Thirteen W&M seniors are publishing a brief biography in French to the forthcoming open-access biographical encyclopedia on important figures of francophone Louisiana. The Class of 2017 seniors in French and Francophone Studies got a chance to engage with the authors, poets, and researchers whom they were studying, thanks to a collaboration between Prof. Nathan Rabalais and the publisher Éditions Tintamarre. Based in Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, Éditions Tintamarre is the only French-language press in the U.S.
Each student in the senior seminar, FREN 450 French and Creole Louisiana, started with some online research on a prominent writer or activist. The students then completed phone or Skype interviews with their “subjects” to get extra information and fact-check.
F&FS senior Paul Naanou remarked: “I actually happened to stumble upon Amanda LaFleur, a professor who has done a lot for the preservation of Cajun French, when I was in high school just starting to learn French. It was incredible being to talk to such a wealth of knowledge and be entrusted with the responsibility of conveying her story in a succinct yet informative way.”
Katie Weed, an accounting major with a strong interest in French, interviewed renowned folklorist and poet Barry Jean Ancelet in person. Professor Emeritus at UL Lafayette where he has served as Director of the Center for Acadian and Creole Folklore and Professor of Francophone Studies and Folklore, Ancelet came to W&M’s campus in March to speak to the students in FREN 450 and to give a public talk in English on the Acadian diaspora. The event was made possible by the Dean for Educational Policy, the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the Reves Center for International Studies.
Ms. Weed noted: “What I enjoyed most about the biography project was how our class content tied into the people we got to interview. I think that made the class material even more relevant. For example, I interviewed Barry Ancelet about his work on Cajun and Creole folk festivals during the same week when we read about his experiences, and that interview added a lot of interesting context to our senior seminar.”
Although the open access project will include important francophone Louisiana writers from as far back as the mid-19th century, students in FREN 450 focused exclusively on contemporary figures in order to engage more directly and personally with the writers.