In September 2010, staring at me in big letters was The New Republic headline “Why Don’t Novelists Care about Katrina?” — and this immediately hit me.
I’ve written a novel that takes place in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. The whole basis for this novel (“Jack Storm and New Orleans Hoodoo”) and the proposed additional novels in the series is the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.
The full title of the article, written by Chloe Schama, is “Why Don’t Novelists Care about Katrina? The shameful literary response to the hurricane.” (Capitalization and punctuation decisions, with the exception of the quotation marks, are all by The New Republic.)
In the article, Chloe Schama compares the novels based on September 11th to the novels based on Hurricane Katrina:
“In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, many of the most famous authors of our time have weighed in on the attacks, depicting the ways large and small in which they altered people’s lives.”
And Schama continues:
“Meanwhile, the literary response to Hurricane Katrina, the other great American disaster of the last decade, has been almost nonexistent.”
Schama points out some “obvious reasons” for this:
- That it’s only been five years since Katrina versus nine since September 11th. [After all, novel writing can take time.]
- NYC is the home of many writers. [And someone is always spouting that writers should “write what they know.” I follow the John Gardner school of thought and believe that piece of advice is not correct.]
- 1,464 “officially” dead in Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina vs. approximately 3,000 dead from September 11th. [This reminds me of a scene in the TV show “Dead Like Me:”
Mason: Nah, five deaths is not a disaster.
George: How many deaths is a disaster?
Mason: More than five. Five’s bullshit.
George: How many?
Mason: 16 to 20, disaster; 21 and up, catastrophe; 8 to 15 is a calamity.
Rube: 7 and under?
Mason: That’s a cryin’ shame.
Then Schama gets down to what she calls the “more abstract and philosophical reasons” that there have been more novels written about September 11th than Hurricane Katrina. While she never calls these the “real reasons,” to me they feel (as my Wing Chun Kung-Fu Master Instructor — Si-Fu — Eric Oram would say) closer to the truth:
- The events of September 11th happened in one morning and Hurricane Katrina happened over days, then weeks, then months. As Schama puts it: “Perhaps single-blow tragedies capture the imagination with greater force.”
- On September 11th, “identifiable humans caused the attacks and murdered innocents, while Katrina and its aftershocks were the result of nature and mismanagement.”
Schama goes on to say: “These latter two forces have longstanding precedents and, in the case of mismanagement, dull bureaucratic justifications.”
That’s a whole lot of nothing strung together as a sentence. What mismanagement is she talking about? FEMA? The Coast Guard? The National Guard? Schama doesn’t explain.
What if I told you that Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans and its neighboring Jefferson Parish wasn’t a natural disaster but a MAN-MADE one?
That Hurricane Katrina only caused minimal flooding and that it was the LEVEES BREAKING that caused the devastation. That the levees broke because of HUMAN INCOMPENCE.
Would you believe me?
That’s okay, I wouldn’t believe me either. But there is proof of my statements:
Read the book “The Storm” by Dr. Ivor van Heerdan, former deputy director of the Louisiana State University (LSU) Hurricane Center and current director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes — he was there.
There’s also the documentary — “The Big Uneasy.”
Back to Schama, who says: “Novelists have done a commendable job exposing us to the dust and the rubble of September 11. It’s time for more of them to churn the mud, water, blood, and decay wrought by Katrina.”
Well, Chloe Schama, I’m trying.