14th annual Louisiana Studies Conference explores “Supernatural Louisiana”

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The Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble performed the keynote presentation.

NATCHITOCHES – The 14th Annual Louisiana Studies Conference was held on September 17 at NSU. Dr. Lisa Abney, Faculty Facilitator for Academic Research and Community College Outreach and Professor of English, Jason Church, Chief of Technical Services at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Daniel Gordy, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and English, Dr. Charles Pellegrin, Director of the Southern Studies Institute and Professor of History, and Dr. Shane Rasmussen, Director of the Louisiana Folklife Center and Professor of English, served as conference co-chairs. Church and Rasmussen also served as the Conference programmers, with Church serving as chair of Conference programming. Daphne Hines, Director of Publications, designed the Conference program cover and poster, incorporating a photo by Peter Jones. Dr. Scott Burrell, Director of the Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts and Professor of Theatre, Leslie Gruesbeck, Chair of the Department of Fine + Graphic Arts and Associate Professor of Art, Dr. Masahito Kuroda, Professor of Euphonium-Tuba and Coordinator of Media Recording, and Dr. Fran Lemoine, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Biology served as Conference Hosts. The staff of the Louisiana Folklife Center, administrative coordinator Bessie Jones and student workers LeT’Anna Ledet and Aaron Malone, as well as graduate assistants Jackson Driggers and Zoe Hebert, kept the Conference running smoothly. Chris Brumley, Senior eLearning Systems Support Specialist and student worker Jake English served as Conference technical support. Chris Reich served as Conference photographer.

This year’s conference theme was “Supernatural Louisiana.” The Saturday morning keynote was a live performance by the Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble held 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 provided 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, introduced the keynote and moderated a Q&A with the Ensemble and conference attendees.

The conference was a great success, with 33 scholars, creative writers, and cultural authorities participating in 9 separate panels. Conference participants came from Alabama, Ohio, Texas, and Nottingham, England, as well as from throughout Louisiana. Several of the presenters were NSU faculty and alumni. In addition to the keynote presentation, some of the many topics discussed included 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.

Each of the presentation sessions was chaired by a moderator. Session chairs included Church, Heather Salter Dromm (English, Languages, and Cultural Studies), and Dr. Hiram “Pete” Gregory (Criminal Justice, History, and Social Sciences).

The following individuals made scholarly presentations at the Conference:

Jason Church (National Center for Preservation Technology and Training) presented his paper “The Loss of Soul: The Vanishing Juke Joints and Dancehalls of Natchitoches Parish.”

Heather Salter Dromm presented her paper “Supernatural Acadiana in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux Novels.”

Dr. Michelle Fazio-Brunson (Early Childhood Education), Dr. Katrina Jordan (Director of the School of Education), Dr. Debra Jo Hailey (Child and Family Studies), Taylor McFall (Assistant Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development), and Martha Hopewell (Early Childhood Education) presented their paper “Remapping Louisiana’s Cradle to Prison Pipeline to a Cradle to College Pipeline: A Collaborative Early Childhood Education Service Learning Project.”

Dr. Christopher Gilson (Criminal Justice, History, and Social Sciences) and independent scholar Gil Gilson presented their paper “Famous and Forgotten: The Lost Parks of Historic Natchitoches.”

Dr. Hiram “Pete” Gregory presented his paper “Change and Continuity: Supernatural Stories in the Indo-Hispanic Community along the Sabine River.”

Christopher Jay (English, Languages, and Cultural Studies) presented his paper “Taste and See: Supernatural Stories from Three Northwest Louisiana Chefs.”

Dr. Katrina Jordan (Director of the School of Education), Dr. Debra Jo Hailey (Child and Family Studies), and Dr. Michelle Fazio-Brunson (Early Childhood Education) presented their paper “Fairy Tales, Fables, and Folk Tales with a Louisiana Twist.”

Debbie Smith (National Center for Preservation Technology and Training) presented her paper “Isabella the Ghost: An NSU Tradition.”

The awards ceremony for the 14th Annual NSU Louisiana High School Essay Contest was also held on Saturday morning at the Conference. Church, Lemoine, Dr. Rebecca Macijeski, Creative Writing Program Coordinator and Associate Professor of English, and Rasmussen presented the award. 1st place winner Rachael Bergeron of Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee read her story “The Howler’s Sunset.” Unable to attend were Jessica Chu of Caddo Magnet High School in Shreveport, Caroline Wilemon also of Caddo Magnet, and Honorable Mention winners Alexis Dupuy of Belle Chasse High School, Anna Jean Eaves of Catholic High School of Pointe Coupee, and Cameron Gresham of Dodson High School. Abney, Church, Macijeski, and Rasmussen served as the Contest selection committee.

Refreshments at the Conference were served by LaQueitchi’s Soul Food.

This conference was 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.

The 15th annual Louisiana Studies Conference will be held in September 2023. The 2023 Conference theme will be “Louisiana Works.” For more information contact Dr. Shane Rasmussen at rasmussens@nsula.edu or (318) 357-4332.