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.

Darice alerts me to Cherie Priest’s blunt blog entry about Southern poverty. It dovetails with a 1997 article for Salon in which Lance P. Martin calls New Orleans “a city of stark contradictions.”

In contrast to its popular image of decadence and heedless consumption, the city has the highest child poverty rate in the nation, a moribund public education system and a failed public housing program. Neighborhoods like the Garden District and Uptown, with their opulent mansions and ostentatious wealth, abut the blight and decay of poverty-stricken neighborhoods and dilapidated public housing. In some areas, like the University Section near Tulane and Loyola, the contrast is literally block to block — from beautiful and safe to decrepit and deadly.

Martin briefly runs through the usual writers with a New Orleans connection, and then says:

Richard Ford lives in the Quarter. And if vampires and witchcraft are your thing, Anne Rice is a local cottage industry. She’s ever-present, often purchasing full-page ads in the Times-Picayune to express her opinions on social and political issues. She’s also gobbled up a significant amount of New Orleans real estate, including a convent and a Catholic chapel, stirring up significant controversy in the process.

Rice has since relocated.

An anonymous reader points me to some information about the Great Flood of 1927, during which “New Orleans dynamited the Poydras levee, creating a 1500-foot break at an estimated cost of $2 million, to direct the flood waters away from the city and its half million inhabitants.” In Greenville, Mississippi, devastated by the flood:

Thirteen thousand African Americans are stranded on the levee with nothing but blankets and makeshift tents for shelter. There is no food for them. The city’s water supply is contaminated. The railway has been washed away, and sanitation is non-existent. An outbreak of cholera or typhoid is imminent.

Will Percy [older cousin and later guardian to New Orleans writer Walker Percy] decides that the only honorable and decent course of action is to evacuate the refugees to safer ground down river and arranges for barges to pick up and transport the refugees. The planters … oppose Will’s plan, fearing that if the African American refugees leave, they will never return, and there will be no labor to work the crops…. Boats with room for all the refugees arrive, but only 33 white women and children are allowed to board. The African American refugees are left behind, trapped on the levee. Later, Will Percy will write that he was “astounded and horrified” by this turn of events.


More literary New Orleans to come. Prior entries here and here.


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