A New Face and Voice at the Williams Center

By Emily Nemens

Greetings from Hill Memorial Library! My name is Emily Nemens. I’m a grad student in LSU’s English Department, studying towards an MFA in creative writing, and I’m excited to be spending the summer with the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History.

Oral history has played a recurring role in my life: first, I studied the field with the inimitable Paul Buhle, now retired from the American Civilization department at Brown University. That opened all sorts of doors: I conducted oral histories of Rhode Island musicians, ran the Rhode Island AIDS Oral History Project (an volunteer group run out of Brown’s Swearer Center for Public Service), and spent a summer editing oral histories at the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art.

Since finishing my undergrad degree, oral history keeps popping up. A few years ago Paul Buhle was putting together a graphic adaptation of Studs Terkel’s unforgettable Working, and asked me to illustrate a chapter. I drew a comic-book version of “Beryl Simpson, Airline Reservationist,” with a script by Harvey Pekar (!). More recently, I ghostwrote the memoir of a retired museum director; oral history was the basis of that project.

I first heard about the T. Harry Williams Center through the Louisiana Sea Grant program, and inquired with director Jen Cramer about what exactly goes on here. (Answer: lots of great stuff!) With our shared love of oral history, it’s no wonder we hit it off. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Jen found funding for me to join the Center for the summer. I couldn’t be happier to have oral history back in my ears, and my life.

I’ll be helping with many projects this summer—reconceiving the THWCOH website, special exhibitions, and the all-important task of processing recently accessioned interviews. I’m particularly excited to delve into the sports history of LSU for the Center’s upcoming football exhibition (check out my blog, Gameday Debutante, and you’ll see why), but I’ve gotten off to a great start with the Bayou Lafourche Oral History Project, which was conducted in 2010-11 by LSU religious studies Professor Michael Pasquier and his students.

I grew up in Seattle, and feel like I’m still getting to know Baton Rouge, so my introduction to the southernmost part of state actually came just recently, through an advanced screening of Pasquier’s documentary Water like Stone (which he made with LSU English faculty Zack Godshall). It’s a moving film, and it’s been great to get to hear more about this part of Louisiana and the people that make it so unique. So far, I’ve learned how to seed an oyster bed, found the gene that causes Ushers Syndrome, and sat in on a gospel concert. A road trip to Cut Off, Louisiana is in order, but in the meantime, I’ll keep listening, and keep you posted as my summer progresses.

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