By Nancy Sharon Collins
During COVID-19, events are podcast.
LETTERS READJan 01, 2022
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR XI: Water & Salt
This production was created from material collected during the creation of Drugs, Sex, Rock & Roll: A Year of Magic and Wonder. Which coincided with the project’s director/writer’s move back from New York to New Orleans. Quoting from the script, Collins’s observation was that moving home was “kind of like sleeping with an old lover.”
Meanwhile, significant municipal water issues collided in both cities and, in the Middle East.
Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio.
Want to support this compelling series, we'd love you to. Go to https://lettersread.net/donate/.
IMAGE: Henniker, Frederick. Notes, During a Visit to Egypt, Nubia, the Oasis, Mount Sinai, and Jerusalem. London: John Murray, 1823. Shown above is an aquatint fold-out view of Jerusalem “whose precision could let a traveler use it for wayfinding.” —https://www.drawingpalestine.com/jerusalem.htm
LETTERS READ: DRUGS, SEX, ROCK & ROLL. A Year of Magic and Wonder.
Listen to this iteration of an oft-told tale. How easily an innocent out of towner is drawn to the dark side of New Orleans. This specific story, ca. 1985, focuses on one year, one incredibly transformative year. For one man. Emblematic of many lured to the Big Easy, a famously lurid city.
Counter intuitively, this potentially tragic tale resolves itself into a beautiful, tie-dye butterfly. In which a Tulane undergraduate magically emerges going on to a fulfilling queer life and hugely successful, big city, New York City career. Geoff Munsterman reads as the subject named James, just James. Shadow Angelina Starkey reads as Nancy Sharon Collins, the project director. Historic context has been corroborated by consultant, Royd Anderson. Production was performed by Munsterman and Starkey.
LETTERS READ: Robert Moses & The Riverfront Expressway
Continuing our New York/New Orleans journey, we bring you the only project Robert Moses ever did in the Crescent City. Locally referred to as the Riverfront Expressway.
Robert Moses, the greatest builder New York has ever known, is so often credited with it. Even though it never happened. As frequently, he is also incorrectly blamed for the Claiborne Expressway. That, horrendously, did.
This podcast is part of the ongoing script development for a fully realized live performance later this year about Moses, his engagement in this project, and the historic outcomes.
The reading is based on primary source research in The Robert Moses Collection at the New York Public Library and Moses’ 1946 Arterial Plan for New Orleans commissioned by the state of Louisiana. Additional information comes from newspaper articles, past and current, hearsay, Facebook, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, Richard Baumbach and William Borah’s The Second Battle of New Orleans, and Hilary Ballon’s Robert Moses and the Modern City.
For information on the current fight to remove the Claiborne Overpass and links to other resources used for this production, go to lettersread.net/resources.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR X: Introducing the 2023 Season, Director’s Note
Introducing Season 7. Letters Read director, stationer, Nancy Sharon Collins talks about this year’s theme: the two very different cities that she loves. And, a lagniappe as they say in south Louisiana. A little something extra to maybe pull at your heartstrings, just a little.
Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio.
LETTERS READ: Lady Louisiana Artist Magen Raine Gladden
Premiering 6:00 pm EDT New Years’ Eve 2022, LEMONS TO LEMONADE. And available here thereafter.
Finishing up the Lady Louisiana Artist series for 2022 is a true lemons to lemonade story. Magen Raine Gladden. Commercial artist. She was born into a hippy dirt road collective along River Road in South Louisiana with a lifetime of health challenges. Now a leader through the lens of workplace equity and inclusivity rights. This podcast goes live on December 31st.
Shadow Angelina Starkey reads as Gladden. Shadow is a Cajun poet and photographer whose family has called New Orleans home since 1727.
Geoff Munsterman—poet, editor, & book artist from Plaquemines Parish now living in New Orleans’ Holy Cross neighborhood—narrates.
Find out more about six full programming seasons at LETTERS READ.
Want to support this compelling series, we'd love you to. Go to https://lettersread.net/donate/.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR IX: Takin' it from the Street
As our name suggests, Letters Read focuses on letters. Personal and business. From institutional archives and special collections, private and commercial libraries. In addition to letters, in our programming, we read other forms of written correspondence. Like faxes, text messages, emails, and now this collection of letters literally picked up off of New Orleans streets.
Describing these as letters may be a stretch. The best manner of talking about them is as missives. Notes. Notes to self. Lists. To-do lists. Some reading like poetry. Formulas, recipes.
This is one of our incubator presentations. Works in process. Experimental. It is dedicated to Diana, a great lover of poetry. And supporter of this project.
Heartfelt thanks to Bob. You will hear more about him in the podcast.
LETTERS READ: Lady Louisiana Artist Angela Gregory
Co-hosted by Neal Auction Company.
Angela Gregory was born to the New Orleans intellectual white elite in 1903. A time when proper ladies accompanied their mother to country club tea. With her parent’s blessing, Angela took a different path. At an early age, she knew that she wanted to be an artist. Not just an artist, a sculptress in stone, to be precise!
