Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Just How French is New Orleans?

In her new book The Story of French New Orleans: History of a Creole City Dianne Guenin-Lelle seeks to answer the question “Why is New Orleans considered a French city?” While it may seem obvious to anyone who has walked the streets of the French Quarter, there is actually a lot to unpack within the question. In the preface, Guenin-Lelle allows that New Orleans does not offer easy answers to the questions it raises about its history, culture, and people; instead its answers remain complex and nuanced.

So, just how French is New Orleans? Because there lacks a connection between the official historic record linking France to New Orleans as well as the actual social, cultural, and linguistic composition of the city and its people. And despite the composite nature of language, heritage, and culture which include elements of Creole, Mexico, Central American, the city is the assumed home to a culture that has historically been associated with France.

So what is it about the city’s history, location, and culture that continue to link it to France while distancing it culturally and symbolically from the United States? The Story of French New Orleans explores the traces of French language, history, and artistic expression that have been present in New Orleans over the last three hundred years. This volume focuses on the French, Spanish, and American colonial periods in order to understand the imprint that French socio-cultural systems left on New Orleans’ culture during and after French colonial rule.

The migration of Acadians to New Orleans at the time the city became a Spanish dominion and the arrival of Haitian refugees at the time when the city became an American territory reinforced its Francophone identity. However, in the process of establishing itself as an urban space in the antebellum south, the culture of New Orleans became a liability for New Orleans elite after the Louisiana Purchase.

Map of the French Quarter

In a chapter devoted to the French Quarter, Guenin-Lelle offers a new interpretation of its design and the ways it extends the imagined connections between New Orleans and France to the spatial realm. Interestingly, the vast majority of the buildings in the French Quarter were built after New Orleans became a part of the United States, tourists nonetheless continue to flock there to experience “the least American place in America” and “America’s most foreign city,” lured by its supposedly French architecture and its urban design.

Dianne Guenin-Lelle
New Orleans and the Caribbean share numerous historical, cultural and linguistic connections. The author analyzes these connections and the shared process of creolization occurring in New Orleans and throughout the Caribbean Basin. It contends that “French” New Orleans might be understood as a trope for the unscripted “original” Creole social and cultural elements found in New Orleans. Since being Creole came to connote African descent, the study suggests that an association with France in the minds of whites allowed for a less racially-bound and contested social order within the United States.

Ultimately, Guenin-Lelle argues that New Orleans exists as a Creole and North American hybrid that transcends its historical elements that emerges with unique form of self-expression including the creation of zydeco music and the march of Mardi Gras Indians.

Guenin-Lelle who has a PhD in French literature from Louisiana State University also offers readers analysis of New Orleans’ earliest works of literature in the French language.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

UPM Intern Sees Publishing From a New Perspective

The following is a guest post from Laura Strong. Laura is a student at Delta State and worked last semester as an intern in UPM's satellite office in Cleveland, MS. Below, she talks about her responsibilities, experiences, and skills learned. 

As this is my senior year of college, the thought of “What next?” is constantly on my mind. Grad school or work? Where should I live? What should I do with this English degree once I graduate? What can I do? Turns out, an internship’s not a bad way of starting to answer “What’s next?”

Laura Strong
I had always thought of publishing in general as some kind of scary profession, technical, fast-paced, and something you could only do if you moved to New York or Chicago. It was just the other side to the books I so love to read. I had very little experience, but my teacher asked me to consider this internship with the University Press of Mississippi, and I agreed. As I got closer and closer to the beginning of school, I was looking up all sorts of information about what publishing is, about how so much of it is learning on the job, how detail-oriented it is. However, I’ve found it’s a chance not only to work with books in their earliest stages, but a chance to work with people.

Looking from the other side of publishing for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I learned the first day that I had no idea what front matter is, the details of a copyright page or what running heads or a second half title page really is, what “coding and tagging” mean to a manuscript. I had to brush up on my knowledge of Chicago style, and I think my Advanced Composition teacher (who asked me about the internship) would be pleased to see how well I can spot a comma outside of a quotation mark now.

