Now in its fifth consecutive season, LETTERS READ is the series of usually live events in which local performance artists interpret personal letters written by culturally vital individuals from various times and Louisiana communities and is an ongoing series presented by stationer Nancy Sharon Collins and Antenna.
Welcome to this reading from a handmade, 1906 photo-album compiled in response to the last documented yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans and the United States.
The podcast is fourteenth in the ongoing, Letters Read project. Readers are William Bowling and Grace Kennedy with audio production by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas Studio. Antenna is the project’s fiscal partner, and, 2021 is the fifth consecutive season.
In photographs and text, “Quarantine Tour of Central America and Panama by Health Authorities as guests of The United Fruit Company” presents the idea that bananas imported by the largest importer of them in the world at that time were safe and did not promote the spread of yellow fever.
What was the real purpose for this curious piece of ephemera compiled and produced in New Orleans? Documentation of United Fruit’s best practices in sanitation and mosquito abatement? Merely propaganda? Follow along online in the digitized album at The Historic New Orleans Collection Williams Research Center.
The album is large, slightly crumbling. After the covers and end pieces, it contains 83 individual pages. 69 are photographs, 14 are text, letterpress printed. The cover boards are faux leather, a composite of some sort, and the title gold-foil-stamped on it in a calligraphic lettering style reminiscent of Looney Tunes or Bugs Bunny cartoons titles. The spine is leather in matching burgundy red. The physical article is at The Historic New Orleans Williams Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana.
All of the photographs are black and white, mounted by hand, with a black paper border on alpha-cellulose paper.
Through the album’s lens, we see orderly ports and company towns, infrastructure like steam shovels, roads and railways being constructed; agriculture, maritime, and river industries; hospitals and quarantine stations. New, Colonial-style buildings and, except for members of a few brass bands, a couple of inhabitants of a “Native Hut”—or three, “Hospital Nurses”, “Natives Marketing Bananas”, and soldiers representing the “Honduras Army Stationed at Cortez”, there are very very few locals represented. The only people photographed, pretty much, are white, North American representatives in rumpled suits. Where were all the workers? What were their working conditions? Other than brief textual descriptions of United Fruit’s best practices, not a single practice was photographed.
Listen now. A brief prelude to tomorrow’s “Bananas Anyone” podcast launching July 15, 2021, at 6:00 pm CDT. Here on anchor.fm/lettersread.
In this recording, Letters Read project director Nancy Sharon Collins puts forth a science fiction theory on her neighbor, microbiology scholar Claiborne Christian, Ph.D., Tulane University, New Orleans.
The following snippet was recorded on her deck, during a typical, New Orleans thunderstorm. You will hear the pouring rain.
The distinct sound of the rain is an ironic nod to the subject of tomorrow's Letters Read.
Image: Scientific illustration of the “Aedes aegypti” mosquito, the primary carrier of the Zika virus. (Illustration by Vichai Malikul, Entomology Department, National Museum of Natural History).
This reading is of personal letters from Edgar Degas surrounding his 4-month stay in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.
Christopher Kamenstein reads as Degas; audio production is by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas studio. The event is emceed by stationer and Letters Read director Nancy Sharon Collins.
Join us here for an intimate listen to thoughts and emotions experienced by Edgar Degas as he visits his mother’s family in the Crescent City as it strives to heal post-antebellum wounds after the American Civil War. Business, money, family, property ownership, class, race, and privilege, all play important roles in this compelling story.
In late 1872, Degas accompanied his brother René to New Orleans where he observed his paternal family’s business managing the post-Civil War cotton trade. The painting used to illustrate this online event is the oft cited depiction of his time while visiting. It captures a moment during the decline of his uncle Michel Musson’s business, the Cotton Office. Which went bankrupt shortly thereafter. A situation exacerbated by his brother René’s desertion of his wife, children, and failure to make good on a large debt.
Upon his return to France early in 1873, Edgar learned that René had also bankrupted their own father’s banking business.
