Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Patrice Melnick: Louisiana Poet, Festival Muse

Patrice Melnick: Louisiana Poet, Festival Muse
 Natalie Parker-Lawrence
      Guest blogger for Rebecca Elswick

            Grand Coteau, Lousiana, is a town where the sidewalks are flat even with the streets, no need for curb cuts, no need for curbs.  And somehow, without cement barriers, the houses, the churches, the shops, and the farms, welcome lost strangers with haphazard directions, inquisitive visitors from far away, residents from the coast fleeing hurricanes, and those who seek serenity here on religious pilgrimages.  Writers ease their cars into the town, their tires crunching little rocks as they roll up to savor the next place of inspiration. 

             Patrice Melnick lives and writes in this little town, across the highway from Sunset, down Interstate 49, at Exit 11, between Lafayette and Opelousas.  She grows flowers and throws birdseed for creatures outside her breakfast room window.  Her cat and her husband, Olan, complement her steps. 

            Her friends, including famous writers (Darrell Bourque, Leslie D!, Tony Daspit, Clare L. Martin, Forrest Roth, Xero Skidmore, Christopher Shipman, Murray Shugars, Lana Wiggins, Reggie Scott Young, Desiree Dallagiacomo, Toi Derricotte, Barb Johnson, Latasha Witherspoon, Timothy Seibles) and former students like me, wish we could spend one month a year in the writer’s house behind her house (we would get so much accomplished!).

            Patrice, a muse to many even though they have only known her through computer connections, invites writers come to bask in the tranquility of Grand Coteau. Artists in the inspiring gallery, forum, theatre, all under the roof of her shop, relish the opportunities to learn to read aloud, to love the sound of their voices, and to share the gifts of their talents with aspiring writers.  She organizes the musicians, the authors in the schools, the community writing workshops, the book signings, the drive-by poetry performances, the book fair, the independent films, the open mic nights, meme en francais!

            Recently, Patrice encouraged others from her community to recite stories from their pasts.  The natives and residents of Grand Coteau recollected narratives, filmed for posterity, about school, family life, and work in stories that are “funny or sad; angry or joyful.”  Some might involve the yearly 7-mile Yard Sale during the annual Festival of Words, this year from October 30 to November 3.

            The Executive Director of the Festival of Words (Cultural Arts Collective) since 2010, Patrice also works on projects for her community as well as personal ones as the proprietor of Casa Azul Gifts, the Community Arts Education Program Director for Frederick L’Ecole Des Arts, adjunct professor of English for the University of New Orleans, associate professor of English for Xavier University, and writer in poetry and nonfiction.  She spent from 1985 to 1987 in the Central African Republic as a Peace Corps volunteer where she taught English as a Foreign Language. She earned her MFA from the University of Alaska in 1990.

             Her first book, Turning Up the Volume (Xavier Review Press), was published in 2005.  Her essays have been published in many journals.  Here is the end of an excerpt of one of her essays from her Peace Corps days, “Water,” published in Drunken Boat:

            As we walked, I wondered where we would find water again.  Whose water
            would we ask for, cool water, drawn up from a hundred meters through the
            ground.  Would it again be from people who distrusted us, but gave out of
            obligation, for no one in the desert is refused water. Perhaps water would be
            given by a woman who had carried it on her head.  We would have to accept
            water again.  What could we give?  A song? I felt the sun burn like a pair of
            copper eyes.

            As a woman, Patrice desires the comfort of friends and freedom from chronic illness.  She has two publications forthcoming, Contraband Poboy: From Diagnosis Back to Life (Catalyst Book Press, June 2012) and The Spirit of Grand Coteau (ULL Press, November, 2012). She writes:

            We were all women in this office and we often discussed our personal lives. 
            I thought about paraplegics, parents of terminally ill children, individuals
            trailed with a history of abuse as children, families with a suicidal family
            member.  I would be hard-pressed to say that I would exchange my HIV
            diagnosis for someone else’s problems.  I can’t imagine anyone exchanging
            her problems for HIV. People adjust to their situations: Louisianans live
            with hurricane threats and Californians expect earthquakes.  We own pain
            like emotional real estate and it contributes to our identities.  Would you
            exchange your problems for mine?  People live most comfortably with the
            burdens they know best and fear the unfamiliar ones. 

