Barry Jean Ancelet / Jean Arceneaux

The Professor, the Werewolf and the Poet Laureate

When CODOFIL began, James Domengeaux did not hide the fact that he favored the teaching of "standard" French to Louisiana French because it was not a written language. Despite a literary past that included many talented writers, no French-speaking Louisianans had published for a long time. A young activist at the time who pleaded for respect for local French had to admit the lack of recent writings in this language that had been passed on by word of mouth for generations, mainly because of a lack of education in French. Not to be defeated, following an inspiration from a public reading of poetry by the greatest francophone poets in North America in Quebec in July 1978, Barry Jean Ancelet began to contact other activists to see if they did not have some French texts stuffed in the bottom of their desk drawers. Soon, he is organizing a Louisiana version of this Quebec evening, "Paroles et musique." In a short time, he had enough texts and with the help of his childhood friend Zachary Richard, he found a Quebec publisher willing to publish a collection, "Cris sur le Bayou," where eight Louisiana authors wrote in French. One can find lyrics of songs, short prose and, in particular, poems by a certain Jean Arceneaux, one of which is entitled "Schizophrénie Linguistique," which was soon celebrated.

When the book comes out, Ancelet takes a copy and presents himself before Mr. Domengeaux, who still insists that our French is less interesting because it is not written. On this note, Ancelet pulls out his copy from behind his back and throws it on the desk announcing that indeed it was now written. Taken aback, Domengeaux picked it up, flipped through the pages and, after a moment, told him to go and leave the book. In the time to read it, Domengeaux had changed his mind about the importance of Louisiana French when he saw that it had received his letters of nobility from these humble aspiring writers. Since then, there is no doubting the fact that this French had its place among the other varieties that can be found anywhere in the world where French is practiced both orally and in writing.

In this way, the publication of "Cris sur le Bayou" launched the career of two writers: one is named Barry Jean Ancelet, an academic who writes scholarly books on French Louisiana folklore; the other is Jean Arceneaux, a cursed poet in the Rimbaud genre with an unfortunate habit of turning into a wolf from time to time. Ancelet has trained a generation of folklorists; Arceneaux inspired a great pack of poets. Forty years after this first "Paroles et musique" Barry Jean Ancelet/Jean Arceneaux is named the second Poet Laureate of Francophone Louisiana, succeeding his friend Zachary Richard, proving once and for all that Louisiana French is indeed a prestigious language. One just had to take the trouble to write it.


Categories: Theatre + Art