Southern Storytelling: Tim Gautreaux’s “Signals”

Southeastern Professor Emeritus / Writer-in-Residence Tim Gautreaux’s latest offering, Signals: New and Selected Stories, collects twelve new short stories alongside nine others from his previous two collections, Same Place, Same Things and Welding with Children, resulting in a nice sample of the author’s rich and unique oeuvre of Southern storytelling. It is a great starting place for newly introduced readers and a fine summation for old fans of Gautreaux’s work.

pubshot2Tim Gautreaux

Like most of his fiction, the bulk of these stories deals with failed relationships, the trials of old age, matters of faith and morality, and the blue-collar Cajun culture of Southwestern Louisiana. They are stories that are peopled with lonely and sometimes bitter men and women who live to fix things, but who also work to take them apart. Gautreaux is able to warmly infuse humor and wit so that his stories are never down-and-out depressing, thus comfortably eschewing the modern inclination toward nihilism and gimmicky structure and plot.

It is clear after reading these stories that Gautreaux, like one of his characters, would find “it hard to believe that anything on earth was empty,” thus reinforcing the idea of how important telling stories—sending out “signals”—is to the world and for posterity.  These stories are further able to provide a sort of moral guidepost without ever being overly didactic or preachy.

But much like Mark Twain, Gautreaux is at his best when he uses figurative language to convey not only humor, but a resounding message as well. In “Radio Magic,” for example, when the protagonist Cliff takes up painting in order to try to become “famous,” Gautreaux comments on his character’s failed attempts at painting nudes, saying they “looked like white cattle that had grazed too long on a nuclear test site.”

The deeper message of this story, though, is one that also resonates in a very unified and satisfying way throughout the entire collection, and that is the myriad ways in which we attempt to communicate with one another; and “how the sounds we make never really stop, and [how] all of us are famous but just don’t know it yet.”

The author here is able to weave this theme of communication throughout the majority of his stories. It is the idea of “signals” and the messages one sends out to the world, often never knowing who’s retrieving those messages—or if anyone’s retrieving them at all. In “The Furnace Man’s Lament,” for example, Gautreaux’s narrator poses the question: “Where does someone who’s totally disconnected go to connect?”

In perhaps the most satisfying story of the lot, the answer to that question is an online marketplace where disgruntled customers go to review products they don’t like. This is a surprisingly different tale for Gautreaux called “The Review,” in which an aspiring novelist tracks down the person who gave his first novel a one-star review on Usually stories that are about writing and writers are hard to pull off without them feeling insular or trite, but Gautreaux brings the reader to near-tears with the surprising revelation in this one.

Gautreaux is also a writer who very clearly “like[s] symbols, [sees] the meanings in objects.” A radio, a mysterious sewing machine, an antique toy collection, a pair of old pilot’s wings, each offering a window into their owners’ souls. Yet as one character laments, “It’s all crap if you don’t know anything about it.”

But Gautreaux does know about these things, and he knows them well. And his job here seems to be to tell the reader about them, about the “importance of objects.” For “it [is] all about connections.” Both literal and figurative. And that’s just what these stories do. They serve as conduits for the reader to connect with Gautreaux’s often down-and-out characters, folks about whom the author writes with compassion, clarity, and warmth.

Signals is a collection that reaches beyond the South, stretching Gautreaux’s “own little postage stamp of native soil” to include stories that span the geography of North America—from Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Canada, Texas, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia—in order for him to communicate the vital necessity for art, for conversation, for preserving one’s history through the things one collects and then leaves behind, the earthly work one undertakes. This collection of stories becomes, for its readers, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” and it serves as a beacon of light and hope, a reminder of the importance of the finely honed and well-crafted tale.

By David Armand
This review, in modified form, was originally published in the New York Journal of Books.

Golf, Philosophy, and Mary Seacole: Black History Month Lecture Series Tees Off February 12

The Department of History and Political Science at Southeastern Louisiana University will hold a lecture series in February in honor of Black History Month. All the lectures are free and open to the public.

