May 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: New Roads and Old Rivers

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Senior Editor Catherine Kadair writes about New Roads and Old Rivers.

One of the least appreciated areas of Louisiana lies northwest of Baton Rouge, between the winding curves of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. This is Pointe Coupee, counted among the oldest settlements in the Mississippi Valley. For seven years I lived just across the parish line from Pointe Coupee. As my kids and I explored it by car and on foot, I became more and more impressed by its natural beauty, its significance in state history, and, perhaps most of all, by its warm, welcoming people. So I was delighted when I heard we were going to publish New Roads and Old Rivers, a journey by photo and word through Pointe Coupee Parish. Richard Sexton’s photographs are stunning, and Randy Harelson writes about so many different aspects of the parish—its long and interesting history; its vibrant, unique Creole culture; its longstanding Mardi Gras tradition; and much more. Harelson’s hand-drawn and delicately colored maps are a lovely bonus feature.

Some of my favorite photographs in New Roads and Old Rivers are those of the modest Creole cottages that dot the landscape, many of which I recognize from my drives through the area. The oak trees in this parish are truly ancient, some of them over 300 years old, and there are striking photos of several old-timers, including the Miss Jane Pittman Oak, the tree that inspired Ernest Gaines to write his most famous work. Most of the stately plantation houses in Pointe Coupee are still privately owned and lived in, rather than set off as museum pieces; and this book gives us an inside look at these beautiful homes not open to the public. There are photos of the oxbow lakes False River and Old River (“Pointe Coupee” means “cut-off point” in French); of the mounds built by Native Americans who lived in the area for millennia before Europeans arrived; of small-town main streets; of picturesque churches and cemeteries. Lovely images like those are balanced by photos of the people of Pointe Coupee—craftsmen planing cypress boards by hand according to local custom; workers packing homegrown pecans for shipping all over the world; women gathering weekly to sing and converse in Creole French. The traditions of Pointe Coupee are worth preserving, and as Harelson notes, the people who live those traditions are the most important preservationists of all. I’m proud that LSU Press is doing its part to preserve—and share—so many Louisiana traditions.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50, use code 0480FAV at checkout.

May 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Parachute Infantry

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Assistant to the Director Erica Bossier writes about Parachute Infantry.

Parachute Infantry by David Kenyon Webster is the memoir of his experiences as a paratrooper: jumping into Normandy the night before D-Day with the F Company; jumping into Holland with the E Company in 1944; and, after recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg, rejoining the E Co. to finish out the war. Webster arrived at Berchtesgarden, Austria, just before V-E Day, and saw occupation duty until 1946. I think the reason this is such a good book is because reading it is almost as if you are there.

LSU Press published Parachute Infantry in 1994 and it is still in print; in fact we licensed audio rights in late 2014. One of the most interesting things about this book is that David Webster was one of the now-famous “band of brothers.” Stephen Ambrose wrote about him in his book Band of Brothers, and Parachute Infantry was used as a reference guide for HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” His family was invited and flown to Normandy and Paris in June 2001 for the gala premiere of the miniseries. The family wrote to LSU Press and said that many of the actors told them how much they relied on Parachute Infantry in developing their characters throughout the filming.

I think it is a classic wartime memoir.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50, use code 0480FAV at checkout.

May 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Carnival of Fury

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Executive Editor for Acquisitions Rand Dotson writes about A Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900.

HairCARNIVAL Cvr.indd

It is a common complaint of students in history classes that the events or issues being discussed have no relevance to their own lives or bearing on contemporary society. Such objections make illuminating the connection between past and present one of the most important functions of the historian. Exposing those links not only adds depth to discussions about the past, it also provides historical context to current events, allowing for a more sophisticated and balanced interpretation of issues relevant today.

On the LSU Press history list, a cogent example of that interaction is available in William Ivy Hair’s Carnival of Fury, a harrowing account of the life of Robert Charles, a black laborer in New Orleans, who 115 years ago fought back against unjustified police harassment in a series of violent gun battles that left two police officers dead and dozens of others wounded. Hair’s narrative provides insight into the prevailing racism, poverty, and hopelessness among African Americans in Jim Crow–era New Orleans that led to Charles’ desperate final act. In the aftermath, white rage over Charles’s actions prompted a riot against the city’s entire black community and resulted in several lynchings. To whites, Charles became a symbol of black lawlessness and disorder, but in the city’s African American community he emerged as a hero.

