More literary New Orleans

For lack of anything more useful to do, besides donating money, reading the news and the blogs, and maybe signing up for the Red Cross volunteer course, continues its homage to literary New Orleans.

Dave G. passes along a link to Romanian poet and essayist Andrei Codrescu’s New Orleans Geographic, published earlier this month.

“I wonder,” says Dave, “what he’s doing now that his marvelous city is no longer a place where tourists can be mentally, poetically recast as scenery?” Dave finds himself “wishing everybody had a blog,” and being reminded, “on seeing all these bible-abusers blaming gays, of N’Orleans native Ignatius Riley’s speech on being almost arrested, in A Confederacy of Dunces:

Is it the part of the Police Departmant to harass me when this city is the flagrant vice capitol of the civilized world? This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-christs, alchoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians. All of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problem with you, but don’t make the mistake of bothering me.

Yesterday Ana Maria of Out of the Woods Now sent along a link to “a general article mentioning many of New Orlean’s literary connections,” including Faulkner, Walker Percy, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, O’Toole, and more. “I had no idea that they had a life-size bronze sculpture of Ignatius Reilly! Really!” she said. Continue reading…

And God said, “Let there be imbeciles”

The Acton Institute, which brings us such titles as the Christian Social Thought Series, cites the Bible in furtherance of its “argument” that price gouging in the wake of natural disasters like Katrina is ethical rather than unconscionable, and may actually save lives. (Thanks, Paul.)

Now that right there’s some ironclad logic.

But since even the emergency workers are not only thirsty and hungry, but hemmed in by rising flood waters, maybe the Acton Institute members can try some other wholesome, Biblically-sanctioned activity, like stoning their disobedient children to death, or perpetrating some gang rape and then killing the victims? Wheee.

Update: You knew this was coming, right? “God destroyed New Orleans because of the gays.” (Thanks to GMB for the link.)

News from down South

My favorite living New Orleans writer, Pia Z. Ehrhardt, checked in this afternoon. She and her husband and son are with family in Houston, and they’re not optimistic that they’ll have a house to go back to. Pia guest-blogged for this site in June, 2003, and wrote then about flooding during a New Orleans rainstorm and the crape myrtles in bloom.

And I just heard from Mr. Donnie Boman, who moved from Mississippi to my Brooklyn neighborhood with his girlfriend just the week before last. I won’t share all the personal details, but the two of them are still awaiting word from family in Bay St. Louis. His dad, stepmom and brother managed to escape from Slidell after their house was ravaged. I also have it on good authority that Carrie Hoffman is okay, and Boing Boing has word from Invisible Cowgirl Susannah Breslin.

When life in the Big Easy was easy

Tennessee Williams & Pancho Rodriguez, New Orleans, 1946

As the situation in New Orleans grows ever more perilous, readers have been responding to my call for links about the area’s literary history. Evangeline of Baton Rouge points to this Lost and Found Sound episode featuring bits of “cardboard recordings” playwright Tennessee Williams left in a trunk while visiting friends.

More literary New Orleans to come.

Turkish government: “To prison with Pamuk! (But please let us into the EU.)”

In February, criminal charges were filed against internationally acclaimed Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, for saying, “30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in Turkey. Almost no one dares to speak out this but me, and the nationalists hate me for that.”

Now a reader sends an excerpt from a Reuters News Wire article that says Pamuk

faces up to three years in jail for backing allegations that Armenians suffered genocide at Ottoman Turkish hands 90 years ago, his publisher [Iletisim Publishing] said on Wednesday.

Turkish prosecutors are also investigating comments by Pamuk that some 30,000 Kurds were killed more recently in Turkey in separatist clashes with security forces….

Here’s a link to the AP story.

The old “New Journalism” debate* — now with JT Leroy

Marc Smirnoff, editor and publisher of Oxford American, reponds at Syntax of Things to John Nova Lomax’s recent Houston Press article portraying Smirnoff as a clueless and possibly unscrupulous yahoo who, in the latest issue of the magazine, misleadingly characterized JT Leroy’s piece on Lorreta Lynn as an “essay” instead of “creative non-fiction.”

