Nola Face

A Latina’s Life in the Big Easy

Nola Face

A Latina’s Life in the Big Easy

A memoir-in-essays of a New Orleanian author’s search for identity in an upbringing complicated by competing languages, ethnicities, classes, and educations

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Early in Brooke Champagne’s childhood, her Ecuadorian grandmother Lala (half bruja, half santa) strictly circumscribed the girl’s present and future: become beautiful but know precisely when to use it; rationalize in English but love in God’s first language, the superior Spanish; and if you must write, Dios help you, at least make a subject of me. Champagne’s betrayal of these confounding dictates began before they were even spoken, and she soon started both writing and hiding the truth about whom she was becoming.

The hilarious, heartbreaking essays in this collection trace the evolutions of this girlhood of competing languages, ethnicities, aesthetics, politics, and class constraints against the backdrop of a boozy New Orleans upbringing. In these essays, Champagne and members of her family love poorly and hate well, whip and get whipped, pray and curse in two languages, steal from The Man and give to themselves, kiss where it hurts, poke where it hurts worse, and keep and spill each other’s secrets—first face-to-face, then on the page. They believe and doubt and reckon with the stories they tell about themselves and where they come from, finally becoming most human, most alive, in their connections to one another.

Nola Face is unsparing, funny, and empathic all at once. There is so much vitality, humor, empathy, misery, and passion here! Brooke Champagne is the Mary Karr of her time. What’s more (and what could be more?) this is going to be a rich new addition to the New Orleans canon. This is a marvelous and timely book.

—Andrei Codrescu, author of New Orleans, Mon Amour

In her unflinching and witty memoir, Brooke Champagne gets to the bone of it: family, identity, memory, and the complicated ways in which we relate to each other. In prose that is at once humorous, thought provoking, and emotionally challenging, Champagne asks us all to consider who we are, even when we like ourselves least. She shows us the beauty in looking for the truth, the beauty in trying to make a new way for those who come after us, in offering 'a different gift, a different kind of name.'

—Ashley M. Jones, author of Magic City Gospel

There is humor and candor and ardor here—all the doors, actually, opening into the rich, textured, contradictory city of New Orleans that shapes Champagne’s ear and heart. The star of this memoir is Champagne’s abuela, an 'Ecuadorian imp' who takes the author on beignet escapades, teaches her to 'lie in translation,' and to shoplift Smurfette (for starters) from a drugstore. Toward the end, the abuela wants her granddaughter to write her stories—but which versions to tell? Luckily, we get them all. This account of a woman figuring out how to properly value her unusual inheritance is deeply thoughtful and highly entertaining.

—Beth Ann Fennelly, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs

About the Author/Editor

BROOKE CHAMPAGNE teaches in the MFA program at the University of Alabama. She was awarded the inaugural William Bradley Prize for the Essay, and her work has been selected as notable in several editions of the Best American Essays anthology series. She is the recipient of the Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Fellowship in Prose. She lives in Northport, Alabama, with her husband and children.