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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

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23 November 2009

Writing about the new New Orleans


While in San Francisco recently, I met someone who was not from New Orleans who was writing a novel in which the failure of the federal levees in New Orleans was an important incident. I promised to send him some names of books for background reading, particularly books by NOLA authors he might not come across otherwise.

It occurred to me that other nonlocal people may also be writing books that have scenes set in the new New Orleans. Writers can no longer rely on pre-Flood books or memories from vacation trips. The landscape has changed, the vocabulary has changed, the ethnic makeup of the city has changed, and even the attitudes of people have changed.

Here are a few suggestions for background reading for such writers.

Memoirs

1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. This book contains some of Rose’s daily columns in the Times-Picayune, which were a must-read for every New Orleanian in the months after the Flood.

Oral history by Dr. Bennett deBoisblanc (my pulmonologist and a hero of the Flood): http://thekatrinaexperience.net/?p=16. Other oral histories collected in the same project can be accessed from http://thekatrinaexperience.net/?cat=1.

Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone: A Memoir by Joshua Clark, a writer and publisher who stayed in his French Quarter apartment during and after the disaster.

Many people have published memoirs since the Flood. This link will take you to memoirs that Amazon.com sells.

Practical matters

If someone is going to write about the aftermath of the Flood, they’ll need to know something about the issues New Orleanians dealt with—mold, insurance claims, depression, unsafe water, financial disaster, lack of electricity, and finding a reputable contractor, among others. Here are a few links to brochures and Web pages.

“Repairing Your Flooded Home”

“Disaster Recovery: A Guide to Financial Issues”

“Picking Up the Pieces after a Disaster: Important Steps for Your Safe and Speedy Recovery”

“Generators”

“National Flood Insurance Program Flood Insurance Claims Handbook”

“Recovering from Disaster”

“A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home”

“Treatment of Flood-Damaged Older and Historic Buildings”

Flood control and its failures in Louisiana

Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast by Mike Tidwell

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry

The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina—The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist by Ivor van Heerden and Mike Bryan

Reportage on Hurricane Katrina

Many magazines had special issues or published picture books after the Flood. I was not impressed with Time magazine’s Hurricane Katrina: The Storm That Changed America.. Two that do seem good are:

Katrina: Why It Became a Man-made Disaster; Where It Could Happen Next, a special edition (undated) of National Geographic

Katrina: The Ruin and Recovery of New Orleans by the staff of the Times-Picayune

Miscellaneous

Spoiled by Tom Varisco. A tiny book of photographs of ruined refrigerators. Available from http://www.tomvariscodesigns.com/shop.html.

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson. An analysis of the role race and social class played in the federal and public response to the Flood.

A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge by Josh Neufeld. A graphic novel about the Flood.

This list is far from comprehensive; there have been a deluge of books about the Deluge. I’d welcome your suggestions for background reading for nonlocal writers.

7 comments:

Celia said...

What a great resource, Shauna! This should be a great help to anyone writing about New Orleans during and post-Katrina.

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, great resource of titles. Great idea. New Orleans is more exotic than most of the locales I write about.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Hey Y'all,
thanks for this salient treatment of a city of living metaphor --and I don't mean that lightly. I have never seen such a place where Metaphor actually holds physical form and can even kill.

There is are strong efforts currently to make sure that This Story is told Correctly, to wit: New Orleans was flooded by Man-Made Disaster, Engineering Failure, and NOT by Hurricane Katrina which missed the City by nearly 30 miles.
That is a Difference which makes a Difference, as Gregory Bateson once put it.
So I am telling you all now to think about it.
There is a difference between Natural Disaster and Catastrophic Engineering Failure.

Come on over and climb the Ladder, we got yer'resources!
You might want to add "Path of Destruction" by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein (the latter a T-P reporter) http://www.pathofdestructionbook.com/
And, the works by any Nolafugees http://www.nolafugees.com/

Please allow me to gift you with a piece of my own...
"“Take care when you handle Cliche’ lest you draw offense of Metaphor, as neither will honor what they seem in life nor what you would wish of them in death.” …said Down the Gravedigger to his apprentice." http://docs.google.com/View?id=dc8dn5cg_7pxn2gx

Shauna Roberts said...

CELIA and CHARLES, thanks.

EDTILLA~NEW ORLEANS LADDER, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to list some more resources for my readers. I really appreciate it.

As a former New Orleanean whose house was badly damaged by the Flood, I am well aware that the Flood was a manmade disaster, as was the government response (excepting the Coast Guard), and I make the point every chance I get. We need to make sure history records correctly what happened to our city, and why.

Steve Malley said...

Um... Spike Lee's The Day the Levees Broke? A documentary instead of a book, but it did seem to cover a lot of bases. The sense of righteous anger that hums throughout matched the feelings in my heart as I watched a place very dear and important to me suffer...

writtenwyrdd said...

This is an excellent resource for writers. Thanks for collecting all these links and providing the descriptions.

Lana Gramlich said...

Although Katrina was 4 years ago, now some of those returning are also having to deal w/Chinese drywall in their rebuilt homes. Not to mention those who ended up w/respiratory problems from the FEMA trailers they were supplied with. Is there no end?