Her earliest influence was her mother, Selina Brès Gregory. A Newcomb College alum and recognized Newcomb Pottery artist. Angela was precocious. When 14, she learned clay modeling and relief casting from Ellsworth Woodward at Newcomb. She also took classes from Albert Rieker at the Arts and Crafts Club in New Orleans and spent a summer working in the New York studio of Charles Keck. She graduated from Newcomb in 1925. With her parent’s patronage, she moved to Paris to study art.
It is to be remembered that in 1925 it would be rare if not impossible for a lady to travel abroad alone without a husband, brother, or other trusted chaperone such as a matron auntie. Life as in independent individual was squarely the privilege of men. For the determined Angela, this was no barrier.
In Paris, she became the only American ever to study in Antoine Bourdelle’s stone sculpture studio. Angela Gregory credited her unusual success as a an early lady artist to Bourdelle’s tutelage and belief in her as an artist. In the middle of the twentieth century when women had just been granted the vote, Angela Gregory became the “doyenne of Louisiana sculpture”. Producing major public and private art commissions significant today.
This podcast quotes from Gregory and Nancy Penrose's biography of Angela Gregory, from which the image can be found, A Dream and a Chisel.
Angela Gregory’s artwork, and that of many of her influences such as Selina Brès Gregory, William and Ellsworth Woodward, Newcomb pottery, are prized valuable pieces of art today. Her independent drive also influenced artists living today such as lady Louisiana artist, Jacqueline Bishop. Many Louisiana artists in this podcast are supported by Neal.
LETTERS READ: Lady Louisiana Artist Michel Varisco
First in the 2022 mini-series, Lady Louisiana Artist is letters and missives to and from eco-feminist artist, and Letters Read Executive Advisory Board member, Michel Varisco.
Our subject in this recording creates photography, assemblages, and installations that bear witness to our relationship with nature as observed in architecture, engineered, and the wild.
Varisco writes further about the promotional image for this listing...“Sr. Alison McCrary, the radical nun and lawyer is holding a dead yellow warbler. She had told me she was mourning the slow death of the Catholic Church, while I mourn the disconnect of religion for the environment and the future of all sentient beings.” —2019 King Tides exhibit, Good Children Gallery, New Orleans, LA.
In addition to letters from Varisco’s wide family of friends, cohorts, fellow artists and collaborators, this podcast includes edits from the email exchange between Letters Read Director and lady Louisiana artist, Jacqueline Bishop. Bishop contributed in an advisory manner for this production. Her work reflects on complex connections between climate change, species extinction, and migration.
About the image: WARBLER, thermal dye print on aluminum, by Michel Varisco. Of this piece, Varisco writes, “I used a warbler ... Ersy's gift stuck in my mind, just not that specific bird. this one I froze years later to use."
LETTERS READ: The Only Person Brought to Trial for Conspiracy to Assassinate President John F. Kennedy
Wrapping-up the previous programming season, Doing Business in New Orleans, we present the story of Clay Shaw. On March 1, 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison arrested him on conspiracy charges. Shaw was a beloved, successful, local businessman, and closeted queer man.
On January 29, 1969, Garrison tried Shaw in Orleans Parish Criminal Court on three conspiracy charges. A little over a month later the jury took less than one hour to acquit Shaw.
After, “…jurors expressed their bewilderment as to motive. Respectable socialite Clay Shaw, it strained credulity as to why he would become involved in the murder of the President. Jim Garrison believed that Shaw was acting as Oswald’s shepherd in New Orleans, under instructions from CIA. But he couldn’t prove it, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt.” —Joan Mellen.
Many theories swirl around these, now infamous, Big Easy characters. Both Shaw and Garrison. This reading strives to represent the man who was Clay Shaw and, to a lesser extend, who was Garrison.
Robert Valley reads as the voice of Shaw, David Zalkind is Jim Garrison. Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio.
PHOTO: 1956. Clay Shaw dressed for Mardi Gras. From an original 35mm slide in a boxed tray labelled, “Carnival, 2/14/56. Sally Del Sue Ray.” Property and copyright of Letters Read.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR VIII: Mid-20th Century Foreign Intrigue & the Almighty American Dollar
Wrapping-up the 2021 Doing Business in New Orleans season is a true, rags to riches story. Another incubator-style, informal production, with stuff found along the way. That may or may not fit into full-length Letters Read, Louisiana and New Orleans-centric, programming. This material surfaced while researching the Clay Shaw story. That story is postponed until 2022. Shaw is referred to more than once in this reading because there’s a rhyme in it, a theme that repeats in this story, and in Clay Shaw’s. Throughout, the reader is Letters Read Director, Nancy Sharon Collins. Additionally, a link to the 2008 panel discussion referred to in this broadcast is HERE. And a link to the other referred-to party, a Letters Read Executive Advisor, Michel Varisco, is HERE.
LETTERS READ: Mad Men New Orleans-style!
