By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT — As Zilla noted, the Boss is at CPAC and is covering all things politics, so I’m going to veer away from politics today. Living in Louisiana with a special legislative session underway, there is no shortage of political topics here, but while our legislators wreck our budget and cut funding to higher education and the other likely targets, I’m going to digress and talk about one of the positive reasons to live in Louisiana.
We have a lot of festivals! We love to eat and to have fun! Louisiana is absolutely beautiful in the spring! Put all that together and we have the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival in April! Books and literary festivals are right up my alley: I love them! I love book bazaars, book festivals, book fairs, the whole thing.
How perfect is this event?! It will be in New Iberia in the spring which is in south Louisiana, below Lafayette. The festival is named for local son James Lee Burke who set his Dave Robicheaux series in New Iberia. I’ve been a fan of his Dave Robicheaux character for years. In fact, that’s one of the things that drew me to Michael Henry’s books; his Willie Mitchell character reminded me a lot of Dave Robicheaux.
Nearly every event at Books Along the Teche looks enticing. On Friday, April 6, the festival starts at 9 a.m. with a food tasting and everyone knows Louisiana food is fantastic and Louisiana cooks reign. In the afternoon there is lunch at Dave Robicheaux’s favorite cafeteria and then a tour of Iberia parish featuring Dave’s “haunts and jaunts.”
Louisiana author Ernest Gaines will be the featured guest this year and on Saturday afternoon he will lead a reading and then host a question and answer session. Gaines is the author of A Lesson Before Dying and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, among many other works. The film adaptation of Miss Jane Pittman will be featured in a free screening Friday afternoon. Now, how cool would it be to meet Ernest Gaines!
What is also at the top of my list is the Jazz it Up opening reception Friday night featuring a Cochon de Lait and a jazz band but best of all it will be held at Shadows on the Teche, the plantation home of Weeks Hall who was a friend of Lyle Saxon and a fascinating character! A visit to this plantation is on my bucket list.
Shadows-on-the-Teche was the home of the Weeks family. Construction began in 1831 and was completed 1834 for David Weeks and his wife, Mary Clara Conrad Weeks. According to Richard Lewis, curator of visual arts at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans, the land was granted to Weeks’s father, William, in 1792 through a Spanish land grant. William continued to purchase property throughout the area and eventually accumulated over 2,000 acres.
David Weeks and his father grew some cotton but focused primarily on sugar cane in the early 1820s. William retained carpenter James Bedell and mason Jeremiah Clark to build the Shadows but he died before the house was completed. When his widow remarried, she kept her property separate from that of her second husband. When she died the plantation passed to her son, William F. Weeks who died in 1895; then it passed to his daughters, one of whom was Lily Weeks Hall. She died in 1918 and her son, William Weeks Hall returned to the plantation from Paris. He acquired all family shares and at the age of 25 became the sole owner of the plantation.
Weeks Hall spent the rest of his life restoring the plantation to its original grandeur. He used family papers and a complete set of construction records to achieve this, according to Richard Lewis in his book, Robert W. Tebbs: Photographer to Architects. Architects Richard Koch (1889-1971) and Charles R. Armstrong (d. 1947) were retained to restore the home “to its 1830s appearance.” When Weeks Hall died in 1959 he bequeathed the home to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Koch and Samuel Wilson, Jr. did restoration work for the National Trust in 1961 and since then the gardens have also been restored.
The festival will also feature an Academic Symposium in which Professor of English at University of Lafayette, Dr. Mary Ann Wilson will present Ode to a Lost World: James Lee Burke’s Tin Roof Blowdown. She says “the title works on many levels as will my presentation pointing out the deeply moral vision of Burke as he confronts the trauma and tragedy of environmental and human disasters like Katrina all the while telling a crackerjack detective story.”
If I’m feeling brave I might even join in on the Bouree lessons, but I know from experience that playing Bouree with a bunch of Cajuns can be a risky proposition!
But seriously, If I were dreaming up the perfect festival, this would be it.
New Iberia is beautiful all of the time but especially so in the spring. This could not be a more perfect trip and a perfect escape from winter.