This guest post is by Rosalyn Story, the author of the acclaimed Wading Home: A Novel of New Orleans. Through August 30, 100 percent of all revenue from sales of the Wading Home ebook from here on Agate's site will be donated to Habitat NOLA, to help with the ongoing efforts to rebuild New Orleans.
At the beginning of 2005, I was deep into a follow-up novel to my first, More Than You Know, which I set against the backdrop of the jazz scene in my hometown, Kansas City. As a frequent visitor to and longtime fan of New Orleans, the birthplace of this great American art form, I was eager to set a novel in the city I considered the core of America’s musical soul. But after Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans in August of that year, I realized the storm could not be overlooked or "written around," and I was forced to rethink my entire story.
The disaster left the city in a shambles, a place of broken levees and broken dreams. I put the novel on hold and became a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, working to help rebuild.
My small effort was the most fulfilling and inspiring volunteer endeavor of my life to date. After conversations with many people in New Orleans, and after witnessing and experiencing their strength and tenacity over the ensuing year, I wrote Wading Home: a novel of New Orleans, my homage to a great city and its amazing, resilient people.
It has been eight years since the storm, and when I visit New Orleans, which I do at least once a year, I see, in many areas, more progress than I could have imagined. The French Quarter looks as if nothing ever happened, because there, on New Orleans’ highest ground, not much did. The wealthy mansions along St. Charles Avenue are as beautiful and elegant as ever. There are more restaurants than before the storm, convention business is robust, and tourism—the city’s number-one industry—has returned to its former glory.
But unfortunately, the story of New Orleans’ recovery has become a tale of two cities: one that is thriving and another that struggles mightily. The low-lying areas that were most devastated—the Lower Ninth Ward, Holy Cross, Pontchartrain Park in the Gentilly neighborhood, and others—are home to many of the city’s poor and black working- and middle-class citizens, and these areas are recovering at a much slower rate than the neighborhoods of the more fortunate.
These once-vital communities are now sparsely populated. City services are inadequate. Residents forced to relocate to other cities want to return, but can’t. Affordable housing is scarce. These neighborhoods have become food deserts where grocery stores and markets can only be found miles away. Crime is rampant, and schools, hospitals and clinics are few and far between.
Miles from the well-worn tourists’ paths, these overlooked parts of the city are languishing. But in order for New Orleans to experience complete rebirth, it needs to rebuild the one thing that made it such a great city: its working-class population. After all, it is this class of humble, industrious people who perform the historic music, cook the world-class food, create the crafts, honor and extol the traditions, and—through an extraordinary devotion to multi-generational culture—give the city its character, its history, its soul.
After any disaster, memories fade with each passing year. Those not directly affected tend to forget fastest, and even those with the best intentions move on to the next headline, the next crisis that tugs at our heartstrings. Neither Agate Publishing nor I have forgotten the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the broken levees, and how we almost lost New Orleans. But the possibility that we might yet lose a vital part of New Orleans is still real. That’s why Agate and I have decided to donate 100 percent of all revenues from sales of the ebook edition of Wading Home when purchased from this site between now and August 30, to Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans. Through the years since the storm, Habitat NOLA has been on the ground, helping to rebuild New Orleans one storm-sturdy, affordable house at a time.
Please join us in lending a hand to the continued rebuilding of this great American city.