Nothing is a book that illustrates to me how poetry takes you both from yourself and back into yourself all at once. These poems document the experience of life-threatening illness and the deep love of a mother for a son; these poems elegize dead and dying friends. And they show us the magical worlds of fairy tales and the rituals of Lent and prayer that sustain us. I love the fearlessness of Silver’s book.

CD Wright, One Big Self (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). CD Wright was my first poetry teacher in college, at Brown University. Two years ago, with time off from teaching, I spent days walking around my town listening to her read from One Big Self (on the Penn Sound Archive) and soaking up the poems in this book. She shows us new worlds—the landscape of southern Louisiana and the lives of prison inmates and their families. CD Wright died suddenly last year, and now I return again and again to the book to remember her.

Lucille Clifton, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (Boa Editions, 2015). I may be cheating by including a poet’s Collected Poems here, but when it comes to Lucille Clifton I can’t help myself. Clifton’s poems offer, in my mind, the ultimate permission to writing about the things in the world that most compelled me while I wrote the poems in Girl after Girl after Girl and that most compel me now—the female body, mothers and daughters, race and identity, religion and place.

Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (Paris Press, 1996). Muriel Rukeyser published so much, in so many genres, and her life spanned the twentieth century, but I love this book most. The Life of Poetry is a book that teaches us how to live in and with poetry. Muriel Rukeyser is my favorite poet and most of all my poetry-mother. I teach her poems, I read them nearly every day, and I keep them close to me. As she says in this book, “For the last time here, I wish to say that we will not be saved by poetry. But poetry is the type of the creation in which we may live and which will save us.”

Solmaz Sharif, Look (Graywolf Press, 2016). Often, I can’t separate out what I read from what I teach, and I have taught this amazing book twice in the past year. Look is a collection that makes me think differently about history, language and what poetry can do. Sharif uses a Defense Department Dictionary as a text that splits open and refashions again and again to show the horrors of war, the devastation of the Middle East, and the violence we do to one another’s bodies.

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (City Lights Publishers, 2014). I chose one of the epigraphs to Girl after Girl after Girl from this book, originally published in 1914, because Stein revolutionized the way I think about language. In Tender Buttons, Stein gives us portraits of ordinary things. Coffee. Milk. Beads. Dresses. Every time I read it I wish I could go to a yard sale with Gertrude Stein and talk about objects.  Stein shows us the magic of the things around us that we take for granted.


Nicole Cooley. Credit: Lisa KollbergNicole Cooley is the author of Breach, Milk Dress, The Afflicted Girls, and Resurrection. A native of New Orleans, Cooley directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College–CUNY, where she is a professor of English.

Buy your copy of Girl after Girl after Girl today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


06
Oct 17

Six Cookbooks that Capture Louisiana’s Unique Flavor

There’s a cornucopia of Louisiana cookbooks out there. Some, like The Fonville Winans Cookbook, the one I co-authored with Melinda Winans, not only have good recipes, but they give the cook an overall idea of what makes the cuisine of south Louisiana so unique.

I’ve been a food writer for the Newcomb College Culinary Writers Group and the Baton Rouge and New Orleans Advocate newspapers, and I’m currently editor of the LSU Press cookbook series “The Southern Table.” I thumb through a lot of cookbooks, and I’m always amazed at how much I learn from those mouthwatering pages. Remarkably, in this digital age, readers still find physical cookbooks entertaining. I, for instance, am the type who’d rather get lost in a cookbook at night instead of a novel. I like turning a page to find someone’s family’s favorite soup, or a new chef’s innovative desserts. There’s also something about a clever recipe title or a heartwarming header that is, well, exciting.

While with the Newcomb group, we were writing a scholarly book on food, and I was instructed to scour that institution’s massive cookbook library for my research. Wow! I was in heaven. At my fingertips were copies of some of the first cookbooks published in Louisiana. From them, I figured out how gumbo evolved over the years, how calves foot jelly was once popular, and that now-hip quenelles, egg-like shapes of forcemeat, were common on nineteenth-century New Orleans tables. All it took was a little detective work, and I had the basis for my work. It was also at this time that I realized that the popular cookbooks of bygone eras had two things in common: their recipes were relatively easy to make, and reading them made you want to rush out to your stove. Both of these distinctions still separate extraordinary cookbooks from the rest.

I met Melinda Winans at an Herb Society meeting in Baton Rouge, and we instantly connected based on one thing—we both love everything about food. Like me, she has an extensive home cookbook library, where there are books she turns to time and time again. Also, her late father-in-law, the internationally famous photographer, Fonville Winans, liked to cook, and he wrote down a mountain of his recipes. One day while browsing through Fonville’s scribbles, we realized we were not only reading a cherished family keepsake, but we had the foundation for an outstanding cookbook.

