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My biography is closely connected to events that happened years before I was born. Between 1919 and 1941 my grandfather and his four siblings were hospitalized in the United States Public Health Services Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, the hospital for the treatment of leprosy (now preferably called Hansen’s disease). In those years because there was no known cure for the condition and little understanding of its transmission, ignorance and fear accompanied a diagnosis. Consequently we did not speak of my grandfather or his brothers and sisters; I absorbed the message of secrecy, but I did not stop imagining that somehow I would find my grandfather, this man who had died thirteen years before I was born.
Years after his death, letters from him to his parents were discovered. Strangely, I did not read them immediately but when I did I was captivated. Here was this man I had longed to know telling his own story in his own hand. I was unprepared for the power that these letters held for me, but I set out to honor them. My first efforts to honor the letters resulted in meeting Marcia Gaudet, who was involved in her own work about Carville residents. Her respect for her subjects, her topic, and for my grandfather’s letters inspired me to pursue my doctorate and to make those letters the subject of my dissertation. During those years Marcia continued as teacher, friend, and advisor. Once I completed my studies, I wanted to write a book that would tell my grandfather’s story in his own words for a wider audience. The book due out in May from University Press of Mississippi is that book. Out of the Shadow of Leprosy: the Carville Letters and Stories of the Landry Family contains all of my grandfather’s letters written during his incarceration in Carville from 1924 to his death there in 1932. The book seeks to weave the story of one man who lived honestly and painfully not the life he wanted but the fate he was given. His letters give a first person account of life in Carville at a time when patients were isolated and stigmatized for a misunderstood and feared condition.