            As a writer and teacher, Patrice wishes for people to remember their best, though fearful, stories as well as their ordinary ones because that recounting on paper and into the air documents the vulnerability, the struggles, the pain, the release, and the peace that all of us seek.    

            As a neighbor, she wants to record the historical memories of the people of St. Landry’s parish in southern Louisiana.

            As a friend, Patrice does not ask for more than this.  And yet, she celebrates the abundant richness of all the stories of all the people who wander into her small town, offering to share their gift of words with a beautiful writer who lives to receive them.


Don't forget this is a blog tour, so be sure to visit the upcoming blogs. Here's the schedule!

Tour Date: Wed. June 27 - Check Out Today's Featured Blogs!!
Blog Name: 
Title: Charity's Writing Journey "Hospitality, Welcome to the South"
Title: "Evolution AND Creationism: The Birth of a Southern Novel"
Tour Date: Th. June 28
Title: "Patrice Melnick: Louisiana Poet, Festival Muse"
Title: "Pictures and Words"
Tour Date: Fri. June 29
Title: "The Flavors of My Childhood"
Title: "Not Your Storybook Southern Belle"
Tour Date: Sat. June 30
Title: "Changing The Past, Inventing The Future"
Title: "Southern Gentlemen"
Tour Date: Sun. July 1
Title: "New Orleans Caulbearers"
Blog Name: A Penny and Change
Title: " the moon goes on shining"
Tour Date: Mon. July 2
Title: "Texas Tornadoes and Other Memories"
Title: "A (Southern) Life in Poems"
Tour Date: Tue. July 3
Blog Name: A Penny's Worth
Title: "Books & Business & Reality: No magic bullet"
Blog Name: The Novelette
Title: "Southern Living with True Grit"


  1. Thank you for introducing us to a lovely Southern poet!

  2. This is what I love about blog tours. You learn about people and places you never would have anywhere else.

  3. This lady is truly an inspiring teacher and author. I was surprised to see the 7-mile yard sale mentioned. We ran into it by accident as we drove from Arizona to Georgia during a corporate move. It's fun and funny! The one thing I never got to do while I was there was take a swamp tour. However, I'll be looking for more some of the writings mentioned.

  4. thanks so much for reading and responding!! i appreciate rebecca sharing her space with me this week.

    i am happy to be able to share Patrice's life and writing. i hope that many southern writers get the opportunity to read her books and write and share their work with her in that community.

  5. Patrice sounds like a fascinating woman! I'm ready to head to LA to meet her!

  6. I'm so happy your blog is on this countdown and that you introduced me to Patrice Melnick. I drive up I49 on monthly visits to Cajun Country to visit family.

  7. Fascinating read. Thank for introducing us to Patrice.

  8. Very moving piece about an amazing woman. Thank you very much for introducing her to me! Glad to stop by and visit your blog too. It's lovely.

  9. Thanks for this fascinating introduction to an inspiring writer and admirable Southern poet!

  10. Wow, would I love to sit at the feet of Patrice Melnick.
    She sounds like a wonderful soul with a beautiful spirit. I can just see her in her little of heaven in southern Louisiana. Thanks for introducing her to the world.

  11. What a lovely post! After reading this, I want to visit her writing house too. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I'm quite frustrated with myself because I cannot express myself to ppl as much as I would like to, and because I am not friends with the ppl I wanna be friends with. I'm very frustrated with my social life and how things are going for me in general. How can I channel this frustrations? I cannot bottle them inside...I want to let them out...are there activities I can do to vent my frustrations?

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