While Hair’s account of racial turmoil in New Orleans over a century ago is an extreme example, the circumstances and issues that provoked it clearly linger today. Those looking for links between the past and present would thus be well served by turning to Carnival of Fury, a masterful examination of the issues that generated one of the most violent and tragic episodes in American history.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50, use code 0480FAV at checkout.

Apr 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: New Orleans: The Underground Guide

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Designer Barbara Bourgoyne writes about New Orleans: The Underground Guide.

WelchNEW_sketch.inddNew Orleans—the Big Easy, the Crescent City, the Birthplace of Jazz, or whatever nickname you choose to call it—is a city unlike any other. It draws in upwards of 9 million tourists a year to its famed streets looking to pass a good time. Many of whom head straight to the French Quarter to eat and drink the day—and night— away. Countless trips to New Orleans later, and I’m happy, albeit sad, to admit I was one of them.

I’ve lived an hour away from New Orleans my entire life, and yet somehow I always managed to get stuck. Stuck in the New Orleans that was filled with throngs of people and tourist traps. And honestly, that’s just not as much fun as it sounds. I longed for more. I longed to see the places that the locals actually go. I knew they existed, but I was in desperate need of guidance.

In the spring of 2013, I found that guidance while visiting Tulane University’s bookstore with an old friend. We happened upon New Orleans: The Underground Guide. We didn’t think twice. We had to have it. I wasn’t completely thrilled with the way it looked, being a designer and all, but it contained a wealth of information. Quirky neighborhoods, family friendly events, music venues of every kind, some delightfully sketchy locales, and, of course, out-of-this-world cuisine—this book contained them all.

Fast forward a few months, and I was thrilled to find that very same book on our spring list. The task of redesigning and updating (every two years) now ours—or mine as it turned out.

I couldn’t be more excited to have a hand in making this information available to all of those people wanting to step away from the lure of Bourbon Street, those hoping to find an out-of-the-way gem, and those longing to experience the real New Orleans and everything it has to offer.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50, use code 0480FAV at checkout. 

Apr 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Abbott Awaits

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Digital Initiatives and Database Manager Bobby Keane writes about Abbott Awaits.


Usually I read fiction as a means of escape, but when I read Abbott Awaits it was like reading a journal of my own thoughts and experiences, grafted onto a fictional character.

Abbott is a modern husband and father. He has a 2-year-old daughter and his wife is pregnant with their second child. Over the course of 90 or so short vignettes, we follow Abbott as he navigates and muses about his role as a parent and as a partner in a marriage that has been inevitably changed as a result of parenthood. When I was reading this book I, too, had a 2-year-old son, Joseph, and my wife was pregnant with our second child. So, I can attest to the pitch-perfect realism of Abbott’s thought processes and his dialogue with his wife and toddler. There are several instances when I would read a passage and think to myself, “Yes! He gets it! Was Chris Bachelder eavesdropping on my conversation with Joseph this morning?” Through Abbott, Chris Bachelder has perfectly articulated what goes through the mind of a man who wants to be a good father and husband but has doubts that he is succeeding. This quote from the back of the book sums it up nicely:

Abbott’s pensive self-doubt comes to a head one day in late June as he cleans vomited raspberries out of his daughter’s car seat and realizes: “The following propositions are both true: (A) Abbott would not, given the opportunity, change one significant thing about his life, but (B) Abbott cannot stand his life.”

While Abbott Awaits is written from a male standpoint, there are numerous observations, sometimes scary and sometimes funny, about parenthood that will ring true to both men and women. For example, at one point, after his daughter appears to be taking an unusually long nap, Abbott finds himself afraid to go into his daughter’s bedroom to check on her for fear that she might not be breathing. Every new parent is assaulted by worries like this that are often unfounded and unreasonable.

Another example: Abbott is playing with his daughter and he has an idea to teach her how to do a somersault. He gently flips her over on her head and then into a roll to demonstrate. She is pleased and now wants her father to do one. Abbott, wanting to be a fun dad, agrees. However, he hasn’t done a somersault in ages and suddenly isn’t sure that he really remembers how to do one. He manages to do a poor approximation of a somersault and injures himself in the process only to find that, his daughter, whom this display was for, had shifted her attention and had not watched him.

A man does not always know his ultimate acts—the last time he swims in the ocean, the last time he makes love. But at the age of thirty-seven, perhaps the mid-point of his one and only life, Abbott knows that he has attempted his final somersault.