To make things interesting and to put things in perspective, we made The Fonville Winans Cookbook a compilation of recipes, his photographs, and his biography. He spent most of his youth in Texas, and is most famous for his photographs of the impoverished Depression-era Cajuns who lived on Grand Isle on Louisiana’s coast. During those years, when he was in his early twenties, he became good friends with many of his subjects, and they taught him how to cook what became his favorite cuisine, Cajun.

Fonville later settled in Baton Rouge, where he raised a family, became a sought-after portrait photographer, an inventor, and a pilot. He was also a cook who incessantly experimented. And it is from the many, many versions of his recipes that we get a glimpse of what families were eating in mid-century south Louisiana.Fonville adored both Creole and Cajun food, but his natural curiosity led him to experiment with cuisines such as Mexican and Chinese, creating dishes that were mostly unheard of in the region at the time. His notes tell us that he studied cookbooks, too. He was especially enamored of a book called The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller. In our cookbook, we include many of Fonville’s interpretations of what was, for him, exotic fare. These creations give insight into a man who was definitely ahead of his time, and who was often credited with introducing many new dishes to the Baton Rouge mainstream.

This brings us back to the question of what makes a cookbook exceptional. To me and Melinda, any cookbook tells a story. But many, such as the ones listed below, are encyclopedic, not so much for their girth, but for what their recipes tell us. Importantly, they give a broad spectrum of what folks in Louisiana think is good food. Most of those recipes have a history, some that can be traced back hundreds of years. These recipes also work in a home kitchen and, above all, our modern palates think they still taste great. Once you start reading through them, you’ll pick up on recipe titles, ingredients, and cooking techniques that are found nowhere else. Like The Fonville Winans Cookbook, they capture the local food experience, and any meal made from them would put something authentically Louisiana on the table.


Six Cookbooks that Explain Louisiana’s Unique Flavor:

River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine (The Cookbook Marketplace,1950) – This “textbook of Louisiana cooking” was published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, and has sold over 1.3 million copies. Recipes were contributed by home cooks and run the gamut from roux to courtbouillon to the now-world-famous Spinach Madeleine.

The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine (Chef John Folse & Company Publishing, 2004) – This is the first of Chef John Folse’s gigantic cookbooks. Along with a healthy dose of culinary history, he includes 700 recipes for cooking traditional south Louisiana cuisine.

Cooking up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans (Chronicle Books, 2015) – In 2005, Hurricane Katrina washed away many a recipe collection. Times-Picayune food editor Judy Walker and food writer Marcelle Bienvenu came to the rescue with this cookbook based on treasured local favorites.

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1984) – Chef Paul Prudhomme shook up traditional New Orleans Creole cooking with his down-home, rustic Cajun cooking. This cookbook is classic Cajun.

A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly’s New Orleans (LSU Press, 2015) – Cynthia LeJeune Nobles turned the food found in John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel into a cookbook that reflects what was popular on tables in New Orleans in the 1950s and 1960s, before south Louisiana cooking was all the rage.

Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans (LSU Press, 2016) – Elizabeth Williams, Director of the Southern Beverage Museum, and Chris McMillian, co-founder of Museum of the American Cocktail, teamed up to write a detailed history of New Orleans’s varied cocktails. Authentic recipes are included. If you’re interested in cocktails, this book is a must.


Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, series editor for “The Southern Table” from LSU Press, is the author of A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook: Recipes from Ignatius J. Reilly’s New Orleans (LSU Press, 2015) and The Delta Queen Cookbook: The History and Recipes of the Legendary Steamboat (LSU Press, 2012).

With Melinda Risch Winans, Nobles co-authored The Fonville Winans Cookbook, which was published by LSU Press earlier this week. You can read more about their cookbook in The Advocate and SIBA News. Take 30% off select Louisiana titles, including this one, during the month of October with offer code 04LBF! Buy your copy while it’s still hot off the press by clicking here.

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29
Sep 17

Sexuality and the South: Recommended Reading

Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture is a collection of twelve essays that seeks to show how fundamentally questions of sexuality have shaped recent southern history. I decided to put this book together because I feel not only that the topic merits close study, but also because it seemed to me that an interdisciplinary approach might encourage new answers to familiar questions. I hope that the book encourages more work on these topics and on the subject generally.

Scholars in a variety of disciplines are producing exciting work on sex and sexualities in the American South. Much of that work sheds new light on long-standing issues, such as race, religion, and the law in the South. The field promises to remain vital and growing, as some of the best scholarship on southern sexualities is currently being produced in graduate programs in history, literature, and gay and lesbian studies.