It was about this time and occasioned by the family’s multiple financial misfortunes that Degas turned his trade as a serious painter into a successful livelihood.
This podcast is hosted by Pitot House and co-promoted by Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orléans. Letters Read fiscal sponsor is Antenna.
Special thanks go to Christopher Benfey and Marilyn R. Brown in particular. Additional thanks to the Wildenstein Plattner Institute for providing their recently published The Letters of Edgar Degas edited by Theodore Reff. For more information, go to RESOURCES in the Letters Read website. To donate, go HERE.
IMAGE: A Cotton Office in New Orleans by Edgar Degas, painted in New Orleans, Louisiana, 1873. The painting is in the collection of Musee des Beaux-Arts de Pau, Pau, France.
A prelude to the March 25, 2021 reading, The Letters of Edgar Degas, hosted by Pitot House and co-promoted by Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orléans. Michel is Edgar Degas’s maternal uncle. Pitot House was once owned by Degas's maternal grandmother.
In this reading, Michel writes of his son, Eugene Henri, 9 years of age, whose illness and death are documented.
The letters, September 8th and 9th, are from the Degas and Musson families papers, Manuscripts Collection 226, Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
Michel’s father, to whom these letters are addressed, was Germain Musson. A native of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti. It had been a French colony until the Haitian Revolution toppled French and white supremacy, freed enslaved peoples, and empowered people of color. Germain, identifying as white, fled. Germain migrated to New Orleans about 1810, married a prominent member of the Creole community here, and made a fortune in Louisiana cotton and Mexican silver.
After his wife died ca 1819, he moved his children to France. There, they lived next door to a young French/Neapolitan banker, Auguste De Gas. Auguste and Michel’s sister, fell in love. They married, prospered, and had several children. Hillaire Germain Edgar De Gas was the first born. Today, we know him as Edgar Degas.
Eventually, Michel returned to New Orleans and created a new world fortune in cotton and insurance. This reading finds Michel at the top of his game, well before the Civil War when everything changed.
Ultimately, Michel’s business failed. As did the fortunes of the Musson clan and many privileged New Orleanians who had thrived before the war. During Reconstruction, the loss of privilege built into resentment which lead to organized insurrection and violence. Michel and several other males in the family became founding, and active members of the White League. “…a paramilitary cousin of the Ku Klux Klan called the White League. They had organized quickly into a dangerous and powerful force for white supremacy that forwent masks and hoods. Their 1874 rebellion was the culmination of years of racial and political terror in Louisiana and surrounding states, a resistance to Reconstruction that northern newspapers like the Cincinnati Gazette saw as ‘the old war in a new shape.” —The Saturday Evening Post, January 21, 2021. Accessed 03/18/21
For further The White League and The Battle of Liberty Place.
December 31st, 2020: A remote interview with two professional actors, George Saucier and Colin Miller in Lafayette, Louisiana. With ten questions as a format, this production threads excerpts from a two-hour conversation between George and Colin about being an actor, theatre as an art form, ruminations about Tennessee Williams, the Southern Gothic genre, and the arc of one’s career. In collaboration with Acting Up (In Acadiana) and Amy Waguespack, Artistic Director, and founder of Acting Up.
The audio production is by Steve Steve Chyzyk, and Steve Himelfarb, Sonic Canvas Studio in New Orleans.
The original conversation took place in George’s Lafayette studio. Nancy Sharon Collins recorded in Sonic Canvas Studio. Sonic Canvas’s sound quality differs from that captured in George’s studio, and, you will hear the difference. While discussing early influences, both actors refer to the Children’s Community School. George later refers to this as “CCS”. "The script" is mentioned several times. This is the 2018 Letters Read script that was to be restaged with Acting Up in March, 2020, before the pandemic altered everything.
This outtake is from the 16th full LETTERS READ production, to be podcast here on New Year’s Eve this year. George Saucier talks about the theatricality of southern archetypes while Collin Miller responds.
