Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Getting Off at Elysian Fields by John Pope

BLANCHE DU BOIS: They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!


 — from A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, 1947                                                                     
As a popular bumper sticker indisputably declares, “New Orleans—We Put the Fun in Funeral.” Truly, no other city in America knows how to mark death with more funerary panache than New Orleans. The pageants commemorating departed citizens are often in themselves works of performance art. 

And no one writes the accompanying obituary quite like New Orleanian John Pope. Collected here are not just simple, mindless recitations of schools and workplaces, marriages, and survivors. Rather, the pieces in Getting Off at Elysian Fields: Obituaries from the New Orleans "Times-Picayune" are full-blooded life stories with accounts of great achievements, dubious dabbling, unavoidable foibles, relationships gone sour, and happenstances that turn out to be life-changing. 

Getting Off at Elysian Fields tells the story of modern New Orleans through Pope’s obituaries of the leaders and artists who shaped the city. Included here 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.

 Not limited to local celebrities, Pope covers all the bases. There are stories about Carnival monarchs, great philanthropists, and a few politicians. But because New Orleans embraces eccentric behavior, there are stories of people who colored way outside the lines. For instance, there was the doctor who used his plasma to make his flowers grow, a letter carrier everyone loved turned out to have been a spy during World War II, and a fledgling lawyer changed his lifelong thoughts about race when he saw blind people going into a Christmas party through separate doors—one for white people and another for African Americans.


John Pope
Pope tells of these and many other fascinating lives in one of the country’s most jubilant and complex cities. Taken together, these lives paint a picture of the times, highlighting key milestones of the twentieth century. And Because New Orleans funerals are distinctive, the author includes accounts of four that he covered, complete with soulful singing and even some dancing. 

Getting Off at Elysian Fields will teach readers a great deal about the city of New Orleans and her people.

On Wednesday, October 14, Pope will be at Octavia Books in New Orleans to talk about and sign copies of his book. 

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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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