Supernatural Louisiana to be theme of the Louisiana Studies Conference on Sept. 17 at NSU

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A live performance by the Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble will be the keynote of the 14th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference on Saturday, September 17 in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex at Northwestern State University. Photo by Peter Jones.

By: Shane Rasmusssen

NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University will host the 14th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference on Saturday, September 17 in the Creative and Performing Arts Complex. Presentation sessions will begin on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. and run until 4:45 p.m. Scholars from throughout Louisiana as well as Alabama, Ohio, Texas, and England, will make presentations on aspects of Louisiana archaeology, religion, material culture, folklore, art, history and literature. Admission to the conference is free and open to the public.

This year’s conference theme is Supernatural Louisiana. Throughout the day more than 30 scholars, cultural authorities and creative writers will make presentations. Some of the many topics to be discussed include Louisiana literature, archaeology, juke joints, ghosts, legends, vampires, history, politics, foodways, climate change and the environment, hoodoo and voodoo, race relations, service learning, folkways, juke joints, folktales and the casket girls of New Orleans. Creative writers will also address the conference theme, including poets John P. Doucet and David Middleton.

“Attendees at this year’s conference will get an increased sense of the Louisiana’s rich traditions, cultures, and history,” said Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of NSU’s Louisiana Folklife Center and co-chair of the conference. “The presentations will shed light on how our senses of the numinous, the spiritual and the supernatural have shaped Louisiana’s cultures, offering us more complex views of who we are as a people. The conference is free and open to the public, and we want to invite anyone who is interested in the state of Louisiana’s vibrant cultures, peoples and history to join us and to take part in these conversations.”

Saturday morning’s conference keynote will be a live performance by the Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble, to be held at 11 a.m. in the Magale Recital Hall. Recipients of the 2021 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Award, the Ensemble under the direction of Hattie Addison Burkhalter will provide a demonstration and discussion of a rare ritual tradition that dates back to the antebellum period. Dr. Susan Roach, Professor of English, Emerita, at Louisiana Tech University, will introduce the keynote and moderate a Q&A with the Ensemble and conference attendees.

An expert on Easter Rock, Roach commented that “The Winnsboro Easter Rock in Franklin Parish may be the only group continuing the tradition. Related to African American religious ring shout traditions, Easter Rock is a calendrical ritual, held on Easter Eve and replete with multi-vocal, creolized symbols commemorating Christ’s death and resurrection. Easter Rock is spectacular visually, musically and spiritually, filled with religious symbolism from the Christian belief system and the West African roots of its creators. As the Rockers sing old spirituals, their feet hit the wooden floor, echoing their ancestral drums. The Rock ends with a prayer followed by sharing of cakes and punch. The ritual of Easter Rock allows its participants to express their core beliefs and renew their bonds with their God, family and community.”

The keynote presentation by the Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble will be followed by the presentation of the winning essays from the 14th Annual NSU Louisiana High School Essay Contest. This year’s contest theme echoes the conference theme, with entrants being invited to either write a folk or fairy tale with a Louisiana setting or to write a fictional or poetic text with a supernatural component in a Louisiana setting. Several of the winning stories and poems 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 winners are Rachael Bergeron of Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee for her story “The Howler’s Sunset,” Jessica Chu of Caddo Magnet High School in Shreveport for her story “Everyday Ghosts,” and Caroline Wilemon also of Caddo Magnet for her story “The Cat and the Fiddle.” Three students received honorable mention: Alexis Dupuy of Belle Chasse High School for her story “Youth Mask,” Anna Jean Eaves of Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee for her story “Mama T,” and Cameron Gresham of Dodson High School for her poem “The Breathing Bayou.”

“I have read the high school essays for several years now and this year had some of the stiffest competition that I can remember,” said Jason Church, Chief of Technical Services at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and co-chair of the Contest. “I am delighted that this year’s essay theme brought out such great creativity and enthusiasm among the writers. All that submitted should be proud of their efforts. We are pleased to have the privilege to publish this year’s winning stories and poems. This set of stories set a high bar, and I am looking forward to what comes in next year.”

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

This conference is supported through funding provided by Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., as well as by the Louisiana Folklife Center at NSU, the NSU Department of English, Languages, and Cultural Studies, the NSU Center for Inclusion and Diversity, the NSU College of Arts and Sciences, the NSU Office of Recruiting, the NSU Office of the President and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.