Intended for a March 2020 reading, from which the full-production and this snippet evolved, this event was to restage the 2018 Letters Read script about the arc of Tennessee Williams's career. Planned with Acting Up (in Acadiana) company members in association with the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, Louisiana, this was to be a live performance.
Then, COVID-19 happened, and the idea of live performances became pretty much impossible.
Over several months, with the generous help of Acting Up director, Amy Wagaspac, and these two Acting Up members, Collin and George, Letters Read producer Nancy Sharon Collins created something entirely new for the close of a universally awful year.
Captured in one, two-hour recording, the actors responded to ten questions Collins provided. Ten being nickname, or shorthand, for Tennessee.
Colin and George social distanced in George’s Lafayette studio with Nancy on mute on her phone. Later, Collins social distanced with audio producers Steve Chyzyk and Steve Himmerfarb in Sonic Canvas Studio, New Orleans.
Listen now for this Incubator-style teaser from the full-length conversation to be podcast at 6:00 pm CST, December 31, 2020.
Earlier recordings can also be heard in the Incubator category from two local New Orleanians who knew Williams. When Peter Rogers moved to New York City a long, long time ago, his roommate took him out on the town to a Tennessee Williams play, took him backstage where he met the star, and Williams. Then they all proceeded to go out on the town together. Dorian Bennett, who was in the 2018 Letters Read, remembers the 1980s while Williams lived in New Orleans French Quarter.
Image: 1951 Irving Penn portrait of Tennessee Williams in New York. Credit: Irving Penn for Vogue, April 15, 1951/Condé Nast.
Yesterday, the number of people with the coronavirus who died in the United States exceeded 300,000.
Today we offer another incubator-style, experimental reading from primary source material: Excerpted letters from Baron Joseph-Xavier Delfau de Pontalba written from New Orleans during the first documented Yellow Fever epidemic there.
It was recorded in Sonic Canvas Studio with audio producers Steve Chyzyk and Steve Himmelfarb. The original music is also by Steve. Our reader is Colin Miller.
The material in this reading was graciously translated and provided to us by Pierre Delfau de Pontalba, the Pontalba family historian, son of Charles-Edouard and Isabelle, Baron and Baroness de Pontalba. Further specimens have been excerpted by the Louisiana Museum Foundation.
The subject, Xavier as he was known, was born in 1754 in New Orleans and schooled in France. His father died when he was six. He served in the French and Spanish military retiring from the French army as captain. In 1784 he moved back to manage the family indigo plantation near New Orleans, Married “Ton Ton”, Jeanne Francoise Louise Le Breton. Niece of the most powerful man in Louisiana, then under Spanish rule, Governor Esteban Miro.
When the governorship ended, Miro, was sent back to Spain. Where he died. Xavier’s small family moved back to France. Ton Ton and their young son Celestine preceded. Xavier stayed, preparing the family property—much of which he had profitably developed—for more than two years. During this separation, Xavier wrote often to his wife in a long, epistolary letter sent in a time before regular mail when most post was hand carried.
We now time travel to 1796 New Orleans. Collin reads Xavier’s written thoughts to his wife who was very far away.
Image: Observations sur la fièvre jaune, faites à Cadix, en 1819 / par MM. Pariset et Mazet ... et rédigées par M. Pariset. Pariset, Etienne, 1770-1847.
November 30, 2020, hosted by Bastion | Community of Resilience, Gentilly, New Orleans. Featuring William Bowling, reader, Steve Chyzyk, and Steve Himelfarb, audio producers.
Robert, “Bob” Stuart was born in 1923, just three years after women in this country were allowed to vote. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana. He served in the Navy during WWII, was honorably discharged in May 1946, and lived a long and productive life as a civil servant in New Orleans. This during a time in the middle of the 20th century when identifying, or being identified as gay—or queer—could cause a dishonorable discharge from the military, strip you of civilian jobs, deny you housing, and ruin your reputation forever.
