Mariana Titus is a cache of stories. In person, she slips in and out of anecdotes, painting a layered picture of the people and the settings that define a specific place and time: Louisiana in the mid-20th century. Her books manage to do the same thing. Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories, her sixth and most recent book, is comprised of photographs, letters, and oral histories-it’s a slice of life that can only be created by someone who’d actually lived it.
Though she was born in Venezuela, Titus grew up in Garden City, Louisiana, a small town with a tightly woven community. It was there where she was first bitten by the shutterbug. She was playing in the yard one day when a strange woman pulled up in her car. “She was from New York City, and in the country we didn’t get a lot of people from New York City!” Titus said. “My brothers were shooting marbles, my sister was playing with the yo-yo, and I was walking on stilts, thinking I was going to join the circus, and she took our pictures.” Titus was inspired, and that Christmas, her father gave her her very first camera: an Imperial Six-Twenty. Included in Sunday Mornings is one of the first photos she ever took with that camera.
Titus moved to Santa Barbara to attend UCSB in 1976, and now splits her time between Santa Barbara and Franklin, Louisiana, opting to spend hurricane season right there in the thick of it. “I go down in June and I come back in November, so I stay for the harvest of the sugar cane, which is wonderful,” she said, describing her love of the change of seasons and of dramatic weather, as well as her appreciation of Southern culture. “It’s like being in a Tennessee Williams play; you sit on the porch and people stop by,” Titus said. “People there visit a lot; there’ll always be stories.”
Her previous books have centered on such Southern staples as graveyards, bars, and porch-sitting, and this one is about going to church. The focus has little to do with Titus’s personal upbringing. She wasn’t raised particularly religiously-in fact, Titus’s mother, raised Roman Catholic, was excommunicated for marrying a man 28 years her senior, a Protestant, and divorced. Titus’s fascination with churchgoing has more to do with its central place in the fabric of Franklin life, as inextricable as the shrimp boats in the bayou or the sugar cane fields just outside of town. “All these books are just part of the whole thing,” she said, “part of the mosaic of me, you could say.” But her lack of religious upbringing did nothing to temper Titus’s enthusiasm for the beauty of the ritual. “I felt spiritually uplifted after going to some of these churches,” she said. “And when the ladies get dolled up on Sunday, they shine.”
Putting her books together often takes Titus full circle, as when she reconnected with Ethel Jenkins, a woman in her eighties who was Titus’s babysitter many years ago. “Down there, there wasn’t integration until 1967,” Titus explained. “For many of the people in my book, it was only at the churches where they [felt like they] were somebody.” Such was the case for Ms. Jenkins, who recalls the churches she attended, the roles she played there, and the songs she sang in their choirs, as well as what it felt like when she finally got the right to vote.
As for what’s next, Titus doesn’t know. She’s considering a book about the cross-country trips she and her husband take out to Louisiana each year, or maybe one about the little town in Nevada where they have a house. “I’ll have to live to be 100 to do all these things I want to do!” Titus laughed. “Can you imagine ever being bored?”
Mariana Titus will be signing copies of Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories at Cominichi’s (421 E. Cota St.) on Sunday, December 7, from noon-4 p.m. For more information, call 962-1413 or visit bayoutales.com.