Ten Must Read Poetry Books by Louisiana Creoles
1 Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Mona Lisa Saloy
This debut book length collection by NOLA’s own Mona Lisa Saloy, is a treasure of not only Louisiana literature, but of Southern literature and by extension American literature. I have no shame admitting that Saloy’s work occupies not only my research within Creole literature but also my all-time favorite poetry book list. Saloy is both Creole and African American. “Mona Lisa Saloy's prize-winning collection is black and female and southern and a literary event. The language is lively, the life is palpable, the observing eye is accurate and selective in distinctive ways, and the heart here is both true to the self and honest in its presentation. You don't know New Orleans if you haven't read this collection. You don't know southern poetry if you haven't read this book. You don't know the fun serious poetry can be if you haven't read Red Beans and Ricely Yours. Ms. Saloy does, yes she does.” --Dave Smith, Johns Hopkins University
2 Outfoxing Coyote, Carolyn Dunn
Kein is a legacy. Her work spans history, poetry, music, and cultural studies. No student of Louisiana, let alone Louisiana Creoles should ignore the impact and legacy of her work. Moreover, her poetry in these two collections is vibrant, defining, diverse, and electrifying in its turn of phrase and deep rooted cultural presence. She also has the distinction of writing in not only Louisiana Creole, but, English, French, and Spanish. “Gumbo People is a book with poems and lyrics in Creole, plus sheet music. Some of the poems are translated into Haitian Creole, Spanish, French and English.” [iv]“Many of the poems in Creole Journal are based on individuals who lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were free people of color. The relations between owners and slaves and the mulattoes and quadroons they produced are the subject of some of the poems.”[v]
5 Creole Echoes: The Francophone Poetry ofNineteenth-Century Louisiana, edited by Norman R. Shapiro
6 Les Cenelles: ACollection of Poems by Creole Writers of the Early Nineteenth Century, edited by Armand Lanusse (translator collections: Regine Latortue and Gleason R.W. Adams)
This is not only the first collection of poetry published by those of African American descent, but also the first definitive collection of Louisiana Creole collected voice in the Americas. In defiance to the ban on publication of works by people of color, Armand Lanusse (New Orleans poet, educator, and editor) gathered eighty-five poems composed by seventeen free blacks and gens de couleur libres, the only collection of its kind!
9 Violets and Other Tales, Alice Dunbar Nelson
An early central figure to both Louisiana literature and Southern literature, Alice Moore (Dunbar Nelson after her marriage to Paul Dunbar Nelson, whom she later divorced), embodies not only region, but history of mixed race people at a crucial time. While I have chosen this work, as it is available electronically and includes poetry, her other works- biography, short stories, and poems (often published in journals) should not be over looked! Born in New Orleans to a former slave mother and Creole father Dunbar Nelson’s work reaches past time into contemporary Creole and people of color experiences. “Through her career Alice Moore wrote four novels, two volumes of oratory, dramas, newspaper columns, two collections of essays, poems, short stories and reviews, many of which drew on her extensive knowledge of Creole culture. In all of these collections, Alice Moore proved to be a perceptive critic of American society.”[vi]
10 Smoked Mullet Cornbread Crawdad Memory, Rain Goméz
[i] Note I am referring to the now more common use of Louisiana Creole to define those people of color, rather than the 19th century designation of white (French) Creole and/or Creoles of Color.
[ii] Colson, Janet R. THE Creole Book. Natchitoches: Lulu, 2012. Print.
[iii] Note, I do not include self-published texts, but rather those published by presses large and small, with the exception of literature pre-1930.
[iv] From Barnes and Nobel.com
[v] From Amazon.com
[vi] From The Black Past.Org: http://www.blackpast.org/?q=aah/dunbar-nelson-alice-ruth-moore-1875-1935