Make-Up & photography by Kevyn Aucoin

About

DeLauné Michel was raised in an old, southern Louisiana family where she learned at an early age that what she loved more than anything was gathering together to tell good stories. Sitting around the dinner table, the exploits of her ancestors, including Commodore Perry and the actor Edwin Booth (his brother, John Wilkes Booth,was duly ignored) were spoken of as though they had just dropped by for gumbo, while modern day stories were recanted by the many writers in the clan, such as her mother, a novelist who penned a widely-popular marriage and parenting column, her uncle André Dubus and her cousin James Lee Burke

Ms. Michel was named for Helene DeLauné, the first woman to arrive from France on her mother’s side. Helene DeLauné was in the court of Marie Antoinette, and her husband, Jules André, fought in the French Revolution. The Queen gave Helene DeLauné silver and jewels to aid in her and her husband’s escape from the guillotine. Upon arriving in South Louisiana, the jewels were bartered away, but the silver has been passed down through the Dubus line. Ms. Michel’s father’s family, on the Spanish side, was one of the earliest to settle in New Orleans from Europe.

At 14, Ms. Michel began working professionally as a model, doing weekly fashion shows, print and TV ads, teaching modeling classes to women, and self-esteem classes to teens in a foster home, and editing a local paper’s fashion issue. When she was 17, during her junior year of high school while living alone with her mother following her parents’ explosive, society-shocking divorce, her mother decided to end Ms. Michel’s education at St. Joseph’s Academy, the all-girl, Catholic high school that she was attending, and arranged for Ms. Michel to get a GED, and move into an apartment with an older sister. To support herself, Ms. Michel became the manager and buyer of a boutique in what would have been her senior year, and was the first to bring WilliwearMax Studio, and Norma Kamali clothing lines to Baton Rouge.

After moving to New York City at 19, Ms. Michel was a host at The Four Seasons Restaurant before signing with Click Models and walking in Commes des Garcons inaugural US show with Jean Michel Basquiat (which surprisingly lives on in a clip here.) Upon returning to Manhattan from a stint modeling in Milan, she studied acting with Michael Howard and Tony Greco while working as an assistant manager at Le Bernardin, a waitress at Jams, and a manager at Florent Morellet’s Ninth Avenue restaurant, Bellevue. After moving to Los Angeles, Ms. Michel submitted her first short story which won recognition in the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize. She continued to write, as she found work as an actor in theater, episodic television, and independent film, including Harry Shearers directorial debut.

Reading at the first Spoken Interludes

Following the birth of her first son in 2004, Ms. Michel and her husband moved to Westchester County, NY where she launched Spoken Interludes to sold-out audiences of 300, while she continued to do shows in LA twice a year, and oversee the outreach writing programs there. After her first novel, Aftermath of Dreaming, was published by HarperCollins, Ms. Michel started, and began teaching in, Spoken Interludes’ outreach writing programs in Westchester at Abbott House, Blythedale Children’s Hospital, Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls, and Westchester County Prison and Jail.

In 1996, in a desire to recreate her primary love of gathering people together to tell stories, Ms. Michel created Spoken Interludes, the first reading series for prose that was set in a restaurant. Immediately garnering sold-out crowds, the critically-acclaimed series hosted award-winning, bestselling, and up-coming writers and actors. While writing and performing her own work at Spoken Interludes, Ms. Michel also performed her pieces on NPR station KCRW. In 2000, Ms. Michel developed an out-reach writing program for highly at-risk youth. She recruited writers to teach with her, and they reached children in Los Angeles’ inner-city schools and a juvenile detention home for boys.

She finished her second novel, The Safety of Secrets, two weeks before her second son was born in the elevator at St. Luke’s Hospital. And the doctor still billed her for the delivery. While working on her third novel, producing Spoken Interludes’ monthly events, and running and teaching in the outreach writing programs, Ms. Michel created a monthly book drive to benefit children at a free pediatric clinic putting over 3000 books into their hands before it ended with Covid.

Audience before a show
First graduating class of outreach writing program
With writing program students

In July 2020, Ms. Michel and her husband, Dan Fried, launched Book YaYa, an online event space for writers to connect with readers that Mr. Fried designed and ran while Ms. Michel produced and hosted the free events. That fall, they partnered with the Westchester Library System in creating a series that served over 40 libraries with live recorded events. In 2022, after 26 years of programming that showcased almost 1000 writers to audiences on both coasts, and over 21 years of outreach writing program that served over 5000 children, Spoken Interludes was shuttered, along with Book YaYa. 

Currently, Ms. Michel teaches a private writing workshop, and has recently completed her memoir, The Mattress Ball. (“The Mattress Ball delivers the kind of constant pleasure that comes from reading well-articulated pain interspersed with humor. It’s a spellbinding book that will take its place in Southern tales of deception with the mass appeal of The Glass Castle.” Adam Gopnik) She lives in Westchester County, NY with her husband and two sons.

On the banks of the Mississippi
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