My responsibilities have included looking over page proofs of books in PDF. I have proofread manuscripts and indexes for grammatical and layout errors, made sure caption lists line up with design lists, proofread the catalog, looked over the first pages of a manuscript. I have seen author corrections, made corrections of my own, and seen what kind of responsibility an editor really has. I have put typescripts into the Library of Congress database, learned about interview processes and confidence from my wonderful boss, Shane Gong Stewart, and seen how well I can focus when I try. I have learned how important reading over an index multiple times is, how every punctuation mark matters in a typescript, how excited I was the first day to open an attachment and think how I was looking at a book, right there on my laptop, that would be published.

Not only have I learned so much about publishing, I have been able to learn about different subjects in reading some of the material the Press publishes—from overcoming prejudice to African drumming to New Orleans hot dog stand businesses. This is a chance to keep learning, to expand my perspective on multiple subjects. As I look over and edit other people’s writing, I find ways to strengthen my own.

This internship has not only been an experience because of the important skills I’ve developed and hope to continue developing, but because of the people I have worked with. The other intern, Jess, has been in the office most of the hours I am, and the three of us talk and listen to music while we work, a very comfortable environment. Even when the environment has not been comfortable in the least—Shane and I were at work when we had an active shooter on our campus, and we barricaded ourselves in the office—I have been grateful for the two people I work with.

Publishing is not for the faint of heart, mind, or eyes, at least in my opinion. There are days, just as in every other job, where the work was monotonous or tedious. But I have learned to find all the details that make me happy in this detail-oriented job, and I have to say this perspective is nice.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Barry Hannah Tribute

Last week, the Mississippi Department of Archives weekly program History is Lunch focused on a remembrance of author  Barry Hannah. Hannah, (1942-2010) published eight novels and four collections of short stories. A master of short fiction, Hannah is considered by many to be one of the most important writers of modern American literature.

The panel was made up by James G. Thomas, Jr., editor of Conversations with Barry Hannah, Hannah’s nephew and fellow author Taylor Kitchings, and longtime friend George Ezell. The trio share experiences, stories, and letters from their time with Hannah. Video of the presentation is below.



Conversations with Barry Hannah is now available from UPM. The volume collects interviews published between 1980 and 2010. Within them Hannah engages interviewers in discussions on war and violence, masculinity, religious faith, abandoned and unfinished writing projects, the modern South and his time spent away from it, the South's obsession with defeat, the value of teaching writing, and post-Faulknerian literature.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

UPM Intern Reflects on Experience

Jess Bennett
The following is a guest post from Jess Bennett. Bennett is a student at Delta State and worked last semester as an intern in UPM's satellite office in Cleveland, MS. Below, he talks about his responsibilities, experiences, and interest in publishing. 

My interest in interning for the University Press of Mississippi stemmed from my general interest in publishing. As an English major, I wanted to explore the occupations relevant to my field, and the publishing industry provides one such occupation possibility. Dr. Susan Allen Ford also influenced my interest in this internship. She recommended the internship to me and said the internship would be an excellent learning experience and that my supervisor, Shane Gong, would be a fantastic person to work with. Prior to the internship, I thought the publishing industry was cut-throat and difficult to break into, so Dr. Ford’s recommendation of Shane as a good person to work with was inviting.

I first started working with Shane during July, and from the start she was very agreeable and eager to guide me through the different responsibilities of my internship. The bulk of these responsibilities included proofreading indexes and full type-scripts. The process for learning how to proofread indexes was interesting. UPM uses Chicago style format for indexes and type-scripts. Until then I had only used MLA, so learning to proofread introduced me to Chicago style, which has come in handy for some of my other classes. 

An additional responsibility that I enjoyed learning about was the encoding process. Beforehand, I was not aware that publishers encoded their books for the Library of Congress. Furthermore, I did not know that the UPM had their own coding system that they used along with the Library of Congress’s system. As of now, I have not yet learned the Press’s individual encoding system; I have, however, learned the Library of Congress’s system, which I got to use on a few type-scripts this semester.