This event reflects upon the arc of Stuart’s life, the times through which he lived, and offers a tiny glimpse into correspondence from men who were his close and intimate friends, and one woman.
Letters and documents for this recording are from the Robert W. Stuart Papers, The Historic New Orleans Collection. Gift of Frank Perez, Acc. No. 2018.0225.
Thursday, August 20, 2020: Blanchard, “Skip” Ward was a gay activist in rural Louisiana during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and into the beginning of the 21st century. His home was in Pineville.
Skip became increasingly involved in LGBTQIA activism in the early 1980s when he first came out. Or, as he would have phrased it, “came up front” about his sexuality. He co-founded the Unitarian/Universalist Church’s Gay Caucus. He also created Louisiana’s first publication tailored to its gay population, called Le Beau Monde. Ward held some form of membership with nearly every Louisiana LGBTQIA organization from the 1970s onward and was particularly active in the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC), a political activist organization, and the Radical (or Raedical) Faeries, a national organization for rural-based gender and sexual non-conforming spiritualists.
The emcee for this event is Shannon Flaherty, co-artistic director of Goat in the Road Productions (GRP). Frank Perez, president of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana reads as the voice of Northern Louisiana conservative clergy. Two other ensemble GRP members are part of this reading. Owen Ever reads as the voice of Skip Ward and Dylan Hunter is the audio engineer on this production. Original music is composed and performed by Dylan as well.
The 14th Letters Read event and first produced entirely as a podcast.
The usual, live reading was scheduled for March 26, 2020 at Frenchman Art & Books on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. It was preempted by the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. Listen to Dylan Hunter as the voice of our subject. Rebecca Hollingsworth is Anne. Both self-recorded in the safety of their own home. Our emcee is Frank Perez, President of LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. Frank was recorded through a telephone conversation with Dylan. Dylan is also our audio engineer for this event. Music is written and performed by Rob Hudak.
This event provides a rare glimpse into the personal life of an important Louisiana political activist. It begins with the 1967 correspondence from Anne, an intimate friend. The reading weaves in annual Valentine’s letters beginning in 1999 that, as recently as this year, were still mailed to 200 of his dearest friends.
Since the 1970s, Butler was a significant force in the Louisiana civil rights movement. In 1984, 1986 and 1991 he strategically advocated for changing gay-rights ordinances. Butler was a co-founder of LGPAC (the Louisiana chapter of Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus) and has served on boards including the Lesbian and Gay Community Center, PFLAG, and LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana.
Thanks to Antenna, our fiscal agent. To David Zalkind, owner, Frenchman Art & Book, and to Dancing Grounds from whom we were borrowing chairs. The live audio engineer was to be Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio. Thanks also go to Bill Hagler, John Magill, Robert Feiseler, and Courtney Sharp for providing background and context. Thank you Letters Read narrative and storytelling advisors Ted Cotton and Cassie Pruyn.
Support for the 2020 programming season is provided by the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Corner Foundation, Reba Judith Sandler Foundation, and from private individuals to whom this project is enormously grateful.
The Letters Read 2020 Season is also funded under a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this event do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
As an experiment with potential material for LETTERS READ, this was the first in a series of live recordings for the 2020 programming season. A work in progress, this set of letters developed into the April, 2020 podcast of Stewart Butler letters.
The letters in both readings were from a large wooden chest in the home of Butler’s home, the Faerie Playhouse. A Letters Read sponsor, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, regularly met there.
We listen to a set of letters from 1967. Written to Butler, they were authored by Anne Garza. At the time these letters were accessed, Butler was 89. While his memory was crystal-clear on some points from his past, others eluded him. At the time of this recording, Stewart did not remember Anne yet continued sending $200 monthly to help support the widow of Greg Manella. Greg is also mentioned in this reading along with expectations and misgivings about being in a relationship in the middle of the last century.
