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The winner of an O. Named its first guest columnist by the New York Times, Biguenet chronicled in both columns and videos his return to New Orleans after its catastrophic flooding and the efforts to rebuild the city. The night before defective levees designed and built by the U.
According to the latest census, not quitepeople now populate the city. But over half of the faculty at Loyola University, where I work, have moved to the city sincea percentage that probably holds true for the entire current population.
So perhaps as few aspreflood New Orleanians still live here. Ours is a culture that remains in crisis and is yielding, little by little, to a much more Americanized way of life. The influx of newcomers makes sense; they are finding great opportunities here.
Young teachers from around the country have filled the classrooms of the many charter schools that replaced most of the existing Orleans Parish public schools after more than six thousand veteran local teachers were fired in a single day, a few months after the levee collapse.
And considering the quality, the food and the music of the city remain a bargain. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, New Orleans is a somewhat younger, richer, and whiter place than it used to be.
To a careful eye, though, postflood New Orleans is a palimpsest; here and there, the past bleeds through the fresh culture now being inscribed over the submerged text, centuries old. Still, for writers new to town—even those attentive to the occasional glimpse of citi fm write away contest 2013 topic outline traditional life—it is a difficult place to comprehend and depict with any hope of authenticity.
Like much of Europe, the city maintains a division between public and private life. The face it offers a stranger is almost always a mask. After an hour or so, the border between speaking and singing began to muddy, and the missionary sisters in their black-and-white dresses and elaborate hats would fall into song even as they offered eulogies of our friend.
How different it was for the tourists and the new New Orleanians in that tent, swaying to what for them could be only a show, compared to all of us in that church, where the music was not a performance but a prayer meant to comfort our grief.
And how different was the poetry of the pulpit, as the rolling rhythms of the preacher returned after flights as improvisational as a jazz riff to the scripture his sermon meant to elucidate, phrase by phrase, to buttress the faith of the family weeping beside the open coffin.
Spent after the daylong funeral and feasting, my wife and I attended an art opening that night by an artist with whom I became friends after he had read my novel, Oyster.
As I do in that book, he has been recording the passing way of life in Plaquemines Parish—oyster boats half-sunk on their reefs, shrimp boats returning to moorage at dawn with their nets spread like huge lace wings to dry after a night of trawling, egrets wading along mudflats, oil rigs rising over the dying wetlands.
Afterward, he threw a party at a raggedy bar on the edge of the Lower Ninth Ward. One of our most famous French Quarter restaurants boasts an ornate entrance of cut glass, but before the flood, only tourists entered there.
Down the block was an unmarked door where New Orleanians knocked when they had reservations. The city is crumbling into ashes.
It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth.
But it is better to be here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio. Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, in the ground-floor rooms that Joe DeSalvo and Rosemary James converted in into a new- and used-book store as well as a venue for readings and other literary events.
The shop offers an especially fine collection of rare books by Southern authors. Another favorite of New Orleans writers is Garden District Book Shop Prytania Streetwhose readings and signings attract large crowds beneath the exposed rafters of the former nineteenth-century roller-skating rink and mortuary.
I have walked in on an Octavia book club discussing my fiction, and I heard David Simon and Eric Overmyer outline the plans for their new HBO series, Treme, in front of a large crowd one night.
A neighboring green cottage is dedicated to used books. As with all things from the past, New Orleans values its used books.
Perhaps in keeping with its subject matter, no one has bothered to create an online version of the printed flyer. This past summer, Le Chat Noir in the Warehouse District closed its cabaret stage after eleven years, and just last month, Southern Rep lost its lease after over twenty years in Canal Place, on the edge of the French Quarter.
Southern Rep mounted the premiere of my play Rising Water in the spring ofonly eighteen months after the flooding of the city. Canal Place had been looted and burned in the chaos that descended upon the city in the aftermath of the levee collapse, and the theater still smelled of smoke on opening night.
In the play, a couple is awakened the night after Hurricane Katrina by water as deep as their mattress. Clambering into their attic as the first act opens, they are forced onto the roof at the beginning of the second act when the water continues to rise.
Southern Rep also produced the second play in my trilogy, Shotgun, set a few months after the flood, and it is scheduled to produce the concluding play inthough we have no idea on what stage that production will be mounted. Fortunately, other facilities are available to New Orleans theater companies.Report: Love 'Weeks Away' from Return.
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