Around the Press in 80 Books: New Roads and Old Rivers

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Senior Editor Catherine Kadair writes about New Roads and Old Rivers.

One of the least appreciated areas of Louisiana lies northwest of Baton Rouge, between the winding curves of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. This is Pointe Coupee, counted among the oldest settlements in the Mississippi Valley. For seven years I lived just across the parish line from Pointe Coupee. As my kids and I explored it by car and on foot, I became more and more impressed by its natural beauty, its significance in state history, and, perhaps most of all, by its warm, welcoming people. So I was delighted when I heard we were going to publish New Roads and Old Rivers, a journey by photo and word through Pointe Coupee Parish. Richard Sexton’s photographs are stunning, and Randy Harelson writes about so many different aspects of the parish—its long and interesting history; its vibrant, unique Creole culture; its longstanding Mardi Gras tradition; and much more. Harelson’s hand-drawn and delicately colored maps are a lovely bonus feature.

Some of my favorite photographs in New Roads and Old Rivers are those of the modest Creole cottages that dot the landscape, many of which I recognize from my drives through the area. The oak trees in this parish are truly ancient, some of them over 300 years old, and there are striking photos of several old-timers, including the Miss Jane Pittman Oak, the tree that inspired Ernest Gaines to write his most famous work. Most of the stately plantation houses in Pointe Coupee are still privately owned and lived in, rather than set off as museum pieces; and this book gives us an inside look at these beautiful homes not open to the public. There are photos of the oxbow lakes False River and Old River (“Pointe Coupee” means “cut-off point” in French); of the mounds built by Native Americans who lived in the area for millennia before Europeans arrived; of small-town main streets; of picturesque churches and cemeteries. Lovely images like those are balanced by photos of the people of Pointe Coupee—craftsmen planing cypress boards by hand according to local custom; workers packing homegrown pecans for shipping all over the world; women gathering weekly to sing and converse in Creole French. The traditions of Pointe Coupee are worth preserving, and as Harelson notes, the people who live those traditions are the most important preservationists of all. I’m proud that LSU Press is doing its part to preserve—and share—so many Louisiana traditions.

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