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
The Cabildo Louisiana State Museum
The Louisiana Museum Foundation, Louisiana State Museum, Letters Read, Antenna, and stationer Nancy Sharon Collins bring an intimate, performative evening celebrating our love for history and architecture, and a unique understanding of our relationship with property.
A special reading in which professional actors read and interpret contemporary and historic communications surrounding the current exhibit The Baroness de Pontalba & the Rise of Jackson Square at the Louisiana State Museum’s Cabildo.
This event weaves the legacy of Don Andrés Almonester (1728–1798), his formidable daughter, Micaela, the Baroness de Pontalba (1795–1874), and specific members of her descendant family into an exploration of our notions of property and property ownership.
Special guests include emcee Christopher Kamenstein and Grace Kennedy.
About the image: “Spanish Cabildo” by artist Jim Blanchard, 1992. From the exhibition The Baroness de Pontalba & The Rise of Jackson Square at the Cabildo, French Quarter, New Orleans. The drawing was lent by Paul St. Martin and photographed by Advocate staff photographer Chris Granger.
Saturday, July 20, 2019
6:00 to 7:30 pm
Crescent City Books
124 Baronne Street, New Orleans, across from the Roosevelt Hotel.
Thanks to Susan Larson and George Ingmire for this recording and including it on their show, Thinking Outside the Book on New Orleans Public Radio.
ABC@PM, Crescent City Books, and LETTERS READ present a second open mic night for book nerds. CODEX is a conversation about the physicality and context of interacting with and using books. Attendees are encouraged to bring any book they’d like sharing! Loads of conversations about the interaction with and what is a book are a goal.
Listen to Jessica Peterson talk about her history and relationship to her favorite book.
Sunday November 25, 2018
3:30 to 5:00pm
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
1139 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.
New Orleans, LA.
Twenty years ago, a Northshore, LA developer worked with New Orleans Mayor Morial, two City Council members and two Central City clergymen to demolish a 4-square city block area between St. Mary and Polymnia streets, Baronne and an altered Carondelet Streets. What was planned to replace historic, architecturally important homes was a suburban strip mall-style Albertsons grocery store more than 60,000 square feet large. Two of the four city blocks were planned to become a parking lot.
Locals and preservationists were in an uproar and a grand fight ensued.
This is the story of why and how Felicity Redevelopment began and how two women stopped the Albertsons project from being built.
Mack C. Guillory III, emcee.
Grace Kennedy, reader.
Jeremy J. Webber, audio engineer.
Jeffrey B. Goodman, urban planning consultant.
Kure Croker, information consultant.
Thanks to the generous support of Dorian Bennett and Felicity Redevelopment, Inc, the script for this event was recorded live in the vault of Crescent City Books.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
6:00 to 7:30 pm
Nora Navra Library, 1902 St. Bernard Avenue
Free and open to the public.
Mack Guillory III, Emcee.
Julie Dietz, Reader.
The historic fight for civil rights in New Orleans is more complicated than most movements in the other 49 United States. Prior to Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era, free people of color here could legally own property. Free persons of color could even own slaves.
Another anomaly, albeit post-Jim Crow, is how and when our libraries changed from a separate but equal policy to total desegregation. Without fanfare, our libraries desegregated almost a decade prior to most of the rest of the deep South. An amazing accomplishment for a small, deeply southern town rooted in antebellum sensibilities and unique, international roots.
This event was made possible by Friends of the New Orleans Public Library and this recording was created live during the event.
To read more about desegregation in the Jim Crow era South, go here.
Though Janet Mary Riley did not define herself as a second wave feminist, by today’s standards, she was a quiet but fierce civil rights advocate and tireless women’s rights activist.
Throughout her life, she fought for equal pay in the workplace.
This event is dedicated to her successful efforts to revise Louisiana’s community property laws giving women equal management rights of a marriage’s community property. Prior to Riley’s heroic efforts, under Louisiana law, no married woman owned the right to manage her own property. That right was given, by law in marriage, to her husband. The law was changed in 1980.
