“Flâneur of the American Underclass: Lafcadio Hearn and the Invention of Place in Cincinnati and New Orleans, 1872-1887” (ALA Symposium)
American Literature Association Symposium
“Regionalism and Place in American Literature”
September 7-9, 2017
Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, Louisiana
“Flâneur of the American Underclass: Lafcadio Hearn and the Invention of Place in Cincinnati and New Orleans, 1872-1887”
Before attaining fame by exposing the West to Japanese legends and ghost stories, the young Lafcadio Hearn gained local renown as a journalist, first in Cincinnati (1872-1877) and later in New Orleans (1877-1887). Unlike his peers, Hearn ventured into the regions of these cities that remained invisible to the polite class, composing vivid impressionistic sketches of working-class life in the Bucktown and Levee neighborhoods of Cincinnati — “one of the few depictions we have of black life in a border city during the post-Civil War period” — and the Creole culture of New Orleans (Cott 98). In Cincinnati, Hearn spent his nights amid saloon-keepers, sex workers, and stevedores in juke joints, dives, and roustabout bars, documenting, as he put it, “the life of a community within a community.” As Jonathan Cott has observed, “Lafcadio understood that a valid urban culture…could not be restricted to the parlor and the concert hall but might also be looked for and found in juke joints and riverfront saloons” (99). Hearn conveyed how the culture of the working-class defined the city’s distinctive sense of place, writing, “there is an intense uniqueness about all this pariah existence; its boundaries are most definitely fixed…and many of them are marked by peculiarities of a strictly local character.” Just as Hearn revealed how Cincinnati’s “grotesquely-picturesque roustabout life” contributed to the city’s sense of place, in New Orleans he explored the “subterranean influence of Creole culture” (qtd. in Cott 99, Starr xxiii). In his journalism there, he examined the working-class occupations, language, music, and cuisine that defined the region. As S. Frederick Starr put it, “it was Hearn who, more than anyone else, identified the elements of what became the prevailing image of New Orleans…It is in this sense that…Lafcadio Hearn…invented New Orleans” (xxv-xxvi).
In keeping with the theme of the symposium, we are seeking proposals for presentations on Hearn’s early sketches of working-class life in Cincinnati and New Orleans and the ways they shape how we define(d) these regions. Please submit abstracts to Andrew Ball (firstname.lastname@example.org) by June 5. The subject of the email should be “Hearn Panel 2017.”