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Tricentennial Reading List with Arthur Hardy

As we head into another carnival season, Susan Larson talks with author and Mardi Gras aficionado, Arthur Hardy, about books on Mardi Gras in part one of a special Carnival edition of The Reading List.

  • Mardi Gras in New Orleans: An Illustrated History, by Arthur Hardy – first edition came out in 2001
  • The Mystick Krewe: Chronicles of Comus and His Kin, by Perry Young
  • New Orleans Masquerade by Arthur LaCour
  • Carnival, American Style, by Samuel Kinser
  • Mardi Gras New Orleans, by Henri Schindler
  • Mardi Gras Treasures: Invitations of the Golden Age, by Henri Schindler
  • Mardi Gras Treasures: Costume Designs of the Golden Age by Henri Schindler 
  • Mardi Gras Treasures: Float Designs of the Golden Age by Henri Schindler
  • Mardi Gras Treasures: Jewelry of the Golden Age, by Henri Schindler
  • Mardi Gras Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival, by Errol Laborde and Peggy Scott Laborde
  • Krewe, The Early New Orleans Carnival: From Comus to Zulu, by Errol Laborde
  • Rex: An Illustrated History of the School of Design: Pro Bono Publico, by Stephen Hales

Susan: Let's talk about some of the early histories like "The Mystick Krewe: Chronicles of Comus and His Kin, by Perry Young."

Arthur: I mean that is a quintessential book. Anybody who's ever written anything after that starts with Perry Young's book. I wish I could have gotten to know him but I did get to know his daughter Zuma Salaun but he did it all. Many people have poured through his books for years and I don't think there are three eras in it. I mean, he just was so exacting in everything he did. He's a beautiful writer, I have several copies. One beat up so I actually have a page from it and this is the oft-quoted Henri Schindler and media records. The most beautiful description ever he says, "Carnival is a butterfly of winter whose last mad flight of Mardi Gras forever ends his glory. Another season is the glory of another butterfly, and the tattered, scattered fragments of rainbow wings are in turn the record of his day." Isn't it magnificent and that's in the preface, you know where it's found.

Susan: I love that. The books itself is so beautiful.

Arthur: Yes, it really is.

Susan: The cover, there's one edition with the [Japanese] Noh mask on the cover is-

Arthur: Yes, it was just [crosstalk] and some illustrations and that's where it all starts.

['March of the Mardi Gras' by Santo and His Dixie-Land Jazz Band]

Arthur: The next really significant book in 1952, Arthur Burton LaCour did something called "New Orleans Masquerade." It really updates what Perry Young did in his zillion photographs all black and white. The lead of the book for Comus' centennial in 1956. This is a rare case where the second edition of the book is worth more than the first because there's or information in it.

Susan: Well, Henri Schindler, of course, has played an important role in carnival and carnival histories and his books are many.

Arthur: Yes, they are. I published a book he did on the history of Hermes; He did one on the Atlanteans; then for the Flammarion Publishing Company, he did something I think just called Mardi Gras, that's just from New Orleans.

Susan: "Mardi Gras New Orleans", right?

Arthur: Yes, just phenomenal. Then for Pelican, he did a series of books really dealing with the art of Mardi Gras with parade posters, bulletins, and jewelry and various things. That did really a lot for the collecting market because now we have something to go to as a reference guide and just so very important.

Susan: He did invitations, costume designs, float designs, jewelry, really extraordinary [crosstalk]

Arthur: Yes, he's a dear and friend and a treasure and of course he's designed the Rex parade for years and he's had really a big impact. He also does in Endymion and Bacchus and Hermes. His imprint is large in carnival today.

['If I ever cease to love' by the Original Zenith Brass Band]

Susan: Now the Krewe's been large in carnival history. Now, we have "Krewe, The Early New Orleans Carnival: From Comus to Zulu", by Errol Laborde. That more recently, we have "Rex: An Illustrated History of the School of Design" from Stephen Hales. It's a really gorgeous book, so Krewe history has been important over years as well.

Arthur: Yes, and they overlap the general histories of a carnival. Of course, Errol did that wonderful book with Mitchel Osborne in 1981 called "Mardi Gras: A Celebration" then Peggy did a book, Peggy Scott Laborde recently. Krewe is an important book, it's got a lot of early interesting information on some of the founders of the early parades. I think Henri and Errol have contributed mightily to the whole library of carnival information. I think there are more books forthcoming, I hope so.

Susan: I do too.

The Reading Life in 2010, Susan Larson was the book editor for The New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988-2009. She has served on the boards of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library. She is the founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, which presents the annual Diana Pinckley Prizes for Crime Fiction.. In 2007, she received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the literary community. She is also the author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans. If you run into her in a local bookstore or library, she'll be happy to suggest something you should read. She thinks New Orleans is the best literary town in the world, and she reads about a book a day.

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