East New Orleans native Maurice Carlos Ruffin is a graduate of the University of New Orleans MFA program in creative writing. Ruffin is a nonfiction columnist at the Virginia Quarterly Review and a contributing editor to Know Louisiana magazine. His writing has also appeared in the LA Times, The Bitter Southerner, Kenyon Review, and Massachusetts Review. One World Random House will publish Ruffin’s first novel, We Cast a Shadow, in January 2019.
What’s a dish, from a particular restaurant or kitchen, that you can’t get anymore in New Orleans?
I’m going across the city in my head thinking about places I used to go all the time. Barrow’s catfish was really one of a kind, the best of its kind. Some churches would regularly serve ‘dinner plates,’ a plate piled high with fried fish, peas, mac and cheese, cornbread, for five or seven bucks. Since Katrina, most of those church congregations have gotten smaller, and others have disappeared altogether.
What would you say to someone who is not from New Orleans and thinking about moving to the city?
New Orleans is as welcoming as it is complex. It’s such a unique place, and it can give you so much. Be prepared to give back. Have a plan for how you can contribute to the community and to disadvantaged people. One of the worst things I see is when people come down here and don’t know that we say hello when we pass someone on the street. It’s important, so be aware of the little things like that. Listen more than you talk. And if you want a good meal, make a good friend. Hang around their cousin’s house or aunt’s house. That’ll be where you can get a good meal.
Was there a specific event or news item that motivated you to write about gentrification in New Orleans?
It wasn’t one moment, but I’ve been noticing how rapidly the change is happening. I thought I’d see a new restaurant once a month. It’s more like once a week. Every week, one place is opening and another is closing. They open with a big fanfare and close with a whimper. I hardly have time in my schedule to go to some places before they close.