Franke Lectures to explore ‘New Orleans in the American Imaginary’

Natasha Trethewey, Tom Piazza, Mitch Landrieu, and Lynnell Thomas.
Left to right: Natasha Trethewey, Tom Piazza, Mitch Landrieu, and Lynnell Thomas

New Orleans in the American Imaginary” is the topic for the spring Franke Lectures in the Humanities sponsored by the Whitney Humanities Center.

This semester’s series has been organized in conjunction with the Yale College seminar taught by Joseph Fischel, associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and Crystal Feimster, associate professor of African American studies. Natasha Trethewey will deliver the opening lecture, “‘Bellocq’s Ophelia’: New Orleans in the American Imaginary,” at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 28.

Trethewey, who served two terms as poet laureate of the United States (2012-2014), is the author of four collections of poetry: “Native Guard” (2006), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; “Thrall” (2012); “Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002); and “Domestic Work” (2000), which won the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for best first book by an African American poet, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize, and the Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Her book of nonfiction, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” was published in 2010.

Trethewey has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She is a Board of Trustees Professor of English in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. In 2012, Trethewey was named poet laureate of the State of Mississippi and in 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Other guest speakers and lectures in the series include:

Wednesday, April 4, 5 p.m. — Tom Piazza, “Improvising Identity: New Orleans and the American Dream.” Piazza is a celebrated writer on American music. His 12 books include the novels “A Free State” and “City of Refuge,” the post-Katrina manifesto “Why New Orleans Matters,” and “Devil Sent the Rain,” a collection of his essays and journalism. He was a principal writer for the HBO drama series “Treme,” and winner of a Grammy Award for his album notes to “Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey.” In 2015 he received the prestigious Louisiana Writer Award, given by the State Library of Louisiana and the Louisiana Center for the Book. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Bookforum, The Oxford American, Columbia Journalism Review, and many other periodicals. He lives in New Orleans.

Wednesday, April 11, 5 p.m. — Mitch Landrieu, “NOLA 2018: New Orleans Tricentennial.” Landrieu has been mayor of New Orleans since 2010. His mandate upon election was to get New Orleans back on track and bring the city together as “one team, one fight” to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor, leading the post-Katrina effort to rebuild the tourism industry and the tens of thousands of jobs it creates. Before then, he represented the Broadmoor neighborhood in the Louisiana House of Representatives for 16 years, where he established a record as a reformer. Landrieu also had a successful law practice for 15 years and became an expert mediator, focusing on alternative dispute resolution.

Wednesday, April 18, 5 p.m. — Lynnell Thomas, “New Orleans at 300: Tourism, Historical Memory, and Post-Katrina Reality.” Thomas is an associate professor of American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her book “Desire and Disaster in New Orleans: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory” (2014) examines the relationship of tourism, cultural production, and racial politics in pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans. Thomas’ scholarship has appeared in several journals, including American Quarterly, The Black Scholar, Journal of Urban History, Performance Research, and Television and New Media. She has published book chapters in HBO’s “Treme” and “Post-Katrina Catharsis: The Mediated Rebirth of a City”; “In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina: New Paradigms and Social Visions”; and “Seeking Higher Ground: The Race, Public Policy, and Hurricane Katrina Reader.”

All events will be held in the WHC auditorium and are free and open to the public.

The lectures are made possible by the generosity of Richard and Barbara Franke, and are intended to present important topics in the humanities to a wide and general audience.  

For more information contact the Whitney Humanities Center at 203-432-0670 or

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Whitney Humanities Center:, 203-432-0670