For anyone interested in reading further in this field, I can recommend several excellent books, although this list could be much longer. I would start by pointing people back to Tennessee Williams, a writer with profound things to say about sexuality and longing, as well as the way those tensions manifest themselves within southerners and their communities.


Here are other books that I admire:

Alecia Long, The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans, 1865-1920 (LSU Press, 2004). An outstanding study of sex and commerce, especially the ways in which New Orleans promoted the sex trade.

Martha Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (Yale University Press, 1997). A powerful work of scholarship on a topic that remains of perennial interest to southern scholars.

John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (University of Chicago Press, 1999). A magnificent work of historical reconstruction that drew scholars’ attention to queer lives in the rural South.

Benjamin Wise, William Alexander Percy: The Curious Life of a Mississippi Planter & Sexual Freethinker (UNC Press, 2012). A splendid biography that provides a compelling reading of a memoir that historians have long known, but not in the ways that Wise demonstrates.

Gary Richards, Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936-1961 (LSU Press, 2005). A provocative reading of same-sex desire in a particularly rich period of southern letters.


Trent Brown, professor of American Studies at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, is the editor of Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture (LSU Press, 2017). He is the author or editor of several other books on southern history, including White Masculinity in the Recent South (LSU Press, 2008), and (with Rev. Ed King) Ed King’s Mississippi: Behind the Scenes of Freedom Summer (University Press of Mississippi, 2014).

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22
Sep 17

A Budding Gardener’s Library

Gardening is dear to my heart and I practice constantly—growing vegetables in the children’s garden at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Garden, conducting vegetable trials across the state and playing in my own home herb and vegetable gardens with my husband and children.

It is the perfect hobby for all ages. Whether you are a professional grower, a child in school, someone who likes to cook or wants to learn how to cook with fresher ingredients, I love helping people make their harvest more bountiful.

Gardening releases tension, and this time of year, allows us to enjoy the outdoors in near perfect temperatures. All it takes is one container and you’ll be hooked. This fall, try planting a single broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or kale plant… you’ll be surprised by how fun it is to watch it grow. The Louisiana Urban Gardener is specifically geared toward beginners, but as you grow your garden you can grow your gardening library as well. In addition to my new book, I would suggest picking up the titles I’ve listed below.


Louisiana Home Vegetable Gardening (LSU AgCenter, 2014) is a great read, catering to medium to larger sized vegetable gardeners.

Dan Gill’s Month by Month Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2001) reminds us of seasonal garden chores that take landscapes from blah to wow!

Gardening in the Humid South (LSU Press, 2004) authored by two very intelligent and funny men, Dr.’s Ed O’Rourke and Leon Standifer is a must read for anyone who missed out on their charming yet informative Country Roads garden column,  LSU classes, or garden tips shared over morning coffee.

Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterdays Plants for Today’s Gardeners (Texas A&M University Press, 2011) by William Welch and Greg Grant. Interested in heirlooms plants and vegetables? Then William and Greg’s book is a must read. It includes excellent stories and beautiful pictures.

And finally, every gardener needs a cookbook to help determine how to cook store and share our abundant produce. Chef John Folse nailed his last cookbook, Can You Dig It: Louisiana’s Authoritative Collection of Vegetable Cookery (Chef John Folse and Company, 2015), when he dedicated it to vegetables. This new cookbook will make veggies everyone’s favorite part of the meal.


Kathryn Fontenot is assistant professor and extension specialist with the LSU AgCenter’s School of Plant, Environmental, and Soil Sciences. She specializes in farmer’s markets and in home, community, and school gardens.

You can read more about Fontenot in 225 Magazine or do one better and buy her new book, The Louisiana Urban Gardener: A Guide to Growing Vegetables and Herbs.

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15
Sep 17

Eight Works of Fiction That Make the Impossible Appear Possible

Writing fiction is impossible: that was my earliest impression, and in some ways that impression has remained with me.  How is it possible to make a world on paper or on a laptop screen, to create characters, moving those characters through space and time in convincing ways? How can words build something that will live on its own and, if we’re lucky, mean something to someone else? Each time I begin to create an imagined world I’m both excited and daunted by that lingering sense of impossibility.

The stories in Visitations deal with what I find particularly bedeviling: obsession, betrayal, addiction, denial—and so much yearning, including yearning for something a character can’t even begin to name.  From the start, I hadn’t intended to write a book with a unified set of concerns. Nevertheless, I soon realized that my stories often addressed a common subject: books. A love of actual physical books, their weights and textures. The appetite for reading books. Or a character’s loss of the ability to read books without summoning rage. How childhood reading may shape an entire life. How we are in debt to the books that have been our most loyal companions.

