An Evening with some Sassy Bookwomen of New Orleans!

Despite a pesky rainstorm on May 30th, members enjoyed a fabulous evening to discuss the Sassy Bookwomen of New Orleans, our inaugural Book Circle held at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.  The program was facilitated by Freddi Williams Evans. Freddi was recently awarded the title of Humanities Hero by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.  Note: see Blog page for more info.

SASSY BOOKWOMEN OF NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans chapter’s Bookwomen Speak program in The WNBA Centennial Visionaries Series

In an event that reflected the culture and geography of its location, the New Orleans chapter of the Women’s National Book Association held its “Bookwoman Speaks” program Tuesday May 30, 2017 at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center on Rampart Street, the dividing line between the French Quarter (the city’s first settlement) and the historic Tremé neighborhood (America’s oldest surviving black community). Chapter member Freddi Evans led our group in a Story Circle with the theme “Sassy Bookwomen of New Orleans.” The theme arose from the desire to explore the sassy voices of New Orleans bookwomen, both contemporary and historical.

New Orleans women have always been an incredibly creative and outspoken species – not only in their writing, but in every aspect of life: cooking, costuming, singing, dancing, making music, running businesses. Does New Orleans provide an atmosphere where women are freer to express themselves on paper as bookwomen?

Our Story Circle generated memories about authors past and contemporary, publishers (including Eliza Nicholson, owner of the Daily Picayune where women’s advice columns were pioneered), a painter, a music impresario, poets, the founding of Ladyfest New Orleans, musicians (naturally), journalists (including Diana Pinckley for whom the chapter named its annual mystery writing prizes), a woman who restores eyes, voodoo (both Marie Laveau and Sally Glassman, a contemporary practitioner, artist, and gallery owner), nuns (and their role in establishing many of the institutions in the area), historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (influential scholar and author who developed a database of enslaved Africans which has become a key genealogical research tool) and everyone’s favorite chef and food author, Leah Chase (the first chef honored with two portraits in the Smithsonian Institution at both the National Gallery and the National Museum of African American History, she’s fed presidents – not holding back about telling them what they ought to eat! – and is still cooking at 94 years of age).

The WNBA-NOLA Story Circle honored the participatory nature of New Orleans culture – everyone tells a story – and the deep and ongoing contributions of the African American community to the creative life of the city. Story Circles were developed by the Free Southern Theater which was founded in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. (The method as taught by John O’Neal, one of the FST founders, is explained here:

The WNBA-NOLA Story Circle was facilitated by chapter member Freddi Evans, an author, scholar, arts educator, and literacy advocate, recently named by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities as its Humanities Hero for the month of May. Freddi co-chairs the New Orleans Committee to Erect Historic Markers on the Slave Trade to Louisiana, a project of the National Park Service. She has authored award-winning children’s books and the notable 2010 cultural history Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans. Forthcoming works include co-editorship of New Orleans & the World: The Tricentennial Anthology and co-authorship of a biography of the life of African American artist John Scott. Freddi has twice been a Fulbright Scholar.

Freddi closed the WNBA-NOLA Story Circle with the observation that this method reminded her of libation ceremonies in which the names of those who have passed on are spoken and ancestors are remembered. The WNBA-NOLA story circle remembered many of our sassy forbearers and contemporary inspirations.  In the centennial year of the WNBA, it was a fitting way for bookwomen to speak.

An Afternoon with Emily Dickinson

On May 21 several Chapter members viewed A Quiet Passion at the Broad Street Theater and then stayed (in the theater’s roomy bar) for a round-table discussion about the movie and the life of Emily Dickinson facilitated by Chapter Member Constance Adler.

Celebrating Women’s Voices and Book-A-Day Women’s History Month

As part of the celebration marking its 100th anniversary, the Women’s National Book Association will send a book a day throughout March to President Trump that the organization believes sheds light on many of the critical issues faced by the country. The books have been taken from a list of the top 100 books in both fiction and nonfiction compiled by the WNBA to reflect, in its estimation, the most influential books written by women.

Noting the absence of other types of non-fiction works, our Chapter Vice-President (and acting President) Marie Breaux contacted National; their response was that she had a wonderful idea.  A second list of non-fiction works was started with our Chapter leading the charge!

The entire list is available at the WNBA Centennial site as a webpage or PDF.

Highlights of our January 28th meeting

WNBA-New Orleans members enjoyed a special January meeting at the home of member Nina Calvo, Doris Stone Director, Latin American Library, Tulane University.  Nina presented and led the discussion of the work of 17th century Mexican writer Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (New Spain, 1648-1692).  She was the major figure of Spanish American literature of the colonial period (1492-1821) and a towering figure of the Spanish language of any age.

      Jan 2016 meeting 3       Jan 2016 meeting 4

          Jan 2016 meeting 1      Jan 2016 meeting 2

Jan 2016 meeting 6

Here is a message from Nina before the meeting:

Dear WNBA-NOLA friends,
I am very much looking forward to seeing everyone at my house on Saturday, January 28 to discuss the work of 17th century Mexican writer Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (New Spain, 1648-1692).  She is the major figure of Spanish American literature of the colonial period (1492-1821) and a towering figure of the Spanish language of any age.  Did I mention she also happened to be a woman?  
My hope is that everyone walks away with a general sense of who Sor Juana was, what her writing was like, and why she may still be relevant today. I hope you enjoy the readings!     Nina

Highlights of our Nov. 28 Meeting

Celebrating Women’s Voices: 100 Books to Read and Talk About.”  We started our planning for the 100th anniversary of the National Women’s Book Association in 2017!   We worked on compiling our chapter’s list of the 100 best books of fiction, poetry, and memoir written by US women, one title per author.  Additionally, our chapter is specifically spearheading a nonfiction list.  See Blog page for more information.

We also had great fun coming up with an idea for a special Centennial Cocktail!  Stay tuned for an update on that!




Celebrating Women’s Voices: 100 Books that Explained or Changed Our World

In honor of the upcoming Centennial of the WNBA, National is compiling a preliminary list of “one hundred books by women that the WNBA community considers to be the most influential books penned by women.” This list, subtitled ‘100 Books to Read and Talk About’, will include works of fiction, poetry and memoir. Noting the absence of other types of non-fiction works, our Chapter Vice-President (and acting President) Marie Breaux contacted National; their response was that she had a wonderful idea, that a second list should be started and our Chapter is leading the charge.

Suggestions for either list can be sent via email to .

Criteria for the first list can be found at the link above.

Criteria for the non-fiction list are:

  1. Works of non-fiction;
  2. Works that have garnered critical acclaim, including awards and honors; that have maintained a readership across generations, or for newer works, are engaging and appealing to a wide swath of the reading public; and/or have provided an impetus for significant change;
  3. Writers that are American (by birth or by virtue of where the author has chosen to live); living or dead; writing in English.

Our non-fiction working list will eventually be sent to the other Chapters for their input. One master list of 100 books will emerge. We envision the list being a very important entity for preserving and promoting women’s voices.

  • Teresa Tumminello Brader, Secretary