Mary Ann Sternberg
Mary Ann Sternberg is a non-fiction author and freelance writer with a deep appreciation for Louisiana’s history and culture. She lives in Baton Rouge and has an abiding delight in exploring the world. Her previous work includes Winding through Time: The Forgotten History and Present-Day Peril of Bayou Manchac as well as numerous articles in magazines and newspapers, including Preservation, Sierra, Saveur, Montana Magazine, the Times Picayune and the Dallas Morning News.
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River Road Rambler: A Curious Traveler along Louisiana's Historic Byway
River Road, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, hosts a fascinating mix of people, traditions and stories. Author Mary Ann Sternberg has spent more than two decades exploring this historic corridor, uncovering its intriguing and often-underappreciated places. In River Road Rambler, she presents 15 sketches about sites along this scenic route. From familiar stops such as the National Hansen’s Disease Center Museum at Carville and the perique tobacco area of St. James Parish to lesser-known attractions such as Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in Convent and the Colonial Sugars Historic District, Sternberg provides a new perspective on some of the region’s most colorful places.
While many of these locales remain easily accessible, Sternberg also depicts others that are closed to the public, giving armchair travelers an introduction to otherwise unreachable attractions. Sternberg captures the ambiance of her surroundings with a clear, engaging and personal examination of the relationships between past and present. In a poignant piece on the garden of Valcour Aime, for example, she delves into the history of this lavish, nationally acclaimed planter’s garden, established and abandoned in the mid-19th century. Her visit to the now-private and protected site, which has never been altered or replanted, reveals an extraordinary landscape—the relic of what Aime created, slowly overwhelmed by nature.
The sketches brim with insights and observations about everything from the fire that razed The Cottage plantation to the failed attempts to salvage the reproduction of the 17th century French warship Le Pelican from the bottom of the Mississippi River. River Road Rambler links us to both past and present while revealing delightful and unexpected surprises only found along this storied byway.
Along the River Road: Past and Present on Louisiana's Historic Byway 3rd edition
Few thoroughfares offer as rich a history as Louisiana’s River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In this third edition of her extremely popular guide, Along the River Road, Mary Ann Sternberg provides a revised introduction, new images and updated information on sites and attractions as well as tales and local lore about favorite and overlooked destinations. Featuring background information about the area and a detailed guided tour—upriver on the east bank and downriver along the west—the book gives an overview of River Road, serving as an accessible and definitive companion to exploring the corridor.
Sternberg’s abiding appreciation of the area’s allure, garnered more than 20 years, produces a must-have travel companion to a place that far exceeds its common reputation as only a parade of elegant antebellum mansions. In this new edition, she again encourages travelers to experience the many treasures of this wondrous byway for themselves, so they too can see how much it has changed over the past decade.
What are the most important and interesting things readers can learn from your books River Road Rambler: A Curious Traveler along Louisiana’s Historic Byway and Along the River Road: Past and Present on Louisiana’s Historic Byway?
The River Road is much more than simply the plantation parade or chemical alley that it is often perceived to be, so I wrote Along the River Road as a way to introduce both armchair travelers and visitors to the area’s rich history and culture. ATRR was, and is in this 3rd edition, my effort to present a very portable book that offers some history, explanation, and background about the River Road, plus a tour guide to follow upriver on the east bank and downriver on the west bank using your odometer. The book explains and puts in context some of what’s there, some of what’s missing, with a sprinkling of local tales and lore, notes from journals and old newspapers to add flavor and a few chuckles, and some vintage photos to show you what once was. Signage in the area is deficient so without my book many sites that would be of interest are unknown. River Road Rambler resulted from my having prowled this corridor for 20 years and realizing that it harbors some places that are, quite literally, unique—one of a kind—and others are unusual and, I thought, underappreciated. Rambler is a collection of fifteen essays or historical sketches about some of these.
What motivated you to tell these stories?
I was motivated to tell the stories in Rambler because I felt, after 20 years, prowling the area, that these subjects deserved attention. They are fun, interesting, historic and very colorful. Some are places you can visit, some you can’t…but they are all pieces of the River Road that contribute to what makes it a remarkable area.
What was the most enjoyable part of the process of writing these books?
I loved doing the archival research and I also loved going out on the River Road and talking to folks, wandering through the area and enjoying the vibe.
How do you think these stories resonate with Louisiana (culture, readers, history, Louisianans, etc.)?
Anyone who is interested in the rich history and colorful culture of Louisiana, with its legends, tales, and lore, will delight in what the River Road is and especially in all that is there, quite surprisingly to be appreciated and enjoyed in various ways.
What excites you about the festival?
The Louisiana Book Festival is an extraordinary project and one of the best cultural events in the state. It creates an electric atmosphere by bringing together a diversity of authors writing and speaking on a broad spectrum of subjects with an interested and broadly diverse audience. It’s an honor to be a participant in the festival.
What should people look forward to by coming to your presentation at the festival?
I’m waiting to hear whether I’m on a panel or speaking alone. If the latter, I will talk about the River Road and enhance the talk with an array of pix of what’s there and what used to be there.
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