New Orleans, Katrina and Faulkner

I’ve only been through a hurricane once, and that was a mild one: 100 mph winds on the Connecticut coast. I can’t imagine what those folks in New Orleans and Biloxi went through. Can’t imagine what the toll in fatalities will be, but what a tragedy.

The first time I went through New Orleans I was on a literary journey of the South: Oxford for Faulkner; New Orleans for Williams, Chopin, and a slew of others; Biloxi for Biloxi; Monroeville for Capote and Lee. I’d hole up in cafes every morning and write my guts out, wander the towns in the afternoons, sleep in a tent at night. I loved it, and never guessed that years later I’d go back to do signings at places like Squarebooks and Garden District Bookshop.

I dug New Orleans best: the beauty and the seediness; the cheap food that still was good; the atmosphere of jazz, booze and sex. What a town. But everywhere you went, you sensed how low it was, and how high the levees, and you knew why they were there. The only way into that city is over miles of viaducts that cross over miles of swamps, dotted by houses on stilts. That’s mostly underwater now, as is much of the city itself, and many of the viaducts have collapsed.

When this disaster passes, and the region finally recovers, I don’t doubt that more great Southern writers will emerge. The place gives rise to a beauty of language, and story, that doesn’t occur the same way anywhere else. It’s just a tough place to be when hurricanes blow in.

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