Last month's Poets and Writers had a neat little article about the state of writing in post-Katrina New Orleans (including a shout-out from fellow Franklin alum Brad Richard about Do You Know What It Means).
My writing "career" (shee-it, careers pay money) didn't start til Katrina, but this quote from John Biguenet's essay "The What and the How of It", linked from the P&W article, rang true to me:
For there was nothing in the canon of American literature or the traditions of the visual arts or music in this country that could offer models we might imitate. Never before had the United States seen a major city destroyed, so how were we to represent what had been visited upon our city by an agency of our own government?
And there was a second issue to confront: Who was our audience? The impulse of many of us was to put aside our creative projects--our sonnets and novels, our sculptures of the human form, our love songs, our photographic studies of shadow and light--and author instead urgent bulletins to the rest of the world about the desperate plight of our city, about the suffering of our fellow New Orleanians, about their abandonment by the government.
I was thinking of these things a couple of weeks ago while reading Haruki Murakami's collection of short stories, After The Quake. In these stories, published in 2002 but all set within the first few weeks following the tragic Kobe earthquake of 1995, Murakami manages to make the quake a central focus of all of his characters lives, while at the same time making the various plots have almost nothing to do with the quake. He manages to walk a perfect line, acknowledging that all of these people have been irrevocably changed by the earthquake, while still understanding that despite the scope of the disaster, life goes on and most things in life are not "of the quake", they are of the stuff of life: love, anger, jealousy, regret, desire...the same raw materials that any pre-quake story would be built from.
It's the kind of writing you can do once you have some distance, some time, between yourself and a great trauma.
Which is kind of a roundabout way of getting to talking about the new book from Gallatin & Toulouse Press, A Howling In The Wires.
Howling is not that kind of writing that requires distance and perspective. Howling is an anthology of blog writing, letters, and poetry written in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, by those directly affected by the storm. As I wrote in the book's introduction:
All of these writers had things in common. A frantic need to know what was really happening to the city and its people. A passionate desire to make sure the world understood the scale of the tragedy, the impact on those who suffered, and the future implications for the rest of the country; why New Orleans mattered, and what was being lost. A furious rage as insults piled upon injuries. And deep down, an undescribable pain, a wide-eyed teeth-grinding emotional trauma. A scream out of every nerve ending. A psychic howl of pain and exhaustion and abandonment.
Join us tomorrow night, Thursday, August 26, around 8pm, at Mimi's in the Marigny, as we launch A Howling in the Wires with readings and signings and the usual drink and merriment that goes on at Mimi's.
It'll be fun. Buy a book. It'll make you feel good. Louis Maistros, Lolis Elie, Stephen Elliot, and Ethan Brown all recommend it, and what, you gonna argue with THOSE guys?