Thursday, May 12, 2016

New Orleans: Celebrating Life and Death

Second Line Home: New Orleans Poems
By Mona Lisa Saloy

In this celebration of life in death, Mona Lisa Saloy captures the solemn grief, ongoing struggle, and joyous processions of New Orleans after the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. She knows the music of the neighborhood spoken and sung in affirmation of what is genuine and hopeful, as well as the despair of destruction that nature and politics heaped upon The Crescent City. Saloy's details of down-home activities and use of local expressions convey the many cultures and voices of this unique place. In this ode to New Orleans there is joy and hope, and a passionate call to join the resilient Second Line.  

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Resurrecting We after the Flood

June 2005, almost a decade ago, was the time I last visited New Orleans. It was still almost the Big Easy I knew in the mid-1980s. Several months later the nation observed via television the flooding of the Crescent City—85 percent after levees collapsed. The Lower 9th Ward was devastated and much of the 7th Ward. That is, entire communities and family homes were destroyed and were never to be reoccupied. New Orleans lost 140,845 residents, most of which were black and poor. Maybe the best of New Orleans retreated to cities in Texas, and other sanctuaries east, north, and west—made refugees by government officials.

That is, the abandoned poor were not given a choice—they went where they were sent. Other cities provided these impoverished rejects opportunities New Orleans wouldn’t. Only a quarter of the city’s 4,200 public housing units demolished . . . have been rebuilt” The black population fell from 67.3 percent to 60.2 percent.  Over a 1,000 were killed by the flooding (David Mildenberg, “Census Finds Hurricane Katrina Left New Orleans Richer, Whiter, Emptier”). “City blocks . . . smile / Toothless, missing homes now demolished, / Families lost to Gonzales, Vacherie, Houston / Black-lanta and all points out of here” (Mona Lisa Saloy, “Sundays in New Orleans”).    

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Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana—on August 29, 2005—journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting effects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure—but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities. . . .

Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce—precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. Meanwhile, cynics both in and out of the Beltway were questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to rebuild a city that sat mostly below sea level. How could the city possibly come back?
This book traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes—politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white—as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that’s the soul of this nation.  

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4 November, Baltimore The next night I’m in Baltimore at the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The program kicks off with music by the Lionel Lyles Quartet, a young, swinging modern jazz group who played 70s classics like Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower,” and a gorgeous “In A Sentimental Mood” a la Duke & Trane, the piano solo was really killing on that one. The band opened the program and played in between the poetry sets. Jerome Harris, one of the behind-the-scenes organizers, formally opened the program reading off a list of libraries wiped out by Katrina. He ended with the sobering note that all but 19 out of over 200 New Orleans public library employees were laid off. The purpose of this program is to raise funds to support public libraries affected by Katrina.  Hurricane Library Relief 

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The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery by Jerry W. Ward 

The Katrina Papers is not your average memoir. It is a fusion of many kinds of writing, including intellectual autobiography, personal narrative, political/cultural analysis, spiritual journal, literary history, and poetry. Though it is the record of one man’s experience of Hurricane Katrina, it is a record that is fully a part of his life and work as a scholar, political activist, and professor. The Katrina Papers provides space not only for the traumatic events but also for ruminations on authors such as Richard Wright and theorists like Deleuze and Guattarri. The result is a complex though thoroughly accessible book. The struggle with form― the search for a medium proper to the complex social, personal, and political ramifications of an event unprecedented in this scholar’s life and in American social history― lies at the very heart of The Katrina Papers. 

The book depicts an enigmatic and multi-stranded world view which takes the local as its nexus for understanding the global. It resists the temptation to simplify or clarify when simplification and clarification are not possible. Ward’s narrative is, at times, very direct, but he always refuses to simplify the complex emotional and spiritual volatility of the process and the historical moment that he is witnessing. The end result is an honesty that is both pedagogical and inspiring. ―Hank Lazer

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