Smirnoff says, in part:

Mr. Lomax is not the first reporter to strong-arm an interview subject’s words and meaning out of context, but it is nonetheless wrong for him to do so, especially in a piece about journalistic ethics.

I would also like to point out that Mr. Lomax promised that he would quote me “verbatim.” If by “verbatim,” he meant (as any standard dictionary does) in totality, “word by word,” then most assuredly Mr. Lomax did not keep his promise otherwise your readers would have learned that I put Mr. LeRoy’s creative nonfiction in the same defensible category as I put the creative nonfiction of icons like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Joseph Mitchell….

I’m fine with Mr. Lomax thinking I made a bad decision in labeling Mr. LeRoy’s creative nonfiction an essay. That’s a defensible criticism. What I’m not fine with is Mr. Lomax anointing himself arbiter of journalistic ethics when he himself appears so lacking in them.

* See, e.g., Michael J. Arlen’s 1972 Atlantic article, Notes on the New Journalism, arguing, “The New Journalist is in the end less a journalist than an impresario.” And here’s Dana on Leroy.

Remainders: the trying to give you what you want edition

  • Robert Calasso’s “approach of disclaiming a sustained argument and offering, instead, a galaxy of essaylets” in a new study of Kafka “is either modest or frustrating, according to taste.”
  • In this week’s bookish news of the weird, Dutch libraries are “lending out people,” including junkies, lower-income people, lesbians, and other volunteers “from outside of the Dutch mainstream … who will go sit in a cafeteria with library patrons, have a cup of coffee and chat with them.” (Did you hear about the British zoo with humans in it? That was cool. Can you imagine what the “intelligent design” people would say if you tried that here, though?)

Let freedom ring

From Amendments to the New Iraqi Constitution, by J.M. Houk:

Fourth Amendment — Protection from Unreasonable Search and Seizure

The right of all Iraqis (except women, Sunnis, and Kurds) to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects shall not be violated, except in where determined to be an enemy combatant or supporter, and a warrant shall be issued in all cases with or without probable cause, if there is time and printer toner permitting.

Fifth Amendment — Due Process, Double Jeopardy, and Self-Incrimination


(On a barely related and entirely humorless note, wouldn’t it be great if members of the Louisiana National Guard, and their counterparts in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, could, you know, do the job they signed up for — i.e., serve during state and local disasters — and not sit halfway across the world, watching their houses be overtaken by half of Lake Ponchartrain and waiting to have their limbs blown off or die? And maybe somebody could return the dozens of LA National Guard “high water vehicles, humvees, refuelers and generators [that] are now abroad” and consequently unavailable to Katrina rescue workers. See also The accidental soldier.)

Faulkner in the French Quarter

Today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune was distributed only electronically, via the newspaper’s blog, after the staff had to exit the flooded building. In a recent post, “Can New Orleans survive?,” staff writer James Varney reflects on the city’s current predicament and its legacy, and notes

William Faulkner was first published in The Times-Picayune while he was living in the city and writing his first novel. He called the city, “a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, and to whose charm the young must respond.”

On the centenary of Faulkner’s birth, W. Kenneth Holditch recounted the role New Orleans played in the author’s development:

He began his days drinking black coffee at French Market coffee stands, usually the Morning Call, then spent the mornings writing, “afternoons walking and the evenings in visiting people.” Another favorite diversion for Faulkner and his friends was drinking: the Prohibition that had inhibited alcohol consumption in the rest of the country phased New Orleans very little. Not only was there bathtub gin in quantities, but also liquor brought in through the gulf by rumrunners and sold in the rear of Italian grocery stores in the Vieux Carre.

Sherwood Anderson served as Faulkner’s guide and introduced him to a seemingly endless array of fascinating Quarterites, including Aunt Rose Arnold, a prosperous brothel operator, now retired, who held open house for struggling writers and artists. Anderson wrote a short story, A Meeting South, about the three of them — the elderly madame, the older writer and a young poet with a metal plate in his head who drank too much and fell asleep on the flagstones of the patio.