Juggling these responsibilities was an educational experience because I learned about my strengths and weaknesses in as far as publishing goes. One such strength that I have developed is my ability to systemize proofreading. For example, when checking an index, I first do a read through to make sure the entries are in alphabetical order. Then I do an additional read through, correcting page numbers that are not in numerical order. The third, and last, check through that I do focuses on page formatting; I try to homogenize any idiosyncrasies like excess line spaces and such. While I view this methodology as a strength, it is closely related to a weakness as well. My meticulous method is useful for identifying as many mistakes as possible, but it can also take up an unnecessary amount of time. Rectifying this weakness is tricky: if I speed through my checking, then the quality of my proofreading lessens. As I continue my internship with UPM, I will have to learn how to maintain high quality proofreading while increasing the speed of my process.

Overall, I learned that my original assumption about the publishing industry was incorrect, or at least not necessarily applicable to academic presses. I am also very interested in the academic content published by the UPM, especially books on comic book studies. As an avid comic book fan, the fact that such a field exists is awe-inspiring and beautiful to me. I am also fond of the conversations series which focuses on interviews with filmmakers and authors. My hope is that I will be able to work on some of the books in these fields during my next internship with the University Press of Mississippi.

Monday, November 23, 2015

UPM’s BOOKFRIENDS to Celebrate 30th Anniversary with New Orleans-themed party at Hal and Mal’s


On Wednesday from 6-9 p.m., the University Press of Mississippi will be holding its annual BOOKFRIENDS fall membership party at Hal and Mal’s. This year’s party will mark the 30th anniversary of BOOKFRIENDS support of Mississippi’s only nonprofit publisher.

The party will have a decidedly New Orleans theme, featuring music by the Southern Komfort Brass Band and celebrate the recent publication of two books—Talking New Orleans Music: Crescent City Musicians Talk about Their Lives, Their Music, and Their City by Burt Feintuch with photographs by Gary Samson and Getting Off at Elysian Fields: Obituaries from the New Orleans ‘Times-Picayune" by John Pope.

A short program will feature John Pope speaking about his career an obituary writer in New Orleans. Pope is a masterful storyteller who has written obituaries of the leaders and artists who shaped the city. In his book are extensive profiles of some of the most important people in the city, including the philanthropist Edith Stern, the supermarket pioneer John Schwegmann, the flamboyant fried-chicken magnate Al Copeland, and Dr. Alton Ochsner, who founded the New Orleans-based medical colossus bearing his name.
John Pope

Pope tells of these and many other fascinating lives in one of the country’s most jubilant and complex cities. Taken together, Getting Off at Elysian Fields paints a picture of the times, highlighting several key milestones of the twentieth century.

His stories are not limited to New Orleans residents. In fact, Pope considers Eudora Welty’s obituary among his favorites that he’s written. “With the Welty obit,” he explains, “I had the time and space to do a pretty thorough analysis of the woman and her literature.”

UPM Director Leila Salisbury, “In the year of the Press’s 45th anniversary and the 30th anniversary of BOOKFRIENDS, we’re incredibly grateful to the authors, community partners, and avid readers who have supported us and who continue to encourage our work. Our regional focus is such a special part of our mission, and celebrating the Mississippi-Louisiana connection as we did for our first BOOKFRIENDS party seems just right. We’re fortunate to be connected to such rich artistic and historical cultures, and the Press is always working to document and celebrate them.”

 “For thirty years, BOOKFRIENDS has been such a sustaining and powerful literary force in the state,” said assistant director and marketing director of University Press of Mississippi Steve Yates. “They lift up authors, and the whole work of University Press.”

