David Lummis' novel The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans (River House Publishing, 2010) is being featured this fall in a course taught by Dr. Paul Mahaffey at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Alabama. One year after Hurricane Katrina struck the city, Dr. Mahaffey began teaching the course as a tribute to New Orleans. The course, affectionately referred to by students at Montevallo as "the New Orleans class," is now entering its sixth season. Each year a different aspect of New Orleans culture and literature is explored. This fall the course is entitled "A Taste of the Sublime in New Orleans Foodie Lit."
One of Dr. Mahaffey's former students Jessica Littlejohn writes about the course: " The course taught at Montevallo is unique because it is the only one that examines literature influenced entirely by the city of New Orleans.... After taking the class, students have continued on to pursue research on the topics they have covered and present their findings at undergraduate research events and conferences." Dr. Mahaffey hopes that the enthusiasm for the class will continue to grow, resulting in more widespread recognition of the outstanding and innovative courses taught at the University of Montevallo.
One of the most alluring aspects of Mahaffey's New Orleans course is the annual (optional) trip to New Orleans during the third weekend of October during which students have an opportunity to engage in hands-on research. An added attraction for this year's class (or lagniappe as they would say in New Orleans) is that David Lummis and Csaba Lukacs, publisher of Chronicles, have invited the class to join them for coffee and beignets at Cafe Du' Monde on Friday morning, October 14.
The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans is not so much a book about coffee as it is a paean to Lummis' adopted city: New Orleans. The novel's protagonist, Sammy Singleton, has received an advance from his publisher to write a guidebook to the coffee shops of New Orleans, but Sammy prefers to spend his hours inside coffee shops rather than writing about them.
Lummis' novel is particularly appropriate for a course inspired by post-Katrina New Orleans. The book (part one of three parts) begins on Tuesday, August 18, 2005 and ends on Friday, August 26, just before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on Monday, August 29. Part Two of The Coffee Shop Chronicles is scheduled for publication later this fall.
Dr. Mahaffey writes the following about this year's New Orleans course: "In Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans food writer Dar Wolnik defines New Orleans by three things: the music nurtured by the hundreds of musicians that walk its streets daily; the ingrained corruption birthed by the French and Spanish and refined by subsequent Louisiana politicians; and most importantly, by a food culture so complex that non-natives must make numerous visits to even begin to understand how it sustains not only the body but also every aspect of life itself as it relates to the city and its inhabitants. have in common is the focus on food as both an artistic and ideological expression....
"English 439 / 539 will not only examine food’s importance to New Orleans life but it will also look at how food has become a literary aesthetic in New Orleans fiction. This fictional aesthetic is the foundation of Frances Parkinson Keyes’ 1947 Dinner at Antoine’s, but Ignatius J. Reilly’s mass consumption of Lucky Dog hot dogs and other New Orleans dishes in John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces is perhaps the most well known example of New Orleans foodie lit. This class features the contemporary foodie lit of Poppy Z. Brite and her two culinary characters, Ricky and G-Man. Students will use Brite’s novels and short stories to discover, through class discussions and critical writings, how food operates as a theoretical entity in a New Orleans fictional text."
Required readings for the course include works by Poppy Z. Brite, Gumbo Tales by Sara Roahen, Hungry Town by Tom Fitzmorris, The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans by David Lummis, and Managing Ignatius: The Lunacy of Lucky Dogs and Life in New Orleans byJerry E. Strahan.
According to the CNN Eatocracy blog "New Orleans: The Food That Got Them Through" (February 2011), it was food that sustained New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "Food is the lingua franca of New Orleans. Richard McCarthy, executive director of the organization that oversees the local farmers markets said, 'If you're stuck in an elevator here, you could make conversation with anyone about one of the three Fs: food, fishing and football.' The Saints and seafood may be seasonally relegated, but there is always something cooking.... People in New Orleans are passionate preservationists of their city's food history, for it is a massive part of what has sustained them."
The city was just pulling itself out of the wreckage of Katrina when the disastrous BP oil spill in June of 2010 poured five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, effectively wiping out most of the seafood industry on the coast. However, the people of New Orleans are amazingly resilient. Chefs have re-opened their restaurants, including some 300 new ones since Katrina, and New Orleans has let all the world know that the city is back in business.
New Orleans is well on its way to being better than ever. The come back of the food culture has been widely publicized, and the city has been the subject of numerous documentaries such as Faubourg Treme': The Untold Story of Black New Orleans and When the Levees Broke, as well as the powerful HBO series Treme' now in its second season.
I began corresponding with Dr. Mahaffey as soon as I learned about the New Orleans course a few weeks ago. When he told me the dates for the New Orleans trip, I immediately checked my calendar, emailed my New Orleans friends, called my sister to see if she was free, and booked two roundtrip tickets on Amtrak to the Big Easy.
There ain't no city like New Orleans, so laissez les bons temps rouler!
----Penne J. Laubenthal
Explore Further on Swampland
Review of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans