Chitting and Chatting with writer Emily Thibodeaux about Louisiana French and the new journal, Embrasser

embrasserI was thrilled and excited to recently hear that my friend and writer, Emily Thibodeaux (along with others) had started a new literary translation journal. Based in Louisiana, Embrasser “aims to embrace the history, culture, and stories told in the French dialects spoken outside of the motherland.” They’ve put out a call for submissions with their first issue focusing on Louisiana French (the journal is bilingual so read the details for more info). Below, you’ll find our lovely interview followed by a smorgasbord of information on how to submit, how to get involved, their mission statement, and more. Enjoy!

For a few years, you were living in New York City. What drew you back to your homeland of Louisiana? I was at the end of my graduate studies and had applied to a few jobs in the city, but hadn’t found much. I was surrounded by peers hard at work on their collections or novel, and also by a growing number of people involved in starting their own literary journals. Being that a lot of my work, including a novel in progress, is set in Acadiana, or the French speaking part of Southwest Louisiana, it seemed like the thing to do would be to return home. I also, thankfully, found adjunct employment teaching English at South Louisiana Community College. Being that Cajun French and its preservation is a cause close to my heart, once I was home, I thought that I could address preservation in a more direct way than by only writing a novel; I wanted to make an archive of the best current writing coming out of Louisiana right now, and translate that work into variations of Louisiana French. I also wanted the journal to serve as a learning tool for both Louisiana natives and those interested in learning Louisiana French.

Tell us a little about Louisiana French and why you chose to launch Embrasser—how you got started with it; your collaborators. Louisiana French is multi-valent; there are as many variations in spelling and usage as there are parishes. It is mostly an oral language, however, an excellent new dictionary, the Dictionary of Louisiana French as Spoken by Cajun, Creole, and American Indian Communities, a collaborative project between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and a few other universities, which has been years in the making, came out a few years ago; it seeks to be as comprehensive and inclusive as possible, listing the parish where the word was collected and alternative spellings. I would like to take cues from the dictionary and to represent Louisiana French as it is spoken, and to accept non-standard spellings of words which are unique to each translator.

Cajun, the type of Louisiana French of which I am most intimately familiar, is made up of the French as spoken by the original French colonists in North America, the Acadians, who settled in Maritime Canada, along with Native American, and African influences. The Acadians, from where the word Cajun originates, were expelled from Acadie, modern day Nova Scotia, by the British in 1755. The bulk of Acadians were sent to Louisiana, while others were sent to Maine, Maryland, or back to France. Louisiana French was spoken in relative isolation before my grandparents’ generation it was not allowed to be spoken in schools. They were beaten with rubber hoses amongst other humiliating punishments for speaking their mother tongue. Now, there is an urgent need for preservation.

My mentor and advisor in this project is Rikki Ducornet, . She envisioned Embrasser as more of a global translation journal, whereas I had only originally focused on Louisiana. Jonathan Penton of Coeur Publishing, a small translation press funded by the Swiss Arts Council to translate work from German, is acting as publisher and helping with many aspects of the journal from public relations to website design, and my co-editor is Rosalyn Spencer who is a poet and Louisiana native who has worked in every aspect of the book industry. The name, Embrasser, means to hug and kiss, the obvious English cognate word being “embrace.” The idea of the journal is to connect and embrace unique varieties of international French. We accept work from Louisiana residents and also work from those outside of Louisiana who are writing about Louisiana French, or the Louisiana experience.

Official call for submissions. Click on image to read PDF for more information.

Official call for submissions. Click on image to read PDF for more information.

I am all about more literary translation in the US. How can people become more involved beyond just submitting to the journal? If people are interested in translating into Louisiana French, which includes Cajun, Creole, and French as spoken by Native Americans, they can email me at embrasser@coeurpublishing.com. Please check out the Facebook Page and the Embrasser website for updates about future issues. I will be calling for translators as well as for submissions for each issue, because the highlighted regions will change, and I would love to hear from you if you are interested in literary translation.

What do you see in Embrasser’s future? Embrasser will be published annually, with our first issue coming out for Mardi Gras 2014. In the future, Embrasser will focus on other francophone regions outside of France from French speaking Canada and Haiti to the Maghreb. Ideally, we will be able to find translators from these regions to translate submissions. The translators will vary from region to region, whereas the editors will remain the same. Embrasser seeks to highlight and preserve varieties of French that have been marginalized, and through this project, I would hope that excellent work could be exposed to the Anglophone world and also for there to be transfer and communication between these Francophone regions.

What have you been up to in Louisiana since leaving NYC? Any other new and exciting projects? I have been up to a lot! I wrote a play, “Bataille,” which was directed by a very talented friend, Jarin Schexsnider, which was performed in my house. I was on the submissions board for a new literary journal out of Baton Rouge, Belle Journal, which focuses on the experience of being a woman in the South (which also publishes men under feminine pen names!) I have also read some of my work at a local Lafayette reading series, Voices, and have done some dance including a contemporary ballet of Alice in Wonderland. I am currently involved in a local production of Hair, a contemporary dance piece to be performed at the New Orleans Fringe Festival, and am involved with starting Lafayette’s only burlesque troupe, Boom! Boom! Burlesque. I also paint faces for extra money. Basically, I’ve moved back home to join the circus, and I’m kind of loving it!

Which is a better literary prize? 100 bottles of wine or jet ski? It depends on what kind of wine it is! I might have to go with that.

***

  • If you missed the PDF with the official call of submissions, you can find it here.
  • Embrasser is also seeking translators who love Louisiana French culture and literature to assist with the first issue. More details here.
  • The mission statement which details more about what the journal is about and how it goes beyond Louisiana French.

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