For me, five years later, both of my children have grown out of their toddler phases and I have become fully confident in my ability as a parent. However, I still enjoy opening Abbott Awaits to a random page and smiling as I read and remember that time in my life. Smiling, not only because of Chris Bachelder’s brilliant and witty prose but, more importantly, because my wife and I successfully made it through those uncertain years and things have turned out better than we could have imagined.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50, use code 0480FAV at checkout.

Apr 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Clementine Hunter

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Marketing Manager Erin Rolfs writes about Clementine Hunter, by Art Shriver and Tom Whitehead.

Clementine Hunter

The paintings of Louisiana artist Clementine Hunter crept into my consciousness slowly. I was not aware of her work when I moved to Baton Rouge in 2000, and I didn’t become fully acquainted with Hunter’s oeuvre until LSU Press published the eponymous book written by Thomas Whitehead and Art Shiver in 2012. But looking back over the past decade of living here I can see how I was always surrounded by her art; I just didn’t notice it and didn’t have the knowledge required to appreciate it.

Prior to the publication of Clementine Hunter: Her Life and Art, I took several trips to Melrose Plantation, where Hunter spent most of her life working in cotton fields and later as a housemaid, and where she painted the famed African House Murals. I also walked through exhibits of her work at Louisiana State Museum and the Ogden Museum multiple times. I was aware of the FBI investigation into Hunter forgeries, and even recognized that a person in possession of a real Hunter painting had something special. Yet none of this managed to impress upon me the true value of her work. I placed the public’s interest in these seemingly unsophisticated vignettes in the same category as liking the taste of boudin or the sound of Zydeco music—it was just an ornament of a culture I didn’t grow up in and therefore had little reason to contemplate further.*

But during the course of planning and executing the marketing for Clementine Hunter I noticed that her paintings, which seemed at first like quaint, rural outsider art that failed to appeal to my own aesthetic, had transformed themselves into remarkable windows into the life of an African American woman working on a plantation and living in the heart of Louisiana. I realized, on a personal level, I had dismissed her work because it seemed simple and evoked themes I didn’t relate to. It turned out that this simplicity and distance were exactly why they deserved my attention.

What records do we have that call up the vivid memories of a black servant living in central Louisiana during the twentieth century? How many first-hand accounts of female plantation workers do we have from any state, from any time? How many documents grant us access to the inner life of any marginalized person? And when do we ever get to explore that perspective without it being colored by the overbearing shadow of those with more power? The answers to all those questions is very few and very rarely.

After hours of art history courses in college it took a 260-page book to bring this to my attention. Regardless of whether the work matches your couch or reinforces your cultural identity, Clementine Hunter’s art is an invitation to see the world as she did. This exercise, only possible through the medium of visual art, is one all of us should undertake if we want to speak more honestly about our shared history.

It is when LSU Press publishes work like this, the kind that disturbs the self-curated hierarchy of what matters, that I am not only humbled as a person but also as an employee.

*I’ve also come to love boudin and I will boogie down to Zydeco.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50. Use code 0480FAV at checkout.

Oct 14

The stories behind the songs

Join us tonight, 30 October, from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM, for a music-themed book festival to kick off the Louisiana Festival of Books. LSU Press authors Barbara Barnes Sims (author of The Next Elvis), John Wirt (author of Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues), and Alex Cook (author of Louisiana Saturday Night) will be at Lagniappe Records to sign their books. You’ll get to meet our authors and receive 20% off books and records! This event is free and open to the public.

In the run-up to the Lagniappe signing, our own Alex Cook put together a Spotify playlist for his book. Here it is–enjoy!

A lot of driving went into writing Louisiana Saturday Night, and driving always means music to me. Some of these selections like J. Paul Jr or Joe Falcon were about getting me in the mood for the music I was about to witness at some far-off location. Songs like “Whipping Post” just open up a time-tunnel that can get a weary driver down a lonely highway home in one piece. Most of these were happenstance: the CD my frequent traveling companion Clarke Gernon was into at the moment. One I was into. I’d just seen Calexico play at JazzFest and couldn’t get “Not Even Stevie Nicks…” out of my head for a month.

