From the Bookshelf

The Amazing Crawfish Boat, John Laudun, University Press of Mississippi

Making a living on Louisiana’s prairies and in its marshes is difficult, but generations of residents have demonstrated adaptability and ingenuity to defy challenges the landscapes and waterways pose. Laudun, an associate professor of English at UL Lafayette, suggests the crawfish boat exemplifies this innovative spirit.

The craft enabled the region’s farmers to flood rice fields that otherwise would be unused between planting seasons so they could raise crawfish. The marriage of agriculture and aquaculture created an industry that produces 125 million pounds of crawfish in any given year.

An amphibious boat – envisioned, designed and built by farmers themselves – ensured the industry’s success. A wheel mounted on the flat-bottomed boat’s back propels the craft. It permits the vessel to turn quickly or to stop instantly to check traps, unlike boats driven by paddles or propellers. Agility is critical to navigating a crawfish field without disturbing its bounty.

Laudun uses archival materials, oral histories and ethnographic accounts to trace the boat’s development, but The Amazing Crawfish Boat isn’t solely a work of history and folklore. The voices of craftsmen who build the boats and farmers who use them run throughout the book, giving the narrative “a sense of real life” on the Louisiana prairies today, one reviewer noted.

Tempest: Hurricane Naming and American Culture, Liz Skilton, LSU Press

When the U.S. Weather Bureau began naming hurricanes and other tropical storms in 1953, officials decided to use only female names. The system drew criticism, but remained in place for a quarter century. In 1978, the government introduced new guidelines and began alternating between male and female storm names in a pattern that continues.

The hurricanes Tempest features are well-known to Louisiana and Gulf South residents – Betsy, Camille, Andrew, Katrina and Harvey, among others. Skilton, an assistant professor of history at UL Lafayette, finds the gendered names often inspired imagery in media reports, official studies and other sources that affected how the public perceived and remembered the weather events. For example, masculine-named storms often were portrayed as stronger, while feminine-named systems might be described as “unladylike.”

In addition to relating the evolution and implications of storm naming, the book delves into other aspects of hurricane history. Skilton describes attempts to use science to control hurricanes during the Cold War, and places opposition to female-only storm names within the wider context of the 1960s and 1970s women’s rights movement.

Tempest also describes how the introduction of 24-hour televised news and the advent of social media platforms increased interest in, and understanding of, hurricanes and other disasters.

Anthologie de la littérature louisianaise d’expression française de 1682 à nos jours, Mathé Allain, Barry Jean Ancelet, Tamara Linder and May Rush Gwin Waggoner, editors, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press

The anthology surveys nearly four centuries of French-language literature in Louisiana. It compiles poems, short stories, songs and plays, and includes transcriptions of Cajun and Creole oral traditions.

As the book’s introduction notes, there is no singular French literary heritage in Louisiana; rather, the literature encompasses distinct geographical and cultural elements.

One includes written works produced largely in New Orleans by French and African Creoles in the 18th and 19th centuries and influenced by contemporary literature produced in France. Acadian exiles and their descendants who lived in rural southwestern Louisiana created a separate literary heritage starting in the 1700s and continuing well into the late 1900s. These works were rooted in oral tradition and passed from one generation to the next.

The anthology preserves and examines both spheres by reproducing them in French. Readers will find excerpts from antebellum New Orleans writers such as Armand Lanusse, a free person of color, as well as 20th-century ballads by Cajun musicians such as the late D.L. Menard, a Grammy-nominated guitarist. Works from the Acadian Renaissance, and later songs and poems inspired by this period of renewed cultural pride, also are included.

Allain, Ancelet and Waggoner are retired UL Lafayette professors who taught in the Department of Modern Languages. Linder is an associate professor of French and Francophone studies at the University.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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