Northwestern State University will host the 10th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference September 21-22 in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex. The conference opens at 2 p.m. on September 21, and presentations start at 3:15 p.m. Presentation sessions will begin on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. Scholars from throughout Louisiana and seven other states will make presentations on aspects of Louisiana geography, religion, spirituality, folklore, art, history, culture and literature. Admission to the conference is free and open to the public.
This year’s conference theme is Once Upon a Time in Louisiana. 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, Southeastern American Indians, highways and byways, legal and social issues, myth and legend, genealogy and family history, tourism, Louisiana history and politics, festivals, religion, folk art, disaster mitigation, LGBTQ+ history, storytelling, ethnic diversity, the Louisiana Redbones, biography, Louisiana’s cradle to prison pipeline, children’s literature, PrideAir, archival and academic history and research, women’s studies, plant and animal names, Oakland Plantation, material culture, Poverty Point, Isleño linguistics and decimas, archaeology, Louisiana folkways, climate change and the environment and medical history.
Creative writers will also address the conference theme, including poets Katie Bickham, Catharine Savage Brosman, John P. Doucet, David Middleton, and Jay Udall, and fiction writers Shawn Beasley and Robert D. Bennett. Dr. Allison Rittmayer of Northwestern State University will also premiere three of her new short films inspired by the life and work of Caroline Dormon.
“Attendees at this year’s conference will get an increased sense of Louisiana’s long and continued history with narratives of all kinds,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center and co-chair of the conference. “Louisianans shape their senses of themselves, their communities, their environment, and their history from the stories that they tell, and the speakers at this year’s conference will explore many of these narratives. 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 cultures, peoples, and history to join us and to take part in these conversations.”
The Friday evening keynote, “Speaking of the Unspoken Place: Louisiana History in Poems,” will be given at 6 p.m. in Room 206 of the Fine Arts Annex by poet Katie Bickham, an instructor of English at Bossier Parish Community College. Bickham’s presentation will consist of a lecture accompanied by readings from her two books of poetry, “The Belle Mar” and “Mouths Open to Name Her.”
“If you’ve ever toured a Louisiana plantation home, chances are you’ve finished by walking through a gift shop, or been sold ice cream at a flowery sweet shop right above where slave barracks used to stand,” said Bickham. “You may even have attended a wedding on the picturesque lawns where human beings were once bred and sold and worked until they died. As Louisianians, our ownership (forgive the term) of our own history and our complicity in that history is severely lacking. Through my two books of poetry, I explore the real people who lived and died on these properties, both owners and owned. Through exhaustive research of ledgers, diaries, and other primary documents, I have reconstructed in a small way what it meant to live in the time of booming plantation slave labor.
“This talk asks us not only to do the important work of remembering, but also to understand what our current roles and responsibilities are as we daily walk the ground of these atrocities, as we have our tires rotated and our nails manicured and our books checked out on the very sites where the most gruesome of human crimes was carried out against millions. How do we live ethically and righteously in such a place, and what can we do to foster the healing we have so long stifled or left for another day?”
The Saturday morning keynote, “Sidebars to the Career of Clementine Hunter,” will be given by Tom Whitehead, Professor Emeritus at Northwestern State University, at 10:30 a.m. in Room 206 of the Fine Arts Annex. Whitehead’s presentation will consist of a lecture on extensive research of Clementine Hunter’s life and work.
“During Clementine Hunter’s almost 50 years of painting pictures, scores of friends, acquaintances and Melrose visitors proved instrumental in advancing the artist’s career,” said Whitehead. “Nevertheless, with only rare exceptions, her innate talent and independent spirit remained unchanged. How those who came in contact with Hunter enhanced awareness of the artist has never been fully explored. This aspect of the artist’s career will form the framework of the presentation.”
Whitehead’s address will be followed by the presentation of the winning essays from the 10th 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. Several of the winning essays will be presented at the conference and all of them will be published in the Louisiana Folklife Journal, the Louisiana Folklife Center’s scholarly journal.
This year’s contest winners are Kristen Adams of Caddo Parish Magnet High School in Shreveport for her first place story “The Jacquedeaux.” Natalie DuBose of Minden High School won second place with her story “The Ghost of Mardi Gras,” and Jadynn Giles of Grant High School in Dry Prong won third place for her entry “The Edge of the Bayou.” Three students received Honorable Mention: Peyton Harville of Airline High School in Bossier City for her essay “Happily Ever After in New Orleans,” Allison Huffty of Caddo Parish Magnet High School for her story “Selena,” and Jacob Pichon of St. Paul’s School in Covington for his entry “The White Crawfish.”
“This year’s entries were an immense pleasure to read,” said Rasmussen, co-chair of the Contest. “Louisiana students are not only accomplished writers, they are also highly creative!”
“Each year I look forward to reading the variety of submissions that roll in for the Contest,” said Jason Church, materials conservator with the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and co-chair of the Contest. “The essays come in from all corners of our great state and carry with them the experiences, dreams, and imaginations of students from every possible social and economic background. Hearing the voices of our Louisiana youth is a humbling experience. At the end of the Contest each year I feel warmed that Louisiana’s literary future is in good hands.”
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 Center for Inclusion and Diversity, 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.