In a 1925 letter to his mother, Faulkner said of the French Quarter:

Everyone here is grand to me — painters and writers; In the evening we gather somewhere and discuss the world and politics and art and death.

Notice how he didn’t mention the prostitutes or the bathtub gin to Dear Old Mom.

The house (pictured above, right; it’s the only image I could find) where Faulkner lived is located at 624 Pirate’s Alley, and is a national literary landmark and bookstore.

If you have any favorite literary New Orleans stories, please send them along.

Battle of New Orleans

Salon provides an excerpt from John McPhee’s 1989 The Control of Nature, which deals in part with New Orleans’ efforts to tame the Mississippi River.

Torrential rains fall on New Orleans — enough to cause flash floods inside the municipal walls. The water has nowhere to go. Left on its own, it would form a lake, rising inexorably from one level of the economy to the next. So it has to be pumped out. Every drop of rain that falls on New Orleans evaporates or is pumped out. Its removal lowers the water table and accelerates the city’s subsidence. Where marshes have been drained to create tracts for new housing, ground will shrink, too. People buy landfill to keep up with the Joneses. In the words of Bob Fairless, of the New Orleans District engineers, “It’s almost an annual spring ritual to get a load of dirt and fill in the low spots on your lawn.” A child jumping up and down on such a lawn can cause the earth to move under another child, on the far side of the lawn….

“The people cannot have wells, and so they take rainwater,” Mark Twain observed in the eighteen-eighties. “Neither can they conveniently have cellars or graves, the town being built upon ‘made’ ground; so they do without both, and few of the living complain, and none of the others.” The others may not complain, but they sometimes leave. New Orleans is not a place for interment. In all its major cemeteries, the clients lie aboveground. In the intramural flash floods, coffins go out of their crypts and take off down the street.

Still preoccupied

On the face of it, there’s something more than a little presumptuous, I freely admit, about a Brooklyn blogger taking so manic an interest in Katrina and her wake.

Throughout my childhood and into my college years, I spent part of every summer on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My sister and I flew into New Orleans and then my grandparents drove us out to their little town (Long Beach, located just west of Gulfport and east of Bay St. Louis. I haven’t heard much about it in the wake of Katrina, but that’s no surprise. Long Beach is a poor town with no casinos or significant landmarks. Given that the Bay St. Louis bridgeconnection to Biloxi” — um, there are some other towns in the middle there, folks — was wiped out, I’m willing to bet the whole area got slammed).

At least I don’t have to worry about my grandparents. They moved to Nashville last year, and my grandmother died this past spring.

But I have an unnatural tendency to obsess over possible disasters in general — the only parts of the Bible that resonate for me despite a childhood of religious instruction are Job, Ecclesiastes, and, for the apocalyptic fervor of it, Revelation — and I live in particular fear of hurricanes and the devastation they can wreak. While I grew up in Miami (not Southern, its deceptive location notwithstanding) and have a love-hate relationship with the South, I’ve always had this fantasy that I’d one day leave New York City and move back down thataway.

Visions of my future Southern life have always centered on New Orleans. It’s the best Southern city (except during Mardi Gras, when it’s best to hightail it out of town and enjoy Fat Tuesday from Lafayette or New Iberia or some other place that’s not overrun with tourists). It kills me to see those levees breaking — all those people already dead or dying, or in new and terrible danger, all those beautiful landmarks flooded.

And you know what? Fuck the oil.

I’m going to be tied to the news and the Internet for the rest of the day. Those who’re looking for bookish links should probably head elsewhere, at least until tomorrow.

If you want more Katrina news, there’s a Wiki. Terry Teachout has more. And you can join me in refreshing Google, where you can read the same wire story from a new source every three seconds.

Three guesses what I pre-ordered two months ago

Joseph O’Neill’s Atlantic Monthly review of Zadie Smith’s Booker prize-nominated third novel, On Beauty, adds to the chorus of Hosannas.

