Centenary’s Éditions Tintamarre publishes historic collection from Creole poet
SHREVEPORT, LA — The newest book from Centenary’s Les Éditions Tintamarre heritage language press, Tempêtes et Éclairs, features the first complete collection of the poetry of Adolphe Duhart, a Louisiana Creole who wrote poetry in French for the first Black daily newspaper in the United States. Duhart, who lived in New Orleans, was also a teacher in the 1850s and fought in the Civil War.
“All of Duhart's poetry was meant to inspire, elevate, and humanize those for whom he wrote,” explained Dr. Dana Kress, professor of French at Centenary and editor in chief of Les Éditions Tintamarre. “Some of his poems are about family, and his public had sometimes never seen families like their own celebrated in verse in writing. Others are powerful social commentaries such as the poem about Lincoln's assassination, published on April 25,1865, in New Orleans; these works elicit a powerful emotional response but also stand as a monument to Duhart's courage for daring to speak out publicly in a major Confederate city.”
Previous scholars have included some of Duhart’s poems in their collections, but a complete catalogue has not been available until now. A project to collect Duhart’s work had been started and abandoned several years ago at Centenary, and was revived when Audrey Gibson ’21, a French and English major from Austin, Texas, was seeking a challenge during her first year at the College.
“I approached Dr. Kress during my first year at Centenary and asked him for ideas on how to get involved in research,” recalled Gibson. “He told me about Adolphe Duhart, a prolific Afro-Creole writer from New Orleans, whose poetry had never been fully collected into a book. He said that this could be a great project for me to work on, and that Duhart’s writing was an important piece of Louisiana’s history—and the history of the United States as a whole—that needed to be recovered, so I jumped right in.”
The project would ultimately stretch over Gibson’s entire four-year career at Centenary, with most of the work completed in her final two and a half years.
“I began by trying to locate all of Duhart’s poetry, either in newspaper archives, on microfilm in libraries, in special collections at universities in New Orleans, or through books that had already begun collecting poetry by the Afro-Creole poets of New Orleans,” said Gibson. “It felt very urgent and important to find these materials so that Duhart’s work could live on and continue to be read today. Due to COVID, it was difficult to look at archives in person but I was able to contact people at UNO and at Tulane to help find some poems. I found many of the poems on microfilm at Centenary’s library (scans of the newspapers that originally printed Duhart’s work). Further, there are online scans in databases of some newspapers with Duhart’s work available, but not often accessed.”
As Gibson was searching for Duhart’s poems, she also reviewed published and archival biographical information with the aim of verifying some conflicting details about Duhart’s life and work.
“By looking at birth records and other archives, I aimed to set straight information about Duhart’s life,” said Gibson. “For example, before this book, many scholars have cited that the ‘Lélia’ from which Duhart took his pseudonym was his own child who passed at an early age. However, this name actually belonged to Duhart’s sister, according to birth records. After sifting through all the information and poems, I wrote an article accumulating what I found, which turned into the introduction to the book.”
After graduating summa cum laude from Centenary in May 2021, Gibson is currently in the first year of a PhD program in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“In this graduate program, my life revolves around reading, researching, and writing,” said Gibson. “Many of the research skills that I began to develop on the Duhart project have been extremely useful in my graduate program and working with the Duhart material prepared me for this kind of hard, dedicated work. One of the main lessons I learned is that research takes time, especially if you want to do it right and be as thorough as possible. You can’t cut any corners.”
In addition to providing her with incomparable preparation for graduate school, Gibson’s work on the Duhart poetry collection represents a crucial scholarly contribution to a more inclusive and complete understanding of American literature.
“Many of the crown jewels of 19th century African-American literature are here in Louisiana, and they are in French!,” said Kress. “Duhart was one voice among many Creoles of color in New Orleans who dared to speak truth to power and whose writings have never received the attention they deserve because, although this is American literature, it was inaccessible to English-speaking scholars.”