Finding their way into Visitations are echoes or plot elements from a number of books, including The Turn of the Screw, Wuthering Heights, The Odyssey, Robin Hood, and Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. In Visitations the goddess Venus and her son float in a field toward a lonely woman who grew up reading myths. One character joins the world’s laziest book club.  Another character tries to find the last book that her mother read before her mother’s sudden death. The first sentence of Visitations’s first story is a partial, distorted echo of the opening sentence of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.  Here’s Woolf:  “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” In homage to Woolf, here’s the first sentence of my story: “Tiffany’s mother is swearing at the flowers again.”

When I was a child I thought writers must be strange creatures, entirely unlike anyone I knew. Maybe more like unicorns. As I worked hard at learning to write fiction I found that re-reading the books I loved—re-reading with hunger and re-reading more than twice—taught me what I’d never have learned otherwise. My attempts at fiction grew out of emulation. Probably most writing does.

New books teach me new possibilities—and I’m grateful for that widening of possibilities. At the same time, I’m especially indebted to those books that first introduced me to a special sort of energy, an infectious possibility, right when I was feeling writing was most impossible. Below are some of those books.  I don’t want to suggest that any of the books I’ve listed make writing look easy—no, it’s just that they’re so daring and fully imagined that they gave me enough heart to hope I could attempt to do that seemingly impossible thing: write a story.


Lucky Jim (New York Review Books Classics, 2012) by Kingsley Amis. Crisp and wildly funny, this novel contains unforgettable descriptions of a hangover, stage fright, and defensive actions in academia. It’s true to its era and yet a comic novel that deserves to live forever. Who doesn’t recognize the put-upon Jim Dixon, steaming with resentment?

Talking to the Dead: Stories (Anchor, 1993) by Sylvia Watanabe. Among my favorites in this luminous collection is “A Summer Waltz”–just shy of four full pages, and each of those pages is perfect.  Two little girls, Sachi and Meg, wander together and wind up at a clubhouse bar. What happens when those little girls meet a bartender is wonderful.

Loitering with Intent (New Directions, 2014) by Muriel Spark. Written with vigor, wit, and comic sternness,  Loitering with Intent is practically a guidebook for writing a novel. Spark’s hilarious narrator recounts her efforts to compose her first novel and offers plenty of advice along the way. Writing, the character tells us, “took up the sweetest part of my mind and the rarest part of my imagination; it was like being in love and better.” Whenever I reread any of Spark’s novels I’m refreshed by her bracing, crafty, idiosyncratic intelligence.

Mrs. Caliban (Harvard Common Press, 2009) by Rachel Ingalls.  A short novel that does something next to impossible: create a compelling contemporary love story about a lonely woman and a sea creature. The ending never fails to make my throat close. When I first read Mrs. Caliban, I experienced a soaring sensation: the wish to write something unexpected, to write a story that opened up a new vista on our inner worlds.

Hotel du Lac (Vintage, 1995) by Anita Brookner. How to describe this quiet novel with its undercurrents of deep feeling? Brookner was an art historian, and her sensibility is informed by her academic discipline. Parts of this novel, a study in melancholy and moment-to-moment realizations, are practically painted in delicate shades of gray. The wounded protagonist is a stoic in some ways, yet she nearly throws her life away. A novel so beautifully written, you could frame each sentence in gold leaf.

The Awakening (Dover, 1993) by Kate Chopin. Enacting the pressure a culture bears upon a woman’s burgeoning sense of herself and her own self-ownership, Chopin creates exalted, gorgeous romantic scenes and then punctures romance with realistic intrusions: “She was having a good cry all to herself. The mosquitoes made merry over her, biting her firm, round arms and nipping at her bare insteps.” The sensual particulars, the escalation toward tragedy, the complexities of embodiment: this 1899 novel is still one we’re coming to terms with.

The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics, 2006) by Shirley Jackson.The portion of this strange, nearly hallucinogenic novel that I return to most often: Eleanor’s drive to Hill House, that winding, fever dream of a journey in which we readers, and Eleanor, gently lose our grip. And then there are Jackson’s short stories. Among my favorites: “The Witch.” Jackson dramatizes how evil may enter a scene casually, and how children may see and name what we’d rather not.

