“Letters Read” performance series debuts in New Orleans

lafcadio hearn

Loyola University Special Collections is proud to have provided research materials for a new performance series in New Orleans, Letters Read , which made its debut last night at a local independent book store, Crescent City Books. This series features local actors reading from “historically important personal letters vital to the culture of New Orleans.” Letters Read is the brainchild of a nationally-renowned expert in stationery engraving and New Orleans resident, Nancy Sharon Collins, and is sponsored by local arts organization, Antenna. Nancy, who occasionally teaches classes in letter-writing and stationery history was pleased to discover our Lafcadio Hearn Correspondence Collection, which may be viewed in its digitized form here. Below is an excerpt from Nancy’s introduction to last night’s performance:

…The letters read tonight are by Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, written during his 1886 summer on Grand Isle, Louisiana to mentor and editor Page Baker…Hearn was a writer, journalist, wanderer and urbane observer and commentator of human civilization. He moved to New Orleans the year Reconstruction ended and lived here for a decade. Hearn is credited with putting New Orleans on the map as a cultural destination. As with many, he loved our fair city.

The Grand Isle letters provide an unedited glimpse into a small, highly personal corner of Hearn’s New Orleans experience, composed of language and thoughts that may offend.

Hearn’s Grand Isle letters were chosen for the first Letters Read event because of their content. By bringing Hearn’s inner-most thoughts to a wider audience we can, perhaps, understand what brings a man to express feelings of this kind…

-Nancy Sharon Collins

The reading of the letters was preceded by a brief talk by social psychologist, Dr. Adrienne McFaul, who encouraged the audience to consider what it means to dehumanize another human being. Because of the anti-Semitic language in some of Hearn’s letters, contextualization and critical thinking were key to this innovative performance concept, which gives striking insight into the letters’ author and illustrates the complexities and contradictions of human thought processes and prejudices.

We at Loyola SC&A look forward to future iterations of this series and congratulate Nancy on the debut of Letters Read! You can find Nancy’s book, The Complete Engraver, here.

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