One selection holds a particular memory: I was on some St. Landry Parish backroad, totally lost, listening to K-BON out of Rayne, La. and the announcer was talking about the time he got to meet Charles Mann at some festival appearance. he brought his grandson up to meet him as well and the pride and admiration in that moment was palpable; it filled the dark car with light. You’d have thought he was talking about meeting Elvis or Muhammad Ali or something. I never really liked the original Dire Staits version of “Walk of Life’ but in Charles Mann’s flattened delivery over an accordion shuffle, “the song about the sweet lovin’ woman/the song about the knife” – the whole of that song came clear and I understood something profound about swamp pop and Louisiana music in general. It is important because it is peculiar in nature and bizarrely extant in the face of the monoculture, but it is special because the people of Louisiana make it special.

Sep 14

Back to School: The College Board Desegregates the SATs

It’s September, and school is back in session! In honor of the end of summer and the start of another school year, we’ve asked Jan Bates Wheeler to swing by the blog and tell us the remarkable story of the desegregation of the College Board and its partner, Educational Testing Services.

In 1960, the College Board and its testing partner, Educational Testing Services (ETS), unexpectedly became participants in the movement to desegregate schools. Many southern black students wishing to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) complained that they were treated disrespectfully at the white high schools that administered the tests. Moreover, some were turned away altogether, left with no SAT scores to report to admissions offices. The injustice of this insidious barrier to higher education for the growing number of black students in the South wishing to enroll in college motivated the two organizations. “Standardized testing” meant that all those being tested should receive the same, fair treatment.

Working through the College Board’s newly established Southern Regional Office, the College Board and ETS desegregated SAT centers in the Deep South before the schools themselves integrated. The actual work of negotiating for desegregated testing fell on two College Board employees, Ben Cameron and Ben Gibson, both white southern liberals. For nearly four years, they traveled, separately, around Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, dropping in unannounced at hundreds of high schools to convince white school officials to allow black students into their segregated schools and treat them respectfully. State laws, local customs, and white supremacist organizations dictated otherwise. Consequently, Cameron and Gibson often faced open hostility and sometimes even the possibility of violence toward themselves and anyone whose cooperation they won. Their quiet, persistent strategy, reinforced by a contingency plan hatched with the Department of Defense that established test centers at military bases, eventually succeeded. Significantly, they accomplished most of their work prior to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which accelerated the pace of school desegregation.

Cameron and Gibson’s story, told through their candid reports and records of conversations with individual school officials, offers a unique perspective on school desegregation. Their responsibility placed them in the unusual position of advocating for school desegregation as part of their jobs. Their writings, apparently untouched for nearly fifty years, reveal the dedication required to reach a goal many thought unachievable. The College Board had charged the Southern Regional Office with expanding its programs throughout the South. Insisting on desegregated SAT test centers placed the College Board squarely in opposition to prevailing laws, customs, and attitudes—an unenviable and ill-advised position for any nascent business venture—and added a financial risk to their already daunting task.

In order to minimize the risk to all concerned, Cameron and Gibson pledged not to publicize their efforts in any way. Even years after they completed their work, the two men refused to write about their campaign for fear of compromising the safety of the school officials and military base commanders who had helped them. Their legitimate concern kept this story largely untold until now.

Remarkably, throughout their campaign the two men consistently treated everyone with respect, no matter how offensive some school officials became. At one point, following an unsuccessful meeting with a South Carolina superintendent, Cameron took follow-up telephone calls from the official almost daily for three weeks, patiently “listenin’ ” and talkin’” until he achieved a desegregated center. Cameron and Gibson agreed that they would never leave an adversary “in a bad mood,” no matter what. Their ability to remain civil and even friendly in situations where widely divergent views collided stands in sharp contrast to today’s polarized exchanges. I admire the courage, dedication, patience, and powers of persuasion of Cameron and Gibson. Had they wanted to retreat and wait for school desegregation to solve their testing center problem, their superiors at the College Board would have acquiesced. Instead, the two men persisted.

Having found this “lost” story while looking for material for my dissertation, I felt responsible for sharing it. Besides contributing a minor chapter to an important period of U.S. history, Cameron and Gibson offer valuable lessons through the low-key, personal approach they brought to a difficult situation. As we reflect on important milestones in the Civil Rights movement, we might remember especially its characteristics of persistence, non-violence, and civility, exemplified by the SAT desegregation project, and consider the approach we ourselves might take in pursuing similar injustices.

Jan Bates Wheeler is associate director for Accreditation in the Office of Academic Planning at the University of Georgia, and the author of A Campaign of Quiet Persuasion: How the College Board Desegregated SAT® Test Centers in the Deep South, 1960-1965. This piece appeared for the first time at UGA’s Research Magazine, and it is reused here by permission.