Blow-Up and Other Stories (Pantheon Books, 1985) by Julio Cortázar, translated by Paul Blackburn. Has the art of the reversal ever been manipulated in more dexterous hands? Just when you’re about to wake from the tricky plot of any of these stories, another startling revelation occurs and a new question hovers. Who’s alive? Who’s dead? Has the narrator of the story become what he’s observed? A profound recognition of suffering animates this collection. Cortázar told a Paris Review interviewer that he wished “to go beyond the possible.” In the same interview, published in 1984, the year of his death, he said: “These days, my notion of the fantastic is closer to what we call reality. Perhaps because reality approaches the fantastic more and more.” That gap, it may seem to plenty of us, has now closed even more.


Lee Upton’s short story collection, Visitations, was released on August 16, 2017 in the Yellow Shoe Fiction Series, LSU Press.  Her stories recently appeared in Bennington Review, Notre Dame Review, Cincinnati Review, and World Literature Today.

You can read more about Upton and Visitations on the AGNI blog, on the Story Prize blog, and in Kirkus Reviews or do one better and buy your copy of Visitations today! Take home Upton’s poignant and luminous words.

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13
Feb 17

Designing The Golden Band from Tigerland

In honor of our February CURATE sale, I spoke with Senior Designer Michelle Neustrom about the process of designing one of our most gorgeous books, Tom Continé and Faye Phillips’s The Golden Band from Tigerland.

How did you design the cover for this book?

There are so many good photos, it was hard to decide! But this one, it reminded me of when I was a student, or coming back afterwards, to see a football game. You always go and wait for the band to come down the hill, and it brings out the emotion that you feel getting ready, getting psyched up for a game. It just sets the mood with that specific game-day feeling.

Type placement is another thing you have to look at for cover design. It’s not just picking which image is good; it’s also about whether you can work with it and place the type on it in a successful way. So it lent itself to lots of type.

I usually do the cover design first, and then whatever I do on the cover, I try to pull elements of it throughout the rest of the book. So the little baton element on either side of the “from” in the title, it’s obviously a baton, but it also evokes the lines of their uniforms, especially the buttons on some of the older band uniforms. And you can see that little graphic in different places throughout the book, but it began with the cover design!

How did you choose the shades of the interior purple and gold colors? The gold is very bright and cheerful, and then the purple is much more subdued. What goes into that decision?

I went with this very orange-gold color because the marching band uniform has that same kind of tone, and that printed very cheerful and bright. The purple is more subdued, almost more of a navy, but again it’s because if you look at their uniforms in the picture throughout the book, they do look a darker color. I didn’t want all the photos of them in their uniforms to look out of place next to the colors of the book.

What are some of the challenges in designing the interior of a photo-heavy book?

Getting all the photos to fit with the text in a pleasing way! You’ll have call-outs, where the text of the book makes references to a particular photograph, and those are not always evenly spaced. So it is a challenge: In some two-page spreads it would be very photo-heavy, and then in others you’ll have no photos at all.

I also wanted each chapter to have a pause, a break, like a new song is starting. I wanted to drive home that we were making the shift: Something new is happening! That’s why I chose to start each new chapter with this design element, to give it some grandeur. And there’s a different musical instrument at the bottom of each of the pages that begin a chapter. Because I started with the trumpet on the book cover, I wanted to follow that design element throughout the book.

What are some of the fun parts of designing the interior of a photo-heavy book?

I always like picking out the endpapers and the colors for the book cover! Not just for photo books, but with a book like this, you can choose a fun endpaper, which is the paper on the inside front and back covers. We have books where we pick out the colors, and I like paging through and choosing which ones are the best fit for that book. But we get to do that for every book!

It’s fun coming up with a look for the book, almost like a logo, an identity for it. Again, it all comes back to the cover: Whatever I do on the cover, I like to pull it throughout the book. You can embrace that as much as you want, too: You can really go all out and stick with the look of the cover very closely, or you can just be slightly inspired by it. You don’t have to commit to it.

For this book, though, I really pulled a lot of design elements from the cover. I really like the running feet, with the little baton. Something as simple as that — I tried probably ten different ways of doing this footer, and that’s the one I liked the most. It’s funny how a lot goes into such a tiny little detail. Good design doesn’t always have to be specifically noticed; it just feels right, even if maybe you can’t pin down exactly why.

Did the authors have any ideas/requests about the book’s layout that worked really well or didn’t quite work exactly the way you planned?

Well, at the end of each chapter, the authors wanted to include a series of photographs that would often come from more recent years in the band’s history. To me, it didn’t quite go with the historical chapters, and I had to figure out a way to set them apart and make it clear visually that these images weren’t from the historical eras the text had just been discussing. That’s why at the end of each chapter, there are photos on colored backgrounds: The reader understands that these images don’t go with the history but they’re here as a kind of visual punctuation, a break between each chapter.

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