(April 1, 2010)

Contact: Rick DelaHaya, Centenary News Services, 318.869.5073

Organization Selects Centenary Professor to Participate in Slave Narratives

SHREVEPORT, La (Centenary News Service)- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Council of Independent Colleges has selected Dr. Dana Kress, professor of French, to participate in the seminar, Slave Narratives, at Yale University, June 13-16.

Dr. Dana Kress
Dr. Dana Kress

Dr. Kress was only one of 28 faculty members from across the country selected to speak at the seminar for other college and university faculty members in history, English and related fields. Co-sponsored by the United Negro College Fund, the seminar will focus on slave narratives written both before and after the American Civil War.

"I am honored to be selected to participate in this event," said Dr. Kress. "The seminar will help me understand how the slave narrative functions within the larger context of American literature so that I can more understand how it underpins much of the emergent literature of francophone Louisiana."

According to Dr. Kress, who specializes in American literature, the history of Louisiana has generally been studied as an American state that was once a French colony. However, he says, the development of Louisiana may be undertaken from the vantage point of French history.

"While most scholars maintain that there are no examples of authentic slave narratives in French, the assertion seems premature," he said. "There have been numerous manuscripts that have come to my attention that might be considered slave narratives. These narratives appeared in the nearly 160 French-language parish newspapers that have received little critical attention as well as in unpublished manuscripts by writers of color. The question of authenticity in Louisiana becomes even more challenging when you consider that many writers of such narratives passed as white, having been "régularisé" by Louisiana courts, and yet were the products of slavery."

Today, the genre of slave narratives is divided into three categories: biographies, fiction, and autobiographies, with the third category by far the largest. Autobiographies by former slaves were first published in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century and grew in scale as new texts were promoted and printed by the early abolition movement in Britain and the United States.

Before the Civil War approximately sixty-five narratives were published in English, many of them now classics by such authors as Harriet Jacobs, Solomon Northup, and William Wells Brown. The pre-emancipation narratives were often serious works of literature as well as works that fit into certain conventions and formulas. They tended to focus squarely on the oppression of slavery: on a former slave's indictment of the institution of bondage as a means of advancing the antislavery argument. The post-emancipation narratives, of which there are approximately fifty-five in existence, tended to be more success stories-triumphs over the past and visions of a more prosperous future. The most famous pre-war narrative is that of Frederick Douglass, and the most famous post-war narrative is that of Booker T. Washington.

Similarly, added Dr. Kress, the stories by Creoles of Color such as Joanni Questy, Victor Séjour, Armand Lanusse, Adolphe Duhart, as well as the author of the Civil War narrative of a black soldier "Souvenirs de Bonfouca" that appeared in La Tribune de la Nouvelle-Orléans-the first black daily newspaper in the United States-all contain elements of slave narratives.

"Each of these writers was in some way a product of slavery and all of them knew exclusion and the lack of civil liberties," he said. "All of them feared 'the snap of the whip in the hands of a cruel master' that characterized their existence in a state that forbade them to express themselves."

Dr. Kress adds this honor to his other recognitions he has received while at Centenary. In 1998, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him the Louisiana Professor of the Year, was honored by the City of Shreveport with "Dr. Dana Kress Day," and received a Special Humanities Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. In 2000, French Consul General Bernard Maizeret of New Orleans inducted Kress into membership in the Ordre des Palmes Academiques, a knighthood established in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte and the highest academic distinction offered by the French government. Most recently, the French Consul General in New Orleans named Dr. Kress to the French diplomatic corps as an honorary Consul.

About Centenary College of Louisiana

Centenary College is a private, four-year arts and sciences college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Founded in 1825, it is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Centenary is one of 16 colleges and universities constituting the Associated Colleges of the South and is regularly rated as one of the top colleges in the South. In 2008 Centenary College celebrated 100 years in the Shreveport and Bossier City communities.