Claire Manes, a college instructor, has degrees in education, theology and English. Her lifelong interest has been in discovering her grandfather who was treated for leprosy in Carville, La., from 1924 until his death in 1932. Her doctorate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette gave her analytic tools to edit her grandfather’s letters, thus bringing him to life and her family out of the shadow of leprosy that had kept them silent for more than 60 years.
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Out of the Shadow of Leprosy: The Carville Letters and Stories of the Landry Family
Out of the Shadow of Leprosy: The Carville Letters and Stories of the Landry Family presents a personal, first-hand account of one family’s trauma when faced with leprosy.
In 1924, 32-year-old Edmond Landry kissed his family goodbye and left for the leprosarium in Carville, La. Now referred to as Hansen’s disease, leprosy stigmatized and disfigured but did not kill. Those with leprosy were incarcerated in a federal hospital that was isolated from family and community. Phones were unavailable, transportation was precarious and fear was rampant.
Edmond, along with four of his siblings, entered the hospital but did not surrender to his fate. He fought with his pen and limited energy to stay connected to his family, trying to improve living conditions for himself and other patients.
Author Claire Manes, Edmond’s granddaughter, lived much of her life gripped by the silence surrounding her grandfather. When his letters were discovered, she became inspired to tell his story through her scholarship and his writing. Out of the Shadow of Leprosy presents her grandfather’s letters and her own studies of narrative and Carville during much of the 20th century.
What are the most important and interesting things readers can learn from your book Out of the Shadow of Leprosy?
My grandfather's willingness to accept the fate he was dealt, with not only dignity but generosity of spirit, is an important lesson to all of us. The book Wounded Story Teller by Arthur Frank speaks about the importance of living an ethical life while being ill. I believe my grandfather's life is a template for such ethical living.
What motivated you to tell this story?
That is an easy question! I had always wanted to know about my grandfather who died before I was born. Writing this book gave me the opportunity to learn about him in his own words and then enabled me to tell his story to others.
What was the most interesting or enjoyable part of the process of writing this book?
Discovering my grandfather was probably the most interesting part of the process of writing this book, but close behind that was finding other people whose story resonated with this one or who had their own memories and concepts of Carville. I don't think I realized that so many others would have a connection to this story and it has been rewarding to meet those people.
How do you think this story resonates with Louisiana (culture, readers, history, Louisianans, etc.)?
As one woman told me when I first began this project, Carville is a place of interest and curiosity to many of us particularly in south Louisiana. It is a place we heard of or perhaps visited, but it always held a certain mystery in our culture.
What excites you about the festival?
This sounds like the gushing of a giddy school girl, but I have always dreamed of participating in a book festival. I love books, I love the talk about books, I love being around books so to have the opportunity to participate in the Louisiana Festival of Books is a dream come true.
What should people look forward to by coming to your presentation at the festival?
I would hope that people attending my session would be looking for a story that inspires. I believe that my grandfather’s story is not the only such story but it is indeed an important story-- the story of a man who lived a meaningful life despite his fate. I would hope that his life can invigorate and inspire all of us.
This story is my grandfather's story, but it is also a story about secrets and what can be lost if those secrets are not shared. We were silent about my grandfather and if his letters had not been rediscovered his life would not have been known. That is not unique to our family but is the experience of so many who think their stories are too painful or ordinary or insignificant, Yet in the telling of those stories there can be healing and a magnificent sense of freedom. Perhaps some who hear this story will look for their own family stories and discover the strength of their own relatives.
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