Northwestern State to host Ninth Annual La. Studies Conference

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Northwestern State University will host the Ninth Annual Louisiana Studies Conference Sept. 22-23 in the A.A. Fredericks Creative and Performing Arts Center. The conference opens Friday at 2 p.m. and presentations start at 3:15 p.m. Scholars from throughout Louisiana and seven other states will make presentations on aspects of Louisiana geography, religion, spirituality, art, history, culture and literature. Admission to the conference is free and open to the public.

This year’s conference theme is Louisiana Landscapes. Throughout the two days numerous scholars, cultural authorities and creative writers will make presentations. Some of the many topics to be discussed include Louisiana literature, film and TV, military history, Southeastern American Indians, art, the effects of cultural and linguistic heritage, class stereotypes, genealogy, Louisiana history and politics, medical history, voodoo, LGBTQ+ spaces, storytelling, Los Adaes, the Orphan Train, changing cultural landscapes, architecture, Oakland Plantation, French language acquisition, material culture, Poverty Point, Isleño linguistics, Creole culture, archaeology, the Great Raft, Louisiana folkways and the environment. Creative writers will also address the conference theme, including poets Catharine Savage Brosman, John P. Doucet, David Middleton, Dennis Rohatyn and Shirley Ann Snyder and fiction writer Kathy Root Pitts.

“This year’s conference theme highlights the many ways that cultural and environmental landscapes shape our lives,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center and co-chair of the conference. “We are all inevitably responsive to the varied landscapes we inhabit. I am excited to hear and see what this year’s conference participants will tell us. The conference is free and open to the public, and we want to invite anyone who is interested in the state of Louisiana’s diverse and vibrant landscapes to join us and to take part in these conversations.”

The Friday evening keynote, “Time and Death and Futility: Filming Louisiana’s Landscapes,” will be given at 6 p.m. in CAPA 206 by Dr. Allison Rittmayer, an assistant professor of English at Northwestern State University. According to Rittmayer, “This presentation will show how contemporary films set or filmed in Louisiana draw from the Southern Gothic and use the Louisiana landscape to represent individual and cultural repression and its aftermath. These films mine our associations between the natural world and the primitive in order to present the contemporary Louisiana landscape as a place where our current material culture, discarded and disused on empty lots, reveals our society’s inability to effectively process what is left behind—not only goods, but people and ideals. In her 1960 essay, ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction,’ Flannery O’Connor wrote, ‘Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.’ This sentiment also applies to rural noirs, and I will conclude with remarks on how the landscape leads viewers to consider rural noirs realistic, when that is a designation they rarely apply to urban films noirs.”

The Saturday morning keynote, “In Search of… A Survey of Louisiana Dance Halls,” will be given by John “Pudd” Sharp, Assistant Director for Research at the Center for Louisiana Studies (CLS) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, at 10:30 a.m. in CAPA 206. Sharp’s presentation will consist of a lecture on his work documenting dance halls throughout Louisiana. Observes Sharp about his work, “I travel the back roads, looking for promising old structures (or empty spots surrounded by gravel parking lots) and the people to tell me the stories of those places. I search out informants in barber and beauty shops, post offices and quilting bees. I’ve held hundreds of informal interviews with informants as varied as members of zydeco motorcycle clubs to a former Governor of Louisiana—most of these happen in unlikely places— from porta potty lines at music festivals to nursing homes. I interview dancehall owners, bartenders, bouncers, cooks, musicians and of course, dancers. This talk will cover the growth of the project from the original list of 175 to the current number of over 1,700, a peek into the journey of my discovery of an important part of our Louisiana landscape.”

Sharp’s address will be followed by the presentation of the winning essays from the Ninth Annual NSU Louisiana High School Essay Contest. This year’s contest theme echoes the conference theme, with students writing about a place in the Louisiana landscape that has special meaning for them. The winning essays will be presented at the conference and will also be published in the Louisiana Folklife Journal, the Louisiana Folklife Center’s scholarly journal. This year’s contest winners are Blake Ziegler of Holy Cross School in New Orleans for his first place essay “Chevra Thilim,” Sarah Hendrickson of Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans for her second place essay “Côte des Allemands” and Anna Goodwin of Alexandria High School in Alexandria for her third place essay “The Miracle at Cabrini Hospital.” Two students received Honorable Mention: Ashley Couget of Mount Carmel Academy for her essay “Refuge,” and Benjamin Harris Davidson of St. Paul’s School in Covington for his essay “All Hail King Rex.”

“Reading this year’s essays was a moving experience,” said Rasmussen, co-chair of the essay contest. “The essays convey the deep sense of gratitude these student writers feel for being able to live in a state that has not only great physical beauty, but also such a depth of human warmth. Many of the places the students write about so movingly in their essays were made meaningful to them because of the ways that other people such as family, peers, teachers, clergy, coaches, and others have welcomed, nurtured, and inspired them. Louisiana places are beloved because the people of Louisiana are so wonderful!”

A complete conference schedule can be found on the Louisiana Folklife Center’s website at louisianafolklife.nsula.edu. For more information call the Folklife Center at (318) 357-4332.

The Conference is co-sponsored by the Department of English, Foreign Languages, and Cultural Studies, The Friends of the Hanchey Gallery, the Louisiana Folklife Center, the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, the NSU College of Arts and Sciences, the NSU Department of Fine + Graphic Arts, the NSU Office of Recruiting, the NSU Writing Project and the NSU Office of the President.