BOOKPACKING THE BIG EASY
In May / June, immediately following commencement, USC offers students a series of classes ‘off campus’, set abroad and in cities across the USA. These ‘special session’ programs are called ‘Maymesters’.
BOOKPACKING THE BIG EASY is a 25-day Maymester set in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, a unique region of America formed of a fusion of cultural strands: Creole, Cajun, African-American and White Protestant.
Andrew leads 12 student bookpackers on a road trip through this fascinating cultural landscape, exploring places and people through the portal of eight classic and contemporary novels, which we read as we travel. We use the novels as guidebooks, adopting a holistic approach to the humanities whereby literature, history, geography, politics and social studies combine into a unified course of study.
The students blog the experience, uploading their blogs to the BOOKPACKERS site. For Andrew's overview of the 2018 experience, see here. For a complete archive of students' blog from 2017 and 2018, see here.
The course begins in Grand Isle, an island on the Gulf Coast south of New Orleans - the setting for Kate Chopin’s classic 1899 novella of self discovery, ‘The Awakening’.
From Grand Isle, the course moves to New Orleans. We explore the early history of the city through Anne Rice’s transgressive, decadent slice of gothic, ‘Interview With the Vampire’.
Michael Ondaatje’s 1976 novel about New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, set in Storyville and the Faubourg Lafayette, is the perfect introduction to New Orleans’ rich and unique African American culture.
Walker Percy’s novel from 1961 captures a different facet of the city - genteel, Southern. It’s the perfect book to read ‘uptown’ in the Garden District.
John Kennedy Toole’s 'A Confederacy of Dunces' is a work of comic genius. Like no other novel it captures the spirit of contemporary New Orleans.
From New Orleans, the course moves to Baton Rouge, where we explore the culture of the poor White South through Robert Penn Warren’s thriller, based on the life of Southern demagogue Huey Long.
We then travel to Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana, where in both 2017 and 2018 we were privileged to meet the author Ernest J. Gaines, whose novels describe the region in the Jim Crow years.
The final stage in the journey is spent in the Southern bayous, where we read short stories by Tim Gautreaux that capture the flavor of Cajun Louisiana.
Tuition costs for the New Orleans Maymester are covered within student fees for the Spring Semester. Students pay an additional charge - roughly $1600 - for flights and accommodation.
Andrew is enormously grateful to Marion Dole for her logistical support in planning this four-week program.