Aug 14

Louisiana Dog Day Morning

In the dog days of summer after the fresh-split firewood reeking with the sweet acerbity of tannin is stacked in a neat pile close by the house, we become crepuscular. Like certain amphibians striving to maintain a proper balance of body fluid and temperature, we venture forth into the out-of-doors only in the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, leaving behind our artificial cocoons of refrigerated and dehumidified air. Even the cicadas are now out of sorts, droning about their business at mid-day when a pregnant cloud passes in front of the sun. In the first slow light of morning we sip strong coffee on the back porch facing east and the hardwood forest where the birdsong rises. The cardinal calls first; then the liquid flute of the wood thrush sounds from the understory.

Jefferson Island Sunset

Thoreau wrote of the wood thrush song, “Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.” This cousin of the bluebird is now tracking the declining hours of daylight with a mysterious sundial embedded deep within his brain. On a night in mid-August he will flush at a silent alarm and begin a nocturnal journey that will end for the season in the coastal lowlands of Central America. As for the cardinal, he suffers not from innate wanderlust and with his kind will still be around to serve as Christmas ornaments in the vanishing dogwood trees of Union Parish. With coffee cups almost empty, we are surprised this morning by the running-late possum that peeks over the edge of the porch on his routine check of the bird feeders. We all conclude that in spite of the bidding thrush and Thoreau’s doggerel to the contrary, it is time to seek shelter again until the evening respite.

Kelby Ouchley was a biologist and manager of national wildlife refuges for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for more than thirty years. He and his wife Amy live in the woods near Rocky Branch, Louisiana, in a cypress house surrounded by white oaks and black hickories. He is the author of Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country.

Jun 14

The Enduring Legacy of Musician Huey “Piano” Smith

As one journalist who covered Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues wrote, people may not have heard of Huey, a rock ’n’ roll pioneer and classic rhythm-and-blues artist from New Orleans, yet they certainly have heard his songs.

Those songs include Huey’s 1958 hit “Don’t You Just Know It,” recently featured in a pair of TV commercials, one for an athletic shoe and another for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game. Transcending the decades, Huey’s music stays fun, joyful, infectious. And he’s been a major influence upon generations of songwriters and musicians.

In 2011, Paul Simon told the U.K.’s RadioTimes about the love he developed for music from Louisiana during his youth in New York City. “I didn’t know it was from Louisiana,” Simon said. “But I loved Fats Domino. I loved Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. I liked Frankie Ford.”

Art Garfunkel, Simon’s partner in the folk-rock duo Simon and Garfunkel, loved Huey’s music, too. In a 2014 story that appeared on the U.S.-based MusicRadar website, Garfunkel listed Huey’s “Sea Cruise” at No. 5 among the 10 songs that changed his life. “‘Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?’” Garfunkel quoted. “Nothing rocked quite like this record. For me, it was the door opening to rock ’n’ roll. … I also love Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s ‘Don’t You Just Know.’ It makes you wanna get up and dance.”

In 2011, punk-rock pioneer Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist with the New York Dolls, told the U.K’s The Observer newspaper much the same about “Don’t You Just Know It”: “This is the one I remember knocking me sideways as a little kid,” Sylvain said. “That rocking piano, the dance beat, the audience participation. I was just hooked.”

In 1999, following The Lovin’ Spoonful’s nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, John Sebastian, front man for that 1960s vocal group from New York City, told MTV that he and his Spoonful bandmates were “students” of such rock ’n’ roll pioneers as Fats Domino and Phil Spector, both of whom are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Huey Smith, who is not in the Hall of Fame. Sebastian referred to all three men as “the professors.”

In 1992, Robbie Robertson of The Band — that quintessential roots-rock music band that also featured Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel — spoke of his fascination for New Orleans music to then-Crescent City resident John Sinclair for a story in Bomb magazine. Robertson’s lifelong interest in New Orleans music began when he was a 14-year-old novice musician in Toronto, playing in a Huey “Piano” Smith wannabe band called Little Caesar and the Consuls. The leader of the group wanted to be Huey Smith, Robertson recalled. “We played this music,” Robertson remembered, “that made me think, wait a minute, there’s something going on here — there is something about this whole thing that’s different and unique. There’s this mystery, there’s this fun, there is this thing you can’t quite put a finger on.”

John Wirt is the author of the first biography of Smith, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off Huey “Piano” Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues and hundreds of other titles by Louisiana authors. Learn more at our website, where you can use offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.