Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Everything I never wanted to know about leprosy…

…I learned from James Carville. Yes, THAT James Carville. Seriously.

Last weekend I attended the 24th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, an extravaganza of wordiness and worldliness, featuring writers, publishers, performers, and literary experts from around the country.

I didn’t get to take advantage of everything the fest had to offer, but I did get to enjoy some fantastic events and meet some fantastic people.

On Thursday night I competed in the festival’s poetry slam, held at One Eyed Jack’s and hosted by New Orleans’ own Chuck Perkins. It was my first time competing in a slam, though I’ve been doing readings for years. My friend Becky showed up to show some support, and while I didn’t win, I didn’t really expect to. There were tons of fabulous poets there, including the slam poets; Chuck Perkins; and my friend and festival organizer, poetry goddess Lane Lane Miller.

On Friday, as a favor to Laura, I helped out at the festival’s information booth, directing fest-goers to events, restrooms, restaurants, ticket sales, etc., and checking in authors, panelist, and board members. While I had put the previous night’s slam out of my mind already, I was thrilled to have a least a half dozen people recognize me throughout the day as one of the competitors and congratulate me on my performance. Even though I well aware that there were many poets there who were better than I was and never really intended to win, being recognized repeatedly for doing a good job made my day.

Like other festival volunteers, I received a panel pass for the remaining days of the festival, which I took full advantage of. Saturday I began the day with “Conversation with James Carville,” which led right into “Kept In, Kept Out: The Haunting Secrets of Carville, Louisiana,” a panel that featured James Carville, Jose Ramirez Jr. (author of Squint: My Journey with Leprosy), Neil White (In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir), and Marcia G. Gaudet (author of Carville: Remembering Leprosy in America).

While most people are accustomed to hearing James Carville speak as a world-renowned political consultant, listening to him recount his days as a young boy growing up in rural Louisiana was a refreshing and fascinating change.

Carville (which was renamed to its current name in 1909…the postmaster’s name was Carville) was the home of the national Hansen’s Disease Center, which operated for more than 100 years as a “leprosarium” and for a short time as a federal prison. Hansen’s disease is more commonly known to most people as leprosy, though Hansen’s disease is the correct and acceptable name.

Aside from James Carville’s memories of growing up in Carville, for me the most interesting panel member was Jose Ramirez Jr., a native of Laredo, Texas, who in 1968 was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease and banished to the Hansen’s Disease Center. His story was gripping, and his struggle to recover and then to educate others on the truth about Hansen’s disease was inspirational.

At one point in the discussion, Ramirez challenged his audience to go out and educate ten people on what they had learned that day. Here’s what I learned.

The word “leper” is NEVER acceptable, as its connotations are far more negative than just a description for persons suffering from Hansen’s.

Hansen’s disease, while challenging to diagnose, as it requires a biopsy and a specific test, is easily curable. It’s a chronic bacterial disease and is treated with antibiotics. Persons diagnosed with it are most often treated as an outpatient and cured within 48 hours. Not treated. Cured.

Hansen’s disease is not as contagious as people have long believed. In fact, no more than 5 percent of the population is susceptible to the bacteria that cause the disease.

The Hansen’s Disease Center closed its doors in 1999, but this place is now the site of the National Hansen's Disease Museum.

I could probably go on about how fascinating this panel was, but the rest of the festival was equally as informative and entertaining. After the panel on Carville, Louisiana, I attended one called “The Civil Way in Fact and Fiction,” featuring Robert Hicks (author of A Separate Country, a novel about General John Bell Hood) and Molly Haskell (author of Frankly, My Dear: “Gone With the Wind” Revisited). Hicks spoke about General Hood as a man and as a general, his life, and his leadership. Haskell’s book focuses on the making of the film Gone With the Wind, which I’m thinking it might be time for me to finally read/see.

I left that panel to head immediately to “The Business Side of the Publishing Industry: The Agent, Editor, and Publisher Connection,” in which the panelists, all experts in their fields, walked attendees though the details of finishing a book, acquiring an agent, finding a publisher, and communication with publicity experts to market your book.

While it was very informative, from my perspective, I won’t go into all the details. Suffice it to say that I’m acquiring a good base of knowledge in case I ever get motivated enough to write a book.

The same can be said of the following morning’s panel, “Books Unbound: How Digital Delivery Is Changing How Stories Are Told, Sold, and Read.” Sounds fascinating, doesn’t it? Eh. Probably not from an average reader’s perspective. But as a writer these are considerations that will affect me one way or another in the future, unless I never aspire to write a novel or story or book of poetry and just continue posting silly blogs for the rest of my days.

I took a break from my fest-going to partake of some refreshing libations at New Orleans’ best bar, the Erin Rose. With good prices, a largely local clientele, and an awesome staff, this is my favorite place in the city. If you haven’t been there and you live here, well, shame on you. If you live elsewhere and haven’t been there, that’s just one more excuse to come visit me.

Also occurring simultaneously as the literary festival this weekend was the New Orleans Roadfood Festival on Royal Street, featuring some great food from not only around Louisiana but around the country. Hats off to the barbecue joint from Texas, Louie Meuller’s Texas Barbecue, who brought their whole smoker with them. Man, that was some damn good brisket.

I followed up my brisket-filled mouth-gasm with an event that closes out the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival each year — the Stella and Stanley shouting contest, the preliminaries of which are held in Jackson Square from one of the balconies of the Cabildo. Stella, in all her Southern charm, stood perched on the balcony awaiting her callers. Next to her was Stanley, last year’s winner of the contest. Twenty-five contestants competed in the contest, which was open to both men and women. I was pleased to see my friend Brian in the contest…nice job, Brian! Of the contestants in the preliminaries, three were women, but only one shouted for Stanley (even though I thought he was pretty good looking). I found that…interesting.

I didn’t stay for the finals of the contest, as I had spent the weekend ignoring my own clients and work and needed to go home to catch up. In true New Orleans fashion, I met up with my dear friends Andie and Charlie on the way home and wound up drinking far too much wine to get any work done. But it was totally worth it.

Overall, I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t attend more of the literary festival when I knew about it last year. I’ve gained a great deal more insight into the publishing world than I had before, listened to participants’ heartfelt stories, and met some amazing people.

And I now have many more authors to add to my own Amazon wishlist. I may never finish reading…

1 comment:

Diane said...

No one can ever read enough or learn enough. Nice blog. That reminds me...is there not a novel already in your hands (quickly becoming dated) that needs a publisher????