The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia
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.
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.
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”
“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
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.