The evening features emcee Chris Kaminstein, Co-Artistic Director of Goat in the Road Productions (GRP), and Leslie Boles Kraus, GRP Ensemble Member/Social Media Coordinator.
Through live readings of letters written during War I and World War II, LETTERS READ: Veterans Day presented little moments where lives of military service members and civilians intersected.
The November 11, 2017 reading focused on love letters from The National World War II Museum, letters from United States Army Air Force officer Francis I. Cervantes (1922-1945) to his mother while training for and serving in WWII, and correspondence between individuals organizing, administrating, and serving in World War I Newcomb Relief Unit overseas.
This special event was held at Bastion, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is an intentionally designed community for returning warriors and families in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans.
Emcee: Chris Kaminstein, Co-Artistic Director of Goat in the Road Music: Peter J. Bowling
Readers: Ashton Akridge, Mack Guillory III
Special Reader: Melinda Flynn
As part of researching the world of Tennessee Williams and his later life living, part-time, in New Orleans French Quarter, LETTERS READ producer Nancy Sharon Collins interviewed Dorian Bennett. Williams befriended Bennett in the 1980s, This is an edited moment from that interview.
Image: 722 Toulouse Street, ca. 1930s: A photo of 722 Toulouse Street that is thought to date to the 1930s. At the end of the 1930s, Williams made his way to New Orleans and, shortly after, to an apartment in this building. ~ Source: The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gift of Mrs. Solis Seiferth, acc. no. 1985.120.141
Welcome to LETTERS READ, sixth in the series of live events in which local artists interpret personal letters written by culturally vital individuals from various times and New Orleans communities presented by stationer Nancy Sharon Collins and Antenna.
Thanks to New Orleans Tennessee Williams Literary Festival and especially to Susan Larson whose idea it was for LETTERS READ to perform The Luck of Friendship, The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin, edited by Peggy Fox and Thomas Keith. Thanks also goe to readers Jean Allemond, Dante Fuoco, Reed Everette, Colin Miller, Robert Valley, Dorian Bennett, Augustin Correro, Wes McWhorter, Nick Shackleford. Extra special thanks to emcee by Chris Kaminstein.
Welcome to PART II of LETTERS READ: Text Dating. This is sixth in the ongoing series of live events in which local artists interpret personal letters written by culturally vital individuals from various times and New Orleans communities presented by me, Nancy Sharon Collins, and Antenna.
Thanks go to Antenna, Press Street, Paper Machine! If you don’t already know, Paper Machine is the new, bricks and mortar printing center in Old Arabi owned and operated by Antenna. It also houses Artist Book Collection.
Welcome to PART I in the fifth installment of LETTERS READ. The ongoing series of live events in which local artists interpret personal letters written by culturally vital individuals from various times and New Orleans communities presented by me, Nancy Sharon Collins, and Antenna.
Thanks to Antenna, Press Street, Paper Machine, and to contributors Mikita Brottman, Kyle Petrozza, John Rushing, Cate Root, Erin Callais, Folwell Dunbar, Chris Kamenstein, Charles Thomas T. Strider, and to emcee Adam Newman.
When Peter Rogers was a young man, he moved from Hattiesburg, MS, to Manhattan. He was so poor he took in a roommate to help share the rent. Introduced by fellow Hattiesburg-ites back home, Peter's roommate was non other than Jim Adams, Tennessee Williams’s cousin. In this short, Rogers recalls the evening Williams breezed into town, treated them to the Broadway play, Duel of Angels, with Vivien Leigh. After, Williams took them backstage to meet the beautiful Ms. Leigh, who went on to become Scarlett O'Hara in the movie, Gone with the Wind. Williams continued the evening entertainment with a post-theatre dinner and the (then) elicit Absinth, at his apartment chatting and drinking the infamous liquor until 4:00 in the morning. Needless to say, young Rogers was awestruck and impressed.