Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Wanted: Marquez or Faulkner


Lafayette is growing like a giant in a fairy tale, filled to the brim with New Orleans refugees, new housing, new businesses, new music, new restaurants, new cultural venues. On what used to be a lazy stretch of I-10, people race like demons to get god-knows-where and keep having fiery accidents and dying. Matthew Hackler, a local, thinks that drivers believe they are in New York City, trying to beat the closing of NASDAQ.

In all the ferment, there are panicked (or optimistic) nostalgists, who try to salvage Cajun culture before it goes under a wave of simulacra. My old friend John Loudon, who teaches at ULL, expressed some astonishment at the fact that no writer has yet risen from the Atchafalaya Basin to pen a chronicle of local vividness the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez had done for Colombia-Macondo. John is right: the place is right at that juncture between new and old, when people can still remember the old while they are being swept under by the new. Following up on that, I wrote an ad for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser:

LAFAYETTE MARQUEZ WANTED: The Collective Unconscious of Acadiana is seeking a writer willing to render the vividness of the region in a manner similar to that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The resulting work, if successful, will be published and promoted by the Culture Shock Foundation. For more information, consult local library for books on G. M. Marquez.

I had some trouble placing the ad because the online categories offered didn't seem to fit. It wasn't "furniture" or "farm implements" or "real estate," so I settled for "Outdoors" and chose a sub-category called "Misc." A writer, if he or she is anything, is an Outdoor Misc. Or maybe an Indoor Misc. I hope somebody answers.

Following up on John's question, I realized that New Orleans doesn't have a Marquez either, and if there is a Macondo anywhere in the U.S., it's New Orleans. This situation may be on its way to being remedied, because I just read the manuscript of a tremendous book by Josh Clark, a love story (his) during Katrina. This may well turn out to be our Love in the Time of Cholera, if not exactly One Hundred Years of Solitude. If this is the case, it proves Marx right -- that enough quantity leads to qualitative change. We have certainly had quantities of books; now it's time for a knockout.

That still leaves Lafayette without a Marquez. Baton Rouge doesn't have one either, and there are hundreds, possibly thousands of places in Louisiana and elsewhere that don't have one. Some of those places may not be ready for one. Baton Rouge, for instance, may be ready for John Updike, but not for Marquez. On the other hand, scholars say that Marquez himself got his moves from Faulkner, who drew his pictures from the state of Mississippi.

In that case, we might as well ask: Where is Louisiana's Faulkner?

Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).

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