Between 1919 and 1941, five relatives of Christopher Lee Manes were diagnosed with an illness then referred to as "leprosy" and now known as Hansen's disease. After their diagnosis, the five Landry siblings were separated from their loved ones and sent to the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, where they remained in quarantine until their deaths. Drawing on historical documents and imaginative reconstructions, Naming the Leper tells through poetry this family's haunting story of exile and human suffering.While confined at Carville, the Landry siblings attempted to keep some connection to the outside world by writing letters to family members and other loved ones. Manes incorporates materials from this correspondence, along with medical records, the leprosarium newsletter, and personal interviews, as he crafts poems that reconstruct his relatives' daily lives at Carville. Although much can only be imagined, their words remain factual and their feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and pain become explicit. Poetry cannot bring Manes's relatives back to life, nor can it heal wounds nearly a century old, but it can capture the sufferings and traumas caused by disease and exile. As a work of documentary poetry, Naming the Leper demonstrates that a term like "leper," whether a stigma attached to patients suffering from illness or a word inscribed on the caskets of the deceased, cannot define the lives of individuals or encompass the full extent of their legacies.
About the Author
Christopher Lee Manes is a poet, scholar, and educator whose work has appeared in Louisiana History, the Southwestern Review, and Carville: Remembering Leprosy in America. He lives in Dallas, Texas.