This event is open to the public. Annual memberships are $50 and persons under 35 may purchase a membership for $35 and is payable at the event. Donations and ticket purchases may be also made in advance via the Paypal link below:

Levels of Membership




Monday, November 16, 2015

Praise for Wednesdays in Mississippi

At this year’s meeting of the Southern Historical Association, the Southern Association for Women Historians announced that Debbie Z Harwell, author of Wednesdays in Mississippi: Proper Ladies Working for Radical Change, Freedom Summer 1964 was awarded the Julia Cherry Spruill Prize.

The Spruill Prize is awarded annually for the best published book in southern women’s history.Wednesdays in Mississippi tells the story of the only civil rights program created for women by women as part of a national organization.

Wednesdays in Mississippi offers a new paradigm through which to study civil rights activism, challenging the stereotype of Freedom Summer activists as young student radicals and demonstrating the effectiveness of the quiet approach taken by proper ladies.

Harwell also delves into the motivations for women’s civil rights activism and explores influence of churches and religious leaders attempting to both uphold and tear down segregation in Mississippi. Lastly, the book confirms that the National Council of Negro Women actively worked for integration and black voting rights while addressing education, poverty, hunger, housing, and employment as civil rights issues.

DEBBIE Z. HARWELL teaches in the Honors College at the University of Houston and serves as the managing editor of Houston History. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Southern History.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

UPM Author Holds Book Signing at Funeral Home

The following is a guest post from UPM author John Pope. Last month Pope, author of Getting Off at Elysian Fields: Obituaries from the New Orleans "Times-Picayune," held two book signings in nontraditional, if not unusual, locations—funeral homes. Below he talks about the experience.

In the musical “Gypsy,” three veterans of the bump-and-grind trade give sage advice to Gypsy Rose Lee before her first sashay down a burlesque-house runway when they sing “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

Finding a way to attract attention is also vital for promoting a book because you have to make your volume stand out amid the onslaught of books of all sizes, shapes and genres.

I made the right start with the type of book I had written. Getting Off at Elysian Fields is an anthology of 34 years of obituaries and funeral stories I composed for The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune.

Then I went a step further: I held two signings at funeral homes.

That’s not as macabre as it may seem. For starters, the folks who run each mortuary – people who have been sources for my obits for years – asked me to hold an event there, and they said it could happen only on days when neither funeral home had scheduled a service.

That stipulation made sense. Even though I’m eager to promote my book whenever and wherever possible, I’ll concede that it would be insensitive and downright tacky to hawk it to weeping mourners.


At each funeral home – one in suburban Metairie, the other in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood – the event was held in the main parlor, where mourners enter before they head off to a chapel. Each parlor was conservatively appointed, with plenty of comfortable chairs and no displays of such funerary trappings as caskets or cremation urns.

Perhaps because each site is a place where people gather for one of life’s more solemn rituals, it took a while before people felt comfortable speaking in anything but hushed tones.Once people made that adjustment, everything went splendidly, and the signings were no different from events in bookstores and libraries where I have touted my book. People asked questions, and they laughed at my jokes. (I liked that.)

At Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home, I signed 28 books on Nov. 1, and people just kept coming in.

In addition to Schoen’s location – on Canal Street, New Orleans’ principal thoroughfare – that signing was on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, when tradition-minded New Orleanians are thinking about their dead relatives and friends. They use the day to clean graves, bring flowers and visit with people at nearby tombs who have come to do exactly the same thing. It’s a very New Orleans custom.

Besides being All Saints’ Day, that day was a great Saints day. People felt good because New Orleans’ professional-football team had beaten the New York Giants in a 52-49 nail-biter of a game. (In fact, the signing had been rescheduled so it wouldn’t conflict with the game – a smart move.) I like to think that the victory made people want to buy books.

There was this bit of fortuitous lagniappe, which is a term we New Orleanians use to describe something extra at no extra cost. One of the people on duty at Schoen was Dom Carra Grieshaber Jr., whose father – a man known as “the marrying judge” because he loved to unite people in matrimony – is in my book. At the end of the event, he gave me a big hug.

. . .

John Pope has written obituaries throughout his forty-four-year career in journalism and was a member of the New Orleans Times-Picayune team that won two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Headliner Award, and a George Polk Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

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