Louis E. Bourgeois
has no illusions about his troubled life along the
bayous of Southeastern Louisiana. He attempts to
understand the beauty and horror of his world and does
so with an extraordinary display of honesty that is so
strong - it can only lead to redemption.
The Gar Diaries, in an almost surreal way, deals with
the problems of growing up working class in South
Louisiana toward the end of the 20th century. The main
character, Lucas Jeanfreaux, has no illusion about his
troubled life along these bayous of Louisiana.
Born into a troubled working class existence at the very
end of the Vietnam war, Lucas understands only three
things at a very early age: there was a war and now it's
over, there is something dark about his life, and,
somehow he is not like other people.
“It's quite a badge of honor when
a writer becomes so associated with his region
that we treat him as though he created the place
itself: Faulkner's Mississippi, Cheever's
suburbia, Dicken's London, to name a few. To
this list, we should add Bourgeois's Louisiana,
for in the prose pieces that comprise The Gar
Diaries, Louis E. Bourgeois brings to the reader
a place---his corner of Southeast
Louisiana---that is little seen and little
known. In prose as dazzling as his poetry, he
makes flora and fauna come alive, and populates
his world with people we need to know. Warm and
troubling all at once, The Gar Diaries is a
one-of-a-kind book from a true original." Thomas
S. Williams, Arkansas Review
Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a part of your
life? Who were your earliest influences and why?
Bourgeois: I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 19,
1970, around noon on a Thursday, two days after Mardi Gras and one
day after Ash Wednesday. I grew up on the north side of Lake
Ponchartrain in the Slidell/Lacombe area. I spent many of my
weekends and summers as a child at my grandmother’s marina,
Jeanfreaux’s Fishermen’s Rest, in East New Orleans on the Bayou
Sauvage. It is quite natural that these exotic waterscapes and
marshland images became important to me as I developed as a poet and
writer. I didn’t learn to read until I was seven or eight years
old, but when I finally did learn, I struck back with a vengeance.
By the time I was ten years old, I read the entirety of a Funk and
Wagnall’s encyclopedia set my mother bought for me on an installment
plan and by the time I was twelve, I’d read the whole of the King
James bible twice (once because my mother made me, the other time
because I wanted to). I read little serious literature until high
school and in the tenth grade I became obsessed with Yeats and
Coleridge—I thought these two poets best expressed the anguish and
beauty of life, and I was most certainly a strange and abstract
juvenile. I was particularly in awe of Coleridge: I must have read
Kubla Khan and Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner no less than 500 times
before I was sixteen years old. I’m still this way even now, once I
finally find a piece of literature I can truly admire and fall in
love with, I’ll read it over and over until the book falls quite
do you write?
write primarily because I don’t know how to do anything else. When
I was younger, writing was a religious type experience for me, but
I’m no longer sure if that’s the case any longer. But
as William Saroyan put it, I write because I want to.
kind of fish is a gar? Why did you call this book
The Gar Diaries?
The garfish is one of the oldest species of fish in North America.
Where I was raised in South Louisiana, they were eaten by the poorer
population of the region, but not because of the quality of the
meat, which taste as good as the most highly prized sports fish, but
because they are so difficult to clean (it takes a machete or axe to
dress one, and a whole lot of skill to boot). But my interest in
the gar had nothing to do with this: growing up on the wharves on
Bayou Sauvage, I was always intoxicated when seeing gars lying as
still as spikes just below the waterline…I’d stare at them hard, as
if I was taking in their spirit. They were strange and mystical
creatures to me, I was also frightened of them. In any case, when I
began writing my memoir, it seemed as if every other narrative was
either about garfish or included gars in one way or another. A
friend of mine, J.E. Pitts, of Oxford American fame, noticed
this apparent obsession with gars in my prose and made a quip that I
should call it The Gar Diaries. He meant it as a joke but I
in fact liked the sound of it and the idea behind it quite a bit.
The garfish in my book serves as a kind of metaphor for the
primitive side of individuals and societies, a primitivism that we
have not transcended and perhaps never will.
you still fish?
I no longer fish or hunt. I’ve become a vegetarian over the past
year or so for complicated reasons that even I don’t fully
understand. Certainly, The Smith’s song Meat is Murder had
an impact on my decision to convert, or perhaps all the animals I
killed in my youth have come back to haunt me now that I’m quickly
approaching middle age.
chapter “Baton Rouge” you write, “I do not ever want to go to
certain places…Dallas, Atlanta, Houston, Boulder, Denver….” Please
Louis E. Bourgeois: I can explain only
the southern towns here…I was raised in one of the hottest regions
of the country…even the winter months can be boiling hot in Slidell,
etc. This being the case, cold weather was always a welcomed and
even mystical event where I was raised. As a child, I dreamed of
living in cold climates. I now live in Oxford, Mississippi, which
is still very much the deep south, but is six hours north and the
weather is often times quite a bit cooler than down in New Orleans—I
still dream of living in cold regions—I would like to spend early
fall in Norway or Denmark someday.
What do you hope
readers will take with them after reading
The Gar Diaries?
wrote The Gar Diaries for working class folk, especially the
working class of southeast Louisiana. That region is quite
underrepresented in the world of literature and I wanted to give a
voice to that region. I think where I was raised is a bizarre and
beautiful place, and deserves to be written about…but beyond that,
what I was attempting to do in The Gar Diaries was to capture
the spirit of Joy as I often experienced it as I was growing up.
The book is about a lot of things, poverty, class issues,
disability, education, stupidity, shyness, arrogance, sex,
starvation, drunkenness, God and the Anti-Christ, etc., but, if
forced to say what ultimately the book is about, I would say it is
about the real need to obtain freedom, by any means necessary.
did you learn from writing
The Gar Diaries?
Mostly, that memory is sacred and writing is the best way to
preserve the greater qualities of what we are.