New Iberia author James Lee Burke created a detective named Dave Robicheaux, who prowled south Louisiana fighting crime. The books became so popular that people visiting the city and surrounding region would look for the places Robicheaux frequented, ultimately inspiring local tourism to create a Dave’s Domain trail.
“It’s amazing the amount of people who come through New Iberia just to see the places in Jim Burke’s novels,” said Howard Kingston, owner of the city’s Books Along the Teche bookstore. “He really put New Iberia on the map.”
On April 8-10, this city of 30,000 hosts the inaugural Dave Robicheaux’s Hometown Literary Festival: Celebrating Storytellers from Iberia & Beyond. There will be storytelling, theatrical vignettes, music, local cuisine, bourré lessons, an academic symposium and, of course, tours of the places the fictional Robicheaux roamed.
New Iberia has long supported the best-selling author, said Kingston, one of the festival organizers. Burke, who is 79 and not able to attend the event, happily gave his blessing, Kingston said.
“We talked to him (Burke) in the beginning to get his permission,” Kingston said. “He was really thrilled about it.”
The festival, mostly within New Iberia’s historic district, begins Friday, April 8, with a tour of Robicheaux’s haunts, such as Victor’s Cafeteria and Clementine restaurant in downtown New Iberia, Mount Carmel Academy, the Iberia Parish Courthouse, where the character once had an office, and even the bookstore. The tours continue on Saturday and Sunday, include a meal and cost $60.
Also on Friday, The Grand 10 Theatre will host a screening of “In the Electric Mist,” a film starring Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux. That evening, there will be a cochon de lait pig roast with music and a Dave’s Doppleganger look-alike contest at the Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation.
On Saturday, April 9, local authors will read from their works and sign books along Main Street. There will be a Neon Rain 5K run and 1K walk at Bouligny Plaza, literary vignettes performed by Iberia Performing Arts League, live music, bourré lessons and a tournament, and regional food for sale.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette will offer an all-day symposium titled “Dave Robicheaux and Acadiana,” featuring discussions about the series and its sense of place. The symposium will be at the Shadows-on-the-Teche Visitor Center, 320 E. Main St.
“The festival invited UL to do something of a literary nature with James Lee Burke,” said organizer Claire Manes. “What we’re hoping to do is give a context of Dave Robicheaux in New Iberia.”
The first session, from 10 a.m. to noon, is titled “The Soul of Dave Robicheaux” and will feature panelists Barbara Bogue, author of a critical study titled “James Lee Burke and the Soul of Dave Robicheaux”; Shane Bernard, whose work includes “The Americanization of Cajun Culture”; and Kathryn Dubus, first cousin of James Lee Burke and the sister of Andre Dubus, another writer with deep roots in Louisiana. Suzanne Dugas will moderate.
The second session, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., is titled “Place in the Identity of Regional Writers” and will feature authors Manes, Sam Irwin, Anne Simon, Margaret Simon and Alice J. Voorhies discussing the role of “place” in their works. Sally O. Donlon will moderate.
“This is the academic component of the festival,” Donlon said. “And then at the same time, at least two local presses will be there: the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press and Yellow Flag Press.”
The symposium is free and open to the public. For more information, call Donlon at (337) 482-2964.
On Sunday, April 10, the festival concludes with the film screening and a Robicheaux tour.
Most of the events are free, but some, such as tours, the bourré tournament and the “Black Cherry Blues & Boudin” event Saturday evening at Steamboat Warehouse require tickets. An all-access ticket for $160 includes all ticketed events, including Sunday’s Cadillac Jukebox Brunch at Jefferson Island’s Rip Van Winkle Gardens.
For more information about the festival, visit iberiatravel.com/james-lee-burke.
Burke, who was born in Texas but grew up in Louisiana, has written 20 books in the Robicheaux series and has won Edgar Awards twice for best crime novel of the year. His first book, “The Lost Get-Back Boogie,” was rejected 111 times over nine years before LSU Press published the mystery, later nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Burke also has been a recipient of Breadloaf and Guggenheim fellowships and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. In addition to “Electric Mist,” two of his novels, “Heaven’s Prisoners” and “Two For Texas,” have been made into motion pictures.
“His (Burke’s) descriptive language in his books is like no one else I’ve ever read,” Kingston said. “In his books, you can smell it, you can see it, you can feel it. And the food, you can almost taste it.”