|People on Campus: playwright Anne Galjour|
November 28, 2005
and heavy rains were par for the course in Lafourche Parish, La., where
Creative Writing Lecturer Anne Galjour
was born and raised. Power outages and flooding streets meant school cancellations
and running home to huddle with parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
By the light of a gas-burning lamp, Galjour listened to elder relatives
swap stories of the Galveston, Texas Great Hurricane of 1900. "Parents
tied children to the branches of tall trees. … The water would rise
and they would have to untie them and hope their children would make it," Galjour
Twenty five years have passed since she left Louisiana, but the landscape of her childhood lives on in her award-winning solo show "Hurricane." The play, which Galjour wrote in 1992 following Hurricane Andrew, was inspired by time spent along the Mississippi Delta: the electricity in the air before a storm, trawling for shrimp in the marshes with her father, and the alligator that made its way onto a neighbor's front porch steps. Sadly, "Hurricane" is now a living document of places washed away. Katrina leveled Grand Isle, La., and other areas that are part of Galjour's earliest memories.
Between teaching two playwriting classes during the fall semester, Galjour has helped the Gulf Coast region get back on its feet. Teaming with the Z Space Studio, Galjour has performed her one-woman show at theaters in Berkeley, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Seattle, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity and arts organizations throughout New Orleans.
She's optimistic about the city's future, largely because of the outpouring of support she's witnessed across the country and especially at SFSU. Galjour recalled a visit to Lecturer Matthew Davison's class where she witnessed his creative writing students place nearly $600 in a box for hurricane relief. "These are students," she said, pointing out that most don't have money to spare.
Galjour taught her first class at SFSU in 2000 and continues to feel a special connection with her students. "What I love about teaching at State is that some of the students I teach [will be] the first in their family to graduate college, like I was," Galjour said. She studied English at Nicholls State University in Louisiana.
She added that many students stay in touch with their roots, whether they are from another region of the United States or another country. "That's what poetry is -- capturing the voice of your people," she said.
Critics have pointed out that in "Hurricane" Galjour captures the voice of her people masterfully. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that after seeing the one-woman show, he was surprised to see only Galjour at the curtain call. He was expecting to see a handful of actors. Galjour seems to juggle effortlessly her cast of Cajun characters, a skill she honed as a children's storyteller.
"I studied folk tales a long time -- memorized them, started dropping the 'he said' and 'she said' -- kids loved it," she explains.
Teaching and performing keep Galjour busy but she makes time every day for writing -- even if only for 15 minutes. She offered this advice to her students: "The world is not telling you to be a playwright so you have to believe in yourself and you have to be willing to walk away from the naysayers." She suggests that any aspiring playwright should study the business side of the field, especially marketing.
Galjour continues to raise funds through "Hurricane" for New Orleans' True Brew Café Playhouse, where her long-running multicharacter play "Okra" was a sold-out hit pre-Katrina. The playhouse, just a few blocks from the city's convention center, is now in shambles.
"Theater is sacred. It came out of the temples … There is a beauty in people coming together in a public space to experience something together," Galjour said. "If theaters can't come back, artists can't come back. We need to get New Orleans up and running. And it needs to come back with its character intact."
-- Adrianne Bee
Note: This story also appears in the Nov. 28 edition of CampusMemo.
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