Premiering Thursday, November 25, letters and ephemera created in 1962 by a local professional association for graphic designers.
If you liked the TV show, Mad Men, you’ll love the real thing, New Orleans-style. Art Directors and Designers Association of New Orleans (ADDA) was chartered in 1961. Illustrators, lettering artists, art directors, photographers, commercial artists, and graphic designers banded together and promoted themselves to advertising executives throughout the Gulf South.
Central to this was a promotional slideshow presentation. Digitized in 2008. You can view an animation of it HERE.
If you are curious about the then new-fangled entertainment gizmo, slideshows, watch the Mad Men scene about their origin, HERE.
In this compelling podcast, join reader Colin B. Miller, himself a practicing graphic designer, as he continues the 2021 programming theme, Doing Business in New Orleans.
For this production, thanks are given to Steve Chyzyk and Steve Himelfarb, Sonic Canvas Studio. To Paul Broussard for additional recording. To Antenna, the project's fiscal partner. Thanks always to major funders, Corner and Reba Judith Sandler Foundations, Mark Cotton, Robert Heriard, Gayle Boudousqie, and to our executive advisory board Bill Hagler, Cole Halpern, Chris Kamenstein, and Michel Varisco. Additionally, thanks to Letters Read alum, Adam Newman. The very last ADDA vice president and, to this day, a practicing graphic designer.
Special thanks to the first president of ADDA. Don Smith, now 92. Who physically gave the slideshow presentation to Mrs. Collins, project director. Thanks to Don’s work chum back in the day at Knox Reeves Fitzgerald, Ron Thomson, now President - Marketing, Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald. The current agency from who Knox-Reeves Fitzgerald evolved. Thanks to Dave Walker, THNOC. Big thanks to Kure Croker, Loyola University Special Collections and Archives for ongoing support of the History of Graphic Design in South Louisiana physical archives and to Jennifer Abrams, director, T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History for her unwavering support of the oral history part of that project.
Intro and outro-music are from the reel-to-reel audio tape recording of the original jingle composed and performed in 1961 by Paul Guma.
Image: Slide 32 in the 1962 Art Directors and Designers Association of New Orleans slideshow presentation.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR VIII: The Power of a Personal Letter
As prelude to the Thanksgiving, 2021 reading, we share advertising executive Ron Thomson's story about the letter he wrote to motion picture actress, Audrey Hepburn, and the friendship that ensued. Thomson is President - Marketing, Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald, Inc. The oldest agency in the southern United States. By the time they met, Hepburn had already starred in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Charade, and My Fair Lady. Winning Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards.
When Thomson sent the pivotal letter, Hepburn was devoting herself to UNICEF. Her work with UNICEF was the reason Thomson became emboldened enough to write to the famous Hollywood star.
Back in the day (1960s) Thomson worked with Don Smith, art director and fellow adman at Knox Reeves Fitzgerald in New Orleans. It was the largest advertising agency in the South. The Letters Read Thanksgiving podcast tells one story about the old ad-days Don and Ron share.
Image: Paramount-photo by Bud Fraker - eBayfrontback, Public Domain.
LETTERS READ: Bananas Anyone?
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR VII: Yellow Fever, Mosquitos, and Monkeys
As a bit of comic relief to the July 15th, 2021 podcast, "Bananas Anyone", Letters Read project director Nancy Sharon Collins puts forth her science fiction theory to 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).
LETTERS READ: The Letters of Edgar Degas
This reading is of personal letters from Edgar Degas surrounding his 4-month stay in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.
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.
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR VI: Michel Musson, 1849
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 family's 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 in 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 firstborn. 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
LETTERS READ: A Conversation with Two Actors
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR V: George & Colin Talk about Southern Stereotypes that some Tennessee Williams Figures have Become
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR IV: Baron Joseph-Xavier Delfau de Pontalba & the Yellow Fever Epidemic in New Orleans
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.
LETTERS READ: The Letters of Robert W. Stuart
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.
LETTERS READ: The Letters of Skip Ward
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.
LETTERS READ: The Letters of Stewart Butler
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR III: A Preliminary Reading of Personal Letters to Stewart Butler
The letters in both readings were from a large wooden chest in 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.
LETTERS READ: A Narrative of Baroness de Pontalba
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.
LETTERS READ: Codex II
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.
LETTERS READ: The Nature of Property Ownership, and the Origins of Felicity Redevelopment
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.
LETTERS READ: The Desegregation of New Orleans Public Libraries
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
6:00 to 7:30 pm
Nora Navra Library, 1902 St. Bernard Avenue
Free and open to the public.
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.
LETTERS READ: Janet Mary Riley
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR II: Dorian Bennett Talks about His Friend Tennessee Williams
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
LETTERS READ: The Luck of Friendship
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.
LETTERS READ: Text Dating Part II
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.
LETTERS READ: Text Dating Part I
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.
LETTERS READ INCUBATOR I: Peter Rogers Meets Tennessee Williams & Vivien Leigh
LETTERS READ: Veterans Day
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