Scheduled for Feb. 12, at 11 a.m., the first lecture titled “Obstruction: African American Golfers and Southern Resistance in the Twilight of Jim Crow” will be given by Chad Duffaut in the Student Union Theatre.

“One of the most underappreciated narratives of the Civil Rights movement involves the sport of golf and the fight for equal access to proper facilities,” said Department Head of History and Political Science Bill Robison. “To African American golfers, this fight represented an opportunity to take the next step in changing a broken system and erasing the cruel and unjust life of Jim Crow.”

Next on the schedule is a lecture by Peter Gratton on Feb. 20 titled “African Philosophy: Past and Future.” Scheduled at 11 a.m., the lecture will take place in Pottle Music Auditorium.

“For too long Africans were thought not to have cultural beliefs or even simply ‘tribal religions,’” said Robison. “This talk demonstrates quickly just how false (and racist) this view is. First, Dr. Gratton quickly reviews the major trends in African philosophy, then discusses where the future of this set of philosophical traditions appears to be heading.”

The final lecture in the series is scheduled for Feb. 26, at 11 a.m., in the Student Union Theatre. Samantha Cavell will deliver a lecture titled “Mary Seacole: Breaking all Boundaries in the Victorian Age.”

“For more than a century the story of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse who aided thousands of British soldiers on the front lines of the Crimean War, was lost in the long shadows cast by her rival, Florence Nightingale,” Robinson explained. “But Mary Seacole’s remarkable journey from traditional healer and specialist in tropical medicine to beloved ‘mother’ of the troops at Sevastopol stands as tribute to her steadfast belief in herself and her mission, and her iron will to overcome all obstacles, especially those of gender, race, and cultural bigotry.”

For additional information about Southeastern’s Black History Month lecture series, contact Robison at 985.549.2413 or

Endless Innovation: New High-Tech Computer Lab Now Open

Above Image: Cutting the ribbon are, from left, Southeastern President John L. Crain and Envoc CEO Calvin Fabre

Students at Southeastern Louisiana University will soon benefit from a high-tech computer lab thanks to a generous donation from Envoc, a web and mobile software design, development, and application-hosting firm based in Baton Rouge, with a second location in Hammond.

Pending University of Louisiana System Board approval, the new space will be named the Envoc Innovation Lab. It is located in the newly constructed Computer Science and Technology Building on Southeastern’s campus.

After years of integrated teaching and mentorship in college classrooms, Envoc is investing in a more permanent involvement by funding development of the new lab, said Envoc CEO Calvin Fabre. Officially opened Jan. 29, the new lab will provide a work-like environment on campus that is an extension of Envoc’s company culture and mission to create a better reality.

“Many of our Envoceans at our Hammond office are Southeastern graduates, as am I, and we like to stay involved and create learning opportunities for future developers,” said Fabre. “We personally help develop the computer science curriculum at Southeastern, and some of our Envoceans even facilitate project classes, offering students an opportunity to work side-by-side with thriving professionals on innovative projects. The Innovation Lab enhances that experience on campus.”

Southeastern Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Undergraduate Coordinator of Computer Science and Industrial Technology John Burris worked closely with Envoc to organize the lab’s conception and opening.

“Students are highly motivated by the opportunity to experience a real-world work environment, so the vision for the Innovation Lab was to immerse students in the environment of a software agency and encourage professionalism and innovation,” said Burris.

Designed to mirror Envoc’s offices and provide students with a variety of stations to work alone or with a group, the new lab contains a lounge area, two rows of modern workstations, two futuristic privacy chairs, and a section where students can virtually sit in on Envoc’s developer meetings.

“The innovation center is the result of education and software institutions coming together to invest in young developers,” said Professor of Computer Science Ghassan Alkadi. “The lab will provide an environment for computer science majors to receive professional mentorship, work on client-based projects, and gain knowledge beyond what can be self-taught or learned in a textbook.”

For more information, contact the Department of Computer Science at 985.549.5740.

