Creative alumna contributes to world of literature & film: Ashley Owens ’06

As a senior, Ashley Owens ’06 of Ruston, La., left her final mark on Centenary’s campus by seeing an historic French edition through all stages of publication. Ashley worked with Centenary’s Heritage Language Press to establish the text, format pages and design the cover for Contes et Récits de la Louisiane Créole, Tome I (Accounts and Narratives of Creole Louisiana, Volume I), a book that contains 11 short stories written by various 19th century Louisiana authors.

These stories were written in South Louisiana and represent a sampling of almost 70 years of literature, spanning 1846 to 1911. Many of the stories, including those by Alfred Mercier and George Dessommes, have not been read for over a century, having been in the possession of private collectors or simply overlooked in archives.

According to Ashley, this collection of short stories could “change the face of American literature,” and she hopes it will be adopted by high school and college French curricula.

Utilizing software skills learned in her Centenary communication classes, she laid out the century-old manuscript in Adobe InDesign, building templates that she would pass on for other students’ use.

Knowing that a book is often judged by its cover, Ashley embarked on a careful selection process to find a cover image that would reflect the book’s rich content.

After searching for inspiration in the sculptures and stained glass windows of churches and paintings in museum catalogs, Ashley and her mentor, Dr. Dana Kress, professor of French at Centenary, stumbled upon a striking piece right under their noses at the Spring Street Historical Museum in downtown Shreveport.

Ashley recalls their discovery. “The color of the sky—a deep orange—drew me to the painting. It just said ‘Louisiana’ with the flatboat on the river, and it appropriately fit the mid-1800s time period.”

The museum permitted Ashley to photograph the painting, “Steamboats at Sunset” by an unknown artist, and use it in her cover design. The original artwork is painted on a narrow, horizontal plank of wood, so Ashley digitally cloned the color and texture of the sky to fill space on the front cover.

Ashley’s enthusiasm over the project was augmented by her special attraction to one of the stories, “Le Bouquet Funéraire” (1846), which appears first in the collection.

“It’s a beautiful story, very modern for its time,” Ashley says. “The suspenseful plot follows two men who grew up together in New Orleans. One is white and one is black. The white man falls in love with an alleged prostitute, and the black man becomes jealous of the other’s affections. There are even possible gay undertones to be detected.”

Ashley, also a film/ television/video major, adapted the story into an eight-minute film for Dr. Michelle Glaros’ advanced film class. Trumpet performance major Jeremy DeLaCerda ’06 composed an original score performed by keyboardist Jeremy Alfred, violinist Tim Nicholson and vocalist Lori Lusted—all Centenary students.

Other students involved in Ashley’s film were Monica Moltz, assistant director/editor, and actors Haley Young, John Bonner, Alan Jogiel, Vanna Richardson, Morgana Broussard and Jeremy DeLaCerda.

Ashley says the Heritage Language Press plans to print subsequent volumes each year, drawing from Dr. Kress’ extensive collection of Creole literature, which he has accumulated over the years.

In addition, members of Dr. Kress’ Louisiana literature class now translate French short stories into English as term projects, rather than writing papers. These English translations will eventually be compiled into books and made available to the public.

Having helped with publicity for the Robinson Film Center’s “Movies and Moonbeams” program and worked as assistant stage manager for the 2005–06 season of the Shreveport Opera, Ashley wants to pursue a career in film and cinematography. She’s currently exploring employment options in the booming movie business Shreveport has attracted lately.

- by Kelsey Johnson, Associate Editor, Centenary Magazine

The Heritage Language Press

Since 2002, Centenary students and professors representing institutions of higher learning across the U.S. have published 20 editions through the Heritage Language Press. The Press publishes works that belong to America’s rich multilingual tradition. The only university press within the United States devoted exclusively to American literature written in languages other than English, the Press actively seeks scholarly editions of historic works and contemporary creative endeavors in languages as varied as Arabic, Navajo, Chinese, French and German. Support for the Press has come through a grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents.

French Teachers Highlight Centenary Book

It’s official. A book from Centenary College’s Les Cahiers du Tintamarre series has been chosen one of the official books of 2007 by the American Association of Teachers of French. It is L’Habitation Saint-Ybars by Alfred Mercier.

As an official selection, it will become part of the Association’s Book Club and will be promoted before and during the annual convention of the group’s 9,000 members. Additionally, the AATF will sponsor discussion groups that will focus on the work and it will be featured in all the Association’s publications throughout the coming year.

“It is a super book,” said Centenary French Professor Dana Kress, “and this honor is a prelude to the outright canonization of a major, if previously unknown, Louisiana writer.”

The book is one of 20 books that have been saved from extinction and reprinted in their original languages by the Centenary Heritage Language Project through its two imprints, Les Cahiers du Tintamarre and Les Éditions Tintamarre.

Its author, Alfred Mercier, was born June 3, 1816, on the McDonogh plantation near New Orleans. He was a doctor and writer whose career represented the highest point of Creole literature. He spent much of his youth traveling in Europe where he studied medicine, frequented the salons of major romantic literary figures and established friendships with the radical thinkers of the period.

Members of the editorial staff for the book were Dr. Kress, chairman of Centenary’s Department of Ancient and Modern Languages; Clint M. Bruce ’01, a graduate student at Brown University and a French graduate of Centenary; David Cheramie of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana; Richard Guidry, the Louisiana Department of Education (retired); Carol Lazzaro-Weis, University of Missouri, Columbia; Chris Michaelides, University of Louisiana, Monroe; and May Rush Waggoner, University of Louisiana, Lafayette. The cover of the 2003 book was designed by then-student Susan King ’04 of Centenary.

- by Lynn Stewart, Editor, Centenary Magazine