Get yourself to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans after Katrina, edited by Cynthia Joyce—our neighbor in the journalism department here at the University of Mississippi. Below, check out an excerpt from the anthology that first appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Gravy, prefaced by Joyce’s own reflection on the aftermath of the storm, the role of blogging, and the book that came ten years later.
Remember: In 2005, Facebook was for college kids. Twitter was a glimmer in Jack Dorsey’s eye. Blogging was as immediate as it got, and Please Forward is a record of how and why it mattered in New Orleans and beyond.
PS: If you live in Oxford, catch Joyce and Please Forward at Off-Square Books on August 26. We’ll see you there.
Blogging from the eye of the storm
by Cynthia Joyce
Barely ten years later and it’s already impossible to recall with any precision the depths of uncertainty that was life post-Katrina.
For about six months after the storm, my hands shook too hard for me to write down much of anything. I was incredibly grateful to all those who did, to all those who, either professionally or quasi-publicly, struggled to make sense of that dramatically distorted reality. Explaining “what it was like” in the disaster zone post-Katrina was not only difficult—it was constantly required of everyone who lived through it.
Which is why, even though a print collection of online writing might seem to be beside the point, it’s worth resurfacing the digital remnants, words that have since been forgotten or lost in a shuffle between servers, relegated forever to Page Not Found status. The Internet, as it turns out, is not forever.
This anthology is a cross-section of online-only entries that were written between August 2005 and August 2007, one that reveals a layer of post-Katrina life that wasn’t typically picked up by traditional news outlets or preserved in any official record. It’s as much a testament to lost memories as it is to memories about what we lost.
Blown apart but finding one another online, evacuees all asked the same questions: When can we go back? Where are my people? Where is the government? Where is the mayor? What about Mardi Gras? Together, professional and do-it-yourself writers created an online text that was immediate, responsive, and specific to the needs of a traumatized community.
Food was a recurring theme in these posts. Bloggers made lists of the foods they missed, of ingredients and dishes they couldn’t find outside of New Orleans. When people evacuated, they were reminded that the rest of the world didn’t eat and drink like they did. “Baton Rouge doesn’t know what osso buco is. Baton Rouge sucks,” wrote one frustrated home cook.
When restaurants did reopen, the feeling was one of overwhelming gratitude. It was not a small thing for even the smallest café or convenience store to reopen. If a neighborhood had a place to eat, it could entice families back to rebuild their homes. For returning storm victims, food was sustenance in every sense of the word.
September 12, 2005
by Brooks Hamaker
It’s not very pretty, no matter the brush used to paint it.
Tonight, I watched one more endless video stream “live from the mean streets of New Orleans.” It occurred to me that, unless you happen to be from New Orleans or have spent a whole lot time there, there is no way that you can understand what it’s like for natives to watch these scenes unfold.
We’re scattered across the country, but we scan the same images, looking not for dead bodies or the occasional looter, but trying to identify where in the hell the cameras are pointed. New Orleans has many, many identifiable neighborhoods. In a flash, a native can figure out what part of town is being shown. St. Stephen’s Church? That’s Napoleon and Magazine. Wagner’s Meats (You can’t beat our meat)? That’s Claiborne Avenue. Those cars all up and down the middle of the street? People moved them there to keep them out of the water. It usually works. This time, sadly, there may not be anyone to go back and reclaim the car from the neutral ground.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life (not to mention money) hanging around New Orleans in the thick of the food-and-music scene. So when I see shots of neighborhoods, I think of clubs, restaurants, and bars. Maybe it sounds cold, but the first thing I thought of when I heard that the water was rising fast in the industrial canal and flooding the Ninth Ward was what would happen to the Saturn Bar, St. Roch Cemetery, and the Captain’s Houses.
When the 17th Street Canal broke, I heard about it on local radio station WWL. Loyal and attentive listeners were told that the canal had broken “right behind Deanie’s on the City Park side,” and that “Sid Mar’s had washed through the hole.” A foreigner listening to the radio might not make much sense of that, but if you were from New Orleans, you knew exactly where they were talking about.
(Hamaker’s piece continues in Please Forward.)