Everyone knows the great debt that American literature owes to Louisiana writers, from Mark Twain to Tennessee Williams to John Kennedy Toole. Although less well known, the region's French literature is also a valuable and vital art. Its late arrival—in the 19th century—was born from the resistance to American cultural assimilation.

19th century literature

The first New Orleans printer appeared only in the final years of the 18th century. After the Louisiana Purchase, cultural relations with France remained very active, and the children of the Creole bourgeoisie were sent off to Paris to study. Mulattos from New Orleans such as Victor Séjour or Edmond Dédé made their fortunes in Paris, as did Albert Delpit, a Creole and one of Alexandre Dumas' secretaries. It was in the French capital that Dominique Rouquette, a Louisiana native, published his collection of poetry, Les Meschacébéennes, in 1839. Louisiana Creole literature is of a remarkable quality, especially since it appeared as the use of French was being threatened, and the desire to assert both identity and culture developed. In 1845, Armand Lanusse published a series of texts by Creole poets, L’homme libre de couleur. In 1867, in the wake of the American Civil War, Camille Naudin wrote a Marseillaise Noire. Nevertheless, as of 1860, as Elisée Reclus—who was passing through New Orleans—noted, the theatres were putting on essentially American works. Edouard Dessommes, Alfred Mercier and other novelists published their writings in the major Creole literary journals, L’Abeille (created in 1825), Le Meschacébé and Le Franco-Louisianais. In 1876, Mercier founded l’Athénée Louisianais, which took on the task of recording the decline of Francophone culture. At the close of the century, the Cajun writer Sidonie de La Houssaye achieved fame through a series of novels, Les Quarteronnes de La Nouvelle Orléans.

Alfred Mercier, L'Habitation Saint-Ybars (extrait, chapitre 1)
Editions Tintamarre, Centenary College, Shreveport (La.)
Sidonie de La Houssaye, Les petits soldats
Camille Naudin, La « Marseillaise » Noire