Advocates for Quality Teacher Preparation

Dean and Alumna Participate in Washington DC Roundtable Discussion

Above Image: 2018 College of Education Student Teacher of the Year Payton Bryant, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, College of Education Dean Paula Summers Calderon

Southeastern Louisiana University College of Education Dean Paula Summers Calderon was recently invited to Washington DC by US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to participate in a roundtable discussion about preparing classroom teachers. Southeastern is one of only seven school-university partners in the nation and the only one in Louisiana originally selected for the education coalition University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Education Preparation (US PREP).

“US PREP is a well-connected program advocating for rigorous university-based teacher education programs. In addition to advocating, US PREP provides clinical coaches who come to the university to train our methods instructors, host mentor teachers, and university site coordinators in best practices in teacher education,” Calderon explained. “As a new dean, I made the decision to continue the US PREP partnership, and the College of Education is delighted to be an inaugural and continuing member of the US PREP Coalition.”

Attending the meeting with Calderon was Southeastern alumna and 2018 College of Education Student Teacher of the Year Payton Bryant. Bryant currently teaches at Luling Elementary in St. Charles Parish.

“When Dr. Calderon asked me to attend the roundtable discussion in Washington DC to speak to Secretary DeVos, I was beyond excited for a chance to tell my story of what high quality teacher preparation can do,” Bryant said. “My ultimate goal was to implore Secretary DeVos to make my experience commonplace for new teachers in order to prepare them adequately and retain them for years to come.”

During the discussion, Bryant added, the participants explained their teacher education programs and the far-reaching impact of those programs on the students.

“I mainly discussed how pre-service teachers need a chance to fail with a mentor teacher there to guide them, because we do not have this chance when we begin in our own classroom,” Bryant explained. “I was fortunate to have a mentor teacher who held me to the highest of standards, gave me feedback each day, and never settled for anything less than my best. She never told me what to do but questioned me and made me figure out things for myself. This opportunity does not exist now that I am inside of my own classroom, which is why every single teacher candidate needs it.”

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During the meeting at the Department of Education, US PREP highlighted how it is addressing challenges that contribute to a national shortage of educators. Coalition deans and program graduates shared innovative features of the initiative and emphasized the importance of high-quality training for pre-service teachers.

“In some states, the standards are low for preparation programs, making it easy to become a teacher through low-quality programs,” said US PREP Executive Director Sarah Beal. “These teachers often teach in our highest need areas, and when they are not well-prepared, it can result in perpetuating inequities in our school systems as well as de-professionalizing the teaching profession overall.”

“Many policymakers are critical of colleges of education and have given up on us,” Beal added. “We were pleased to showcase the hard work that has been done by the partner universities in US PREP, and that it is possible to make innovative improvements and thoroughly prepare candidates to be ready to teach on day one. We are very grateful to Secretary DeVos and her staff for taking the time to listen.”

Among the features of US PREP are close partnerships between universities and schools, embedded university faculty in school districts, and intensive clinical experiences featuring a yearlong teaching experience and robust performance assessments. US PREP also supports their member providers with developing high-quality teacher preparation pathways that are affordable and accessible to prospective teachers.

US PREP is adding eight more partners, including in New York City and California. In all, the US PREP coalition will prepare over 5,000 new teachers each year.


Be in The Big Event

Job Site Registration Now Open for Area Businesses, Churches, and Organizations

Students at Southeastern Louisiana University are looking to add area businesses, churches, and organizations to their list of job sites for the annual community service day called The Big Event. The registration deadline for organizations to be included in The Big Event is March 1, and there is no charge to register as a job site.

Sponsored by the Student Government Association, The Big Event sponsors teams of students who participate in a day of voluntary community service in Hammond and the surrounding area. Now in its ninth year, The Big Event is scheduled for Saturday, March 30, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. In the case of inclement weather on March 30, a make-up rain date of April 6 has been reserved.

Litter removal, painting, landscaping, and other activities are the typical jobs handled by hundreds of students who participate in The Big Event each year.

Since students provide their own transportation, job sites should be within 25 minutes of the Hammond campus. Job sites must also have a contact person on location to supervise the work.

Organizations can get more information or sign up to provide a job site by visiting