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An Odd Sense of Color March 24, 2012

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, Louisiana, New Orleans, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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OK, I just have to say it: it was Odd that three of the four panelists on the Tennessee Williams Festival panel New Orleans Free People of Color were white. The garrulous playwright John Guare tried to steal the show and not in a good way, and managed to annoy mystery writer Barbara Hambly when she disagreed with him but wouldn’t stop talking long enough to let her say her piece. Guare put his hand on the back of her chair at some point and it was funny to see Hambly leaning away from him to the point of tipping over.

Guare is the author of a successful Broadway play A Free Man of Color, Hanbly has penned a dozen mysteries featuring the Creole private detective Benjamin January, and the panel was rounded out by Daniel Sharfstein, author of The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America and Gregory Osborne, a child of the Creole diaspora to Los Angeles in the post-World War II period and an expert on the subject who manages the archives at the New Orleans public library.

Sharfstein and Osborne thankfully stole the show away from Guare. Sharfstein’s book drew out of a a stint of volunteer work in South Africa where he met a Black woman who had been registered as Colored (of mixed race) by a census taken who was a friend of the woman’s father. He recounted a fascinating tale of a couple prosecuted f under South Carolina’s miscegenation laws, a charge from which they were exonerated after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that it was impossible to determine if the woman’s grandfather had himself been pure Black, which would have made her an octaroon and invalidated the marriage.

Hanbly said she switched from writing science fiction to mysteries because “I wanted to write a mystern novel about a free man of color since I was in high school [and] a mystery is the best way to investigate a society because the character has a reason to be explaining” his milieu in the course of his work. Her central character is about viewing the state of antebellum Blacks and the through the lens of color. When she spoke of the history of the gens de colour it was clear she has done her research over decades of writing about her character.

Osborne, who worked closely with historian of New Orleans Creoles Gwendolyn Hall, shared the details of his own life growing up in a Creole family in which his grandmother still spoke Creole French with her cousins and a thumbnail history of the free people of color in Louisiana. Growing up “I knew I had deep roots here and my father would call himself Creole but I didn’t know what that meant,” he explained.

He is writing a book looking at several hundred interracial relationships, mostly in New Orleans and dating back as far as the uprising in San Domingue (Haiti). In the eighteen and early nineteenth century a white man could leave his inheritance to his Creole family if he had no friends or other family in Europe or New Orleans, but as the antebellum American authorities began to crack down and categorize all persons they declared legally Black extensive searches were made for relatives to deny these families their inheritance.

Guare began his play–a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize–after his friend the African-American director George Wolf asked him to write a play about race. “Why me, an old white guy?” he asked, but never explained Wolf’s answer. Wolf wanted a play about the history of race in Louisiana and do it as a Restoration comedy, sexually charged comedies of manners with their collision of subjects and elaborate costumes explains why the show was a Broadway hit with a long run. The only criticism he heard was of his historically accurate depiction of a Black man opening slaves. True to a restoration comedy, his protagonist has a hard time keeping him pants zipped in the present of both white and women of color, which explains why a serious subject would manage a long Broadway run.

The panel managed a good thumbnail sketch of the history of free people of color, mostly through the contributions from Osborne and Hambly, with Sharfstein filling in the details of race and miscegenation from the Revolutionary War through the start of Jim Crow. And it is hard not to want to see the mounting of Guare’s play at Louisiana State University in the fall, if only to see how such a serious subject plays as a comedy of manners.

Creole Beat June 27, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I finally gave up on ever getting to see the library’s copy of Cranial Guitar, Selected Poems by Bob Kaughman. It has been “in cataloging” for so long I have decided that “in cataloging” is a euphamism like “passed on”. “Cranial Guitar, preceded in cataloging by…”. His earlier books, like all those of another famous New Orleans-linked poet Everette Maddox, arevlocked away safely in the library’s Louisiana Collection where I don’t think I am welcome to bring my lunch in while I read.

I couldn’t find a copy to buy in town, either, and was forced to go to Amazon. While Kaufman is associated with San Francisco and the Beats, he is still a New Orleans-born boy and you would think someone might carry a copy. (Same for Maddox, a man who is forever linked with New Orleans). The poetry shelf of Maple Leaf Bookstore, one of my favorite haunts long ago, sits half empty and neglected the last few times I went by. I think I need to go bookstore shopping.

While the New Orleans-born Kaufman is associated with San Francisco and the Beats, here is a poem about Louisiana from that collection.

Early Loves
By Bob Kaufman

Slippery driftwood, icebreaking mudpacks.
Garfish, mothers of cajun whores,
Laughing blood noises, at comic shrimps.
Gliding on leaves of sunken trees.

Dying love, hidden in misty Bayous
Red love, turning black, brown,
Dead in the belly, brittle womb
Of some laughing crab.

A father. Whose, mine?
Floating on seaweed rugs.
To that pearl tomb, shining
Beneath my bayou’s floor.

Dead, and dead,
And you dead too.

No more arm twisting,
Heart twisting laughter.
Dead moss, colors of sorrow.

Later in hot arms, hers,
Between sweaty lovemakings.
Crying will wet moss swamps,
Hidden beneath her arms.

Tears will wash her dirty murdered soul.
God will be called to atone for his sins.

Considered America’s foremost surrealist poet and considered America’s Rimbaud by the French (who have all of his papers in a library), much of what he writes takes more than a few readings, and some bits might take a lifetime to decode, so I best sign off and get started. I think I may have to post up Reel Three of Golden Sardine, an incredible bit of writing about “the Deathbed of the last Buffalo in Nebraska” and the bloody conquest of the West.

Cannibal Creole April 15, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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And now for something completely odd and pointless This one is for Micheal Homan, who seems to have this thing about cannibals rattling around in his head. How about some long cochon du lait? Hey, don’t blame me. Blame Our New Anne Rice" (just kidding).

How many cannibals could your body feed?
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