“Why must it work? Because it has to.”me
So, a few weeks back I hooked up with a seasoned Louisiana businessman who has agreed to serve as a kind of mentor to me, and he’s been putting me through my paces. I’m eager to understand what he knows and really push hard to get New Bayou Books off the ground. But the practical applications of what he will teach must wait, because I’m still in what feels like the remedial phase of my education.
As part of that education, I’ve been working my way through a stack of books my mentor has asked me to read. Actually, that’s not true. He didn’t ask. The books are basically part of the price of admission. I must read them and be prepared to think critically and discuss them before we can really begin. So it’s back to school for me.
The one I’m working through now is Simon Sinek’s Start With the Why. And I have to say, I’m a little surprised at how powerful Sinek’s insights are. I’ve seen some of his TED talks (you can’t have the kind of day job I have and avoid SImon Sinek), but all the stuff I had previously consumed was focused on leadership and, frankly, I never really dedicated any significant energy to them.
I can’t fully report on the book yet because I’m not all the way through, but that’s okay, because I’m not sitting down today to write a book report anyway. What I really want to do is explore the question of why New Bayou Books must thrive. This is the “why” question I want to address today.
Before I say anything, I should probably start with the obvious point. Which is that New Bayou Books doesn’t have to thrive for my vision to come through. My vision is to spark a real literary renaissance in South-Louisiana literature. It’s why I started New Bayou Books . . . but the literary revolution is the thing I’m after, so if it occurs without New Bayou Books, I’ll be fine with that. Of course, I don’t see any evidence there are other individuals or groups working to make it happen, so my (admittedly arrogant) feeling is that New Bayou Books is going to have to play a role if this thing is going to work.
Shit! It looks like I’ve already answered the question. The “why?” of New Bayou Books is simply that: to spark a revolution in south-Louisiana literature. Does that mean I’m done with this blog?
It still feels incomplete to me, so let me dig a little deeper and we’ll see where this goes. Oh, wait! My answer is actually a “what”, not a “why”. Do you see it too?
To my mind, a literary renaissance would look something like this: every year, there are dozens of new works of contemporary fiction from south-Louisiana writers. In the early days, the books are mostly published independently, but over time, as readers around the world start to catch on, small publishing houses (like New Bayou Books) emerge. These publishing houses are made up of writers, designers, editors, advocates, and cultural ambassadors from south-Louisiana. Readers around the world fall in love with the wide spectrum of new literature suddenly coming out of this wonderfully weird region called Acadiana. Louisiana-based filmmakers start to adapt the work for the screen. Critics explore the works deeply, drawing out themes and connections among the diverse group of emerging Louisiana writers. Independent bookstores in Louisiana host events and dedicate huge areas of their stores to South-Louisiana authors. University’s start to take notice, forming courses and discussion groups to explore the literature. Young writers start to come into the fold, mentored by the independent authors who came before them. The experienced writers engage heavily with the community, further nurturing this powerful new force in contemporary literature. South-Louisiana literature now stands shoulder to shoulder with the music, food, and culture of Acadiana. The books form a deep and nuanced picture of the distinctive culture that is South-Louisiana. The entire world is now turned on. The writers quit their day jobs. Money flows into Acadiana to support this now vital enterprise, and that money is constructively spent to perpetuate the artform.
I am not at the center of the revolution. I don’t want to be, at least. I just want to be the guy who helped to get it started.
But anyway, back to the question. All that I just described is not the “why”, is it? I described the “what” (isn’t that right, Ron?). So that still leaves the answer to the question Why did you start New Bayou Books? Why am I doing all this?
Honestly, I could spend the rest of the day riffing on the answer to this question. But the simplest answer is this: because I want to read the books. At the end of the day, that’s it. All I want is to be able to order new books, every year, from dozens of emerging south-Louisiana writers.
I want to read stories set in the world of zydeco music. I want to read a book about a crawfish farmer who grows weed and smuggles his product in crawfish sacks. I want to read a novel about a girl who runs Mardi Gras every year and then later becomes Chief of Police. I want to read about a librarian from Basile who works part time at the Casino in Kinder to make ends meet, but then decides to try and rob the place. I want to read about a teenager who tries bungee jumping from a bayou bridge and has a near-death experience.
I could go on and on. And really, that’s my problem. My mind’s already spinning around these ideas, thinking about who these characters might be. But that’s the thing. I can’t write these stories . . . not really. I can only write my stories, and believe me, that’s a pretty narrow slice of the pie. And anyway, it’s not about me as a writer. The answer to the “why” question relates to me as a reader.
And you know what? I don’t think I’m alone. I think the whole world will want to read the new literature that will come out of South-Louisiana. No, not think. Think isn’t the right word here. It goes deeper than that–from that more instinctive, primitive part of the brain . . . from the limbic area that Sinek talks about in his book, the place where the “why” questions come from. I believe the world will be eager to read this new literature from South-Louisiana. And I believe the renaissance in South-Louisiana literature will happen.
Maybe it has already begun . . .