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Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau Hardcover – March 11, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Two commanding Creole women reigned supreme in New Orleans between the 1820s and 1880s, the spiritual leader Marie Laveau and her similarly gifted daughter of the same name. Ward, an indomitable researcher and inspired interpreter, not only tells the entire astonishing and moving story of the two Marie Laveaus but also offers a fresh perspective on Creole culture and voodoo New Orleans style, a religion of the African diaspora that, as Ward so sensitively explains, was crucial to the survival of African Americans during the grim days of slavery. Official documentation of the lives of Marie the First and Marie the Second is scant and confusing, but Ward brilliantly deciphers evidence of the shrewd strategies the Laveaus employed in order to conduct the voodoo gatherings so essential to practitioners and so feared and demonized by the white establishment, and, most critically, to help free slaves. Citing numerous sources new to history books, Ward brings tumultuous nineteenth-century New Orleans vividly to life as she reveals the true nature of the equally maligned and mythologized Marie Laveaus, devotional, dramatic, and subversive women of otherworldly power and courage who saved numerous lives, and made life livable for many more. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

From the Publisher

The lives and times of the two most powerful spiritual women in Creole New Orleans


History of nineteenth-century New Orleans

Account of voodoo religious practice in New Orleans

Story of both Marie Laveaus, a mother and daughter team

Struggles of Marie Laveau against New Orleans police and journalists

Efforts by Marie Laveau to represent and empower Creole population

New understanding of Marie Laveau as healer and helper to poor and oppressed

Description of Laveaus' many battles against slavery system of the United States


"Under The Same Sky"
See this and more inspirational memoirs.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Mississippi; 1st edition (March 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578066298
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578066292
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #271,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on December 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
One of the famous above-ground cemeteries of New Orleans is known as St. Louis No. 1, the oldest graveyard in the city. A tall marble and stucco tomb there is a site where devotees frequently leave gifts - flowers, candy, salt, coins, beads, bourbon - for Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo priestess. She still attracts attention, and some people still talk to her. One of these is Martha Ward, an anthropologist at the University of New Orleans, who has written _Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau_ (University Press of Mississippi). It is a book from a strange sort of participatory journalism; the author says she has "relied on dreams, intuition, a hyperactive imagination, and funky Voodoo luck." She admits to standing in front of the tomb and hearing Marie laugh when asked "What really happened?" Marie's answer: "Who knows the whole story, and maybe it's better that way." There is such a gumbo of legend and fact here, along with earnest attempts to clear up history and legal agreements that were deliberately made murky in the first place, that calling upon voodoo as a reference source isn't as dicey as it might seem. Ward is a competent guide through confusing social customs of strange times in a strange locale, and she interprets the gaps as carefully as possible. "There's hardly any peg in this whole narrative that's literal, truthful or absolute," she warns, but there is plenty of good storytelling and historical recreations of New Orleans nonetheless.

Marie Laveau was born in 1801 to an unmarried "free woman of color." She grew up in religious training around the famous St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter.
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45 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Jacqueline Jones on February 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have always taken great interest in the history of my home town, New Orleans. I read whatever I can find about the corky characters that made this city so unique, and Marie Laveau has always been one of my favorites. Unfortunately, this book was a terrible disappointment.

Much of the insights about Marie Laveau in this book are not new but drawn from other sources that Martha Ward, the author, often fails to acknowledge and what is actually new here contains considerable mistakes on nearly every other page or is blurred with unsubstantiated fiction. Ward also displays little familiarity with Voodoo practices and Catholicism. To make matters worse, Ward makes painfully racist statements such as the best hotels in town "held tasteful slave auctions in their carpeted lobbies" (p.80). In my view, there is nothing "tasteful" about a horrendous ordeal like that, at least not for the men, women, and children who ended up on the auction block. Sadly, Ward, a white woman from Oklahoma, identifies here with the perspective of the slave buyers who indeed must have considered fine hotels to be a more "tasteful" environment than the dingy slave pens filled with stench.

The abundance of fiction and incorrect data makes me wonder whether Ward should have considered writing a historical novel instead, because her passion seems to be in the fiction not in caring about complex historical data. That way it would have been more honest and less confusing for the reader. As it is, Ward's book is both entertaining and an easy read, but should not be mistaken for a meticulously researched serious academic work despite the fact that it appeared in a scholarly press. Even major plots in this volume cannot be backed up historically. For more reliable sources on Marie Laveau see for instance Carolyn Long, Spiritual Merchants, and Ina Fandrich, The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
On June 21, 1874, reporters at the New Orleans Times unexpectedly received an invitation to attend the annual St. John's Eve voodoo celebration on the lakefront. That the invitation was from the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, came as quite a shock. White newspapermen in the city had long been critical both of Laveau and her religion. They could not, however, pass up an opportunity to attend the mysterious event. As the reporters boarded the Lake Pontchartrain Railroad bound for Milneburg two nights later, they expected to witness a wild ceremony complete with snake dancing, animal sacrifices, and scantily clad women. When they arrived, however, Laveau and her followers were nowhere to be found and the reporters soon realized that they had been duped. The invitation was a hoax.
The fooled reporters were not the first individuals to be thwarted in their efforts to find Marie Laveau, nor would they be the last. The Marie Laveau the reporters set out to find was actually Marie Laveau the Second. Her mother, Marie the First, was the original Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Both women were elusive figures during their lifetimes, and each became even more mystifying in death. For over a century, historians, folklorists, theologians, and writers have pilgrimaged to New Orleans with hopes of learning the true story of the two Voodoo queens. The anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston found mixed success during the 1920s. During the Great Depression, the Federal Writer's Project employed an entire team of interviewers to press elderly New Orleanians for any information about the Laveaus. In recent decades, scores of articles, theses and dissertations, have been written about the fabled mother and daughter priestesses.
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