If, as Cyril Connolly suggested, success is the greatest of all the enemies of literature, few talents can have been more threatened than Zadie Smith’s. And indeed White Teeth, her triumphant debut, was followed by The Autograph Man, an awkward, slightly chaotic novel that gave the impression of a writer disoriented by a cacophonic critical babble and trying to regain her bearings by asking herself (as Connolly might have counseled), Would it amuse Horace or Milton or Swift or Leopardi? Could it be read to Flaubert or Dave Eggers?

On Beauty, Smith’s third novel, is by contrast an assured effort — although Smith remains sufficiently self-conscious (and generous) to expressly acknowledge the influence of E. M. Forster: “He gave me a classy old frame, which I covered with new material as best I could.”….

Smith displays all her strengths: satirical energy, imaginative breadth (she’s equally engaging about the inner lives of a teenage boy and a middle-aged mother), and a sure and funny touch with jumbled ethnicities….

I hope to be singing the same tune when the book finally appears on these shores. Right now I just keep repeating: please, please let this one be good.

Prior On Beauty links are available here and here.

Books in politics

  • Elsewhere, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike contend that “intelligent design” has no place in the public school science curriculum. Hear, hear.

The Smart Set: Lauren Cerand’s weekly events

The Smart Set is a weekly feature, compiled by Lauren Cerand, that appears Mondays and highlights the best of the week to come. Special favor is given to New York’s independent booksellers and venues, and low-cost and free events. Please submit details to, with the date of the event in the subject line.

MONDAY, 8.29: Lara Tupper allegedly “used to be a lounge singer in Dubai.” She currently hosts the Apocalypse NOW reading series at the charmingly cheerily-drearily named Apocalypse Lounge. Monday night’s “scheduled readers of poetry, fiction and drama” are Ron Bass, April Krasner, Minter Krotzer, Jason Holtham, and Varley O’Connor. 7:00pm, no cover. Also on Monday, Bluestockings hosts a screening of The Battle of Algiers. Highly recommended. 7:00pm, $5 suggested.

TUESDAY, 8.30: David Rees of Get Your War On fame hosts an evening of readings at McNally-Robinson, featuring novelists Joe Meno (How the Hula Girl Sings) and Marlon James (John Crow’s Devil). 7:00pm, free.

WEDNESDAY, 8.31: How To Kick People, conceived as “a comedy show for bookworms, and a literary show for clowns,” is one of the most reliably excellent ongoing series in New York. Wednesday, hosts Todd and Bob present featured readers Jon Friedman, Ophira Eisenberg, Jonathan Ames and musical guest Jesse Hartman of pop outfit Laptop. 7:30pm, $8. Also on Wednesday, the Kettle of Fish reading series presents Robin Caine, Jonathan Segura, and Charlie Huston. 7:00pm, no cover [via The Hotel Chelsea Blog].

THURSDAY, 9.1: Thomas Beller, of the “Neighborhood” Bellers, reads from his new collection of personal essays, How To Be A Man – which includes an “elegy to his mint-green 1977 Ford Thunderbird” – at Barnes & Noble, 82nd and Broadway. 7:30pm, free.

FRIDAY, 9.2: “$5 Poet (On Amphetamines & In Europe), actor (O’Hara’s “The General Returns from One Place to Another”), Warhol superstar, raconteur, and Kulchur Icon — we love Taylor Mead!” Catch the Taylor Mead Show at the Bowery Poetry Club. 6:30-7:00pm, $6.

SATURDAY, 9.3: Ellen Harvey signs copies of New York Beautification Project at P.S. 1′s final Warm-Up of the season. Noted: a limited edition print by Harvey is included with purchase of the book at the event. 3:00-5:00pm, $8 event admission.

SUNDAY, 9.4: Nothing much doing for today, so here’s a wistful thought instead – wouldn’t it be cool if the house concert craze branched out to include authors?

And from Daryl Mattson of Borders, “I welcome everyone to go to their local Borders store and vote for your favorite nominees for the 2005 Quills Award. See a full list of nominees at one of our Title Sleuth kiosks in-store, vote for your favorite, and pick up a copy of a nominee you haven’t read yet.” Yes, do help the good books.

As for me: I have surprisingly found myself actually counting the days until Nouvelle Vague comes to town