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Louisiana Book Festival: The Author Party October 28, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, Louisiana, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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At the end of the night I am standing at the library reception counter, surveying the large swath of uncollected author’s name badges when I realized I was standing next to Roy Blount, Jr. Mr. Blount, I say introducing myself, its a shame so many of these badges are lying out here. Thank you for coming.

He eyes me with a slight, wry smile, wondering if I was someone he should remember, and returns my handshake with a quick “entirely my pleasure.” I told him I was looking forward to his interview with Louisiana Writer Award Winner James Wilcox and left it at that, trying to avoid a complete fan boy meltdown or the temptation to have my picture snapped with him. In retrospect, there was no damned good reason not to have my picture taken. This was after all a reception and fundraiser for the festival and a certain amount of ohh and ahh wouldn’t have been completely out of place, even among the cool sort who move in literary circles where everyone has at least a passing acquaintance with everyone else

Tomorrow I can corner Blount and Wilcox as they come off the stage from Blount’s interview with Wilcox and ask my questions then, mainly why Southern writers tend toward the Comic–Blount, Wilcox, Barry Hannah, Rick Bragg–and the Deadly Serious, William Faulkner and William Styron the first to come to mind of that lot. I was thinking of this divergence the other night, as I re-read Modern Baptists before the festival of Wilcox and Styron, two prominent Southern voices’ acclaimed first novels, weighing the lugubrious similarities of Bobby (not Carl) Pickens and Milton Loftis, sad cases both but in such completely different ways.

Tomorrow I will ask, digital recorder propped under my notebook, but tonight was more of a social occasion, entirely Nell Nolan at one level but behind all the fine catering, the mostly ignored jazz band in the lobby and the wandering photographer it was clearly more an opportunity for friends and acquaintances to visit a bit before tomorrow’s formalities, a plate of food nearby and a drink in hand, an entirely Southern moment when playing the reporter would have been a silly as Bobby Perkins at the opera in a checked leisure suit.

The right thing to do this evening was to go with the flow, to grab a beer and a plate of food and stop to say hello to the handful of people I knew (the poets laureate, poet and now novelist Melinda Palacio, here to promote her first novel Octillio Dreams), and see where it lead. It lead to Josh (I think that was his name; taking notes with an Abita in one hand and a cup of gumbo in the other makes shaking hands difficult enough, much less writing) who said he had been hired to write the True Blood Cookbook officially attributed to the authors of a fan web site of the HBO Series.

If you’ve met the ghost writer of a vampire-themed cookbook, you are off to a good start. Hell, you might just stop there and declare the evening a complete success, but there was no reason to stop there. The most interesting thing about the party was the complex web of acquaintances, how one person led to another as you navigated the room. Kelly Harris of Xavier University, whom I had just made an online acquaintance via the Peauxdunqe Writer Alliance and was pleased to meet in person turned out to be the wife of Times-Picayune editorial writer and columnist Jarvis DeBerry, and I mentioned my long ago association with his colleague Annette Cisco, who had picked up some Wet Bank Guide pieces for the T-P back in the days after the storm.

They were standing Freddi Williams Evans, author of Congo Sqaure: African Roots in New Orleans and another woman, an illustrator of children’s books whose name I sadly did not catch (that damned beer and food problem again. I have a terrible memory for names and should have planted my plate of seafood stuffed mushrooms and beer on the table and scritched out her name in my notebook. My apologies). I told Evans about my friend Ray Shea’s fascinating capsule theory of the Congo Square origins of hip-hop, promising to send her a link to his post on the Treme blog Back of Town.

Melinda seemed anxious to be my guide for the evening (have you met Luis Urrea? Do you know Tim Gautreaux?) and I let myself by turns be led through or simply drift through the evening, sometimes in tow of one person or another or excusing myself when they were deep in conversation with an old literary friend to get another beer and circle the room to see who else there was to see.

I saw painter George Rodrigue repeatedly but managed to miss finally meeting his charming wife Wendy in person (presuming she was there: I think she was). We first became acquainted when I posted a picture of the hilarious stencil of the car sqaushed Blue Dog that was all over town, along with a few harsh comments about the entire Blue Dog phenomena, which I simply don’t get. She was not entirely pleased by what I wrote but I pointed out to her my earlier stated fondness for her husbands earlier work and his modern dog-less paintings and we have been cordially connected online ever since. However, in my meanderings through the first floor of the state library we never managed to connect. It was that kind of party: unless I had made it my solitary goal to meet her, we were both doomed to wander from conversation to buffet to bar and back again, talking to people we knew and having fascinating conversations with people we just met but never quite getting to see everyone we wished to see.

Perhaps it was best that most of the name authors were just checking into the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center and getting some rest before tomorrow’s big event, or off having dinner elsewhere with friends. Meeting the vampire ghost writer, talking to Freddi Evans about the roots of hip-hop in Congo Square, running into Skip Horack whom I heard read at the Tennessee Williams Festival and telling him how much I loved his book The Eden Hunter, not realizing until I had left that the familiar sounding person Skip was attached to most of the night was the Tim O’Brien famous as escort to visiting literati in New Orleans, never quite getting introduced to Tim Gautreux who bore a frightening resemblance to Raeburn Miller, a college mentor in poetry: it was all in all a charming if dizzying evening for a first time visitor to the Louisiana Book Festival.

In the end all the author name tags that went unclaimed were no big deal; just an excuse for me at the end to say hello to Roy Blount, Jr. Someone with the festival may have been fretting over who showed and who didn’t but to the crowd inside, they weren’t missed. It was their own bad luck they missed a great party.

Comments»

1. Mark Folse - October 29, 2011

Ah, hell, did I really misspell Faulkner in the first posting? I have found an editor, but did not think to run this one by her before pulling the trigger. Stopping by the bar at the headquarter Hilton to see if anybody interesting dropped by was probably a stretch last night, although I did meet a charming couple here to promote their friend’s book which was selected for the non-traditional publishing panel.. This reminded me that three years ago I submitted Carry Me Home and got not so much as a rejection sip.

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2. Wendy Rodrigue - October 29, 2011

I tried to recap the evening myself this morning but gave up. Good thing, because yours is perfect. I’m sorry we missed each other, Mark. I also missed the food and wine, as I juggled iphones, taking George’s picture with, well, everyone. I did enjoy lengthy conversations with Ken Wells, the ‘bayoubro’ of Meely LaBauve fame (he and George are on a panel together today) and Chris Cenac, who recently finished an ambitious project on the history of Houma. Also enjoyed meeting Katie Wainwright of ‘Cuba on My Mind.’ Looking forward to the panels today. Hope to see you. And oh, there was a jazz band?

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3. MZell - October 29, 2011

Hey, Mark. Just say that you intentionally spelled Faulkner the way the family always did before The Count changed it.

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