Sunday, June 17, 2007

For outsiders in New Orleans, what's really fascinating is how many people are just like them!

When I first moved to New Orleans in 1994, I actually told a realtor that I moved to the city because I wanted to change my life and I thought this was the place to do it. Apparently I thought that this was a unique perspective. The agent was unimpressed. "That's what everyone says," she told me, barely looking up from her desk. "Then after a few months they change their minds."

Lately, of course, there are lots of outsiders moving in. And they all think they are here to help. And many of them are, but their sense of things and their role in it is understandably skewed. What's most troubling, though, is the number of people who are new to New Orleans but are writing with a false sense of authority about what is happening here. Like many journalists, they take a few too many shortcuts on their research. Their sources are other people who have been here only as long as they have.

Gambit, the weekly newspaper here, has been employing an alarming number of these freelancers. And so nearly every issue is about people who just arrived in town. A few weeks ago there was a cover story on teachers on the "front lines" of the city's public education problem. Not one of them has actually stepped into a classroom. This week, they have a lengthy story on the local writing scene, which is apparently being invigorated by writers from out of town that moved here after the storm looking for material. Some of them have yet to publish any work at all.

Of course, I've always endorsed writing as being something valid and distinct from publishing, so there could be an interesting story here. Yet there are a lot of serious writers who have been left out of the story. Not just myself (no surprise, since I'm also ignored by the local literary festivals, even as I'm being flown to participate in festivals in other cities.) Also missing: Meena, the bilingual magazine published in New Orleans and Alexandria, Egypt; Tulane writers Peter Cooley and Paula Morris; longtime NOCCA writing chair Anne Gisleson; New Orleans native Patty Friedmann; award-winning short story writer Pia Z. Ehrhardt; the whole NOLAFUGEES.com scene; anyone who teaches at UNO; and so on.

But after rereading the story, I realized what the problem is: the author is from Massachusetts, and her research was limited to flying down to attend the Tennessee Willams Festival, an event which is geared not to locals, but to tourists.

Nevermind.

2 comments:

nolareno said...

Thanks Ken ~ Thanks so much, this has been making me and other locals crazy too, writers and readers alike. I always try to be diligent in doing my research as a novice writer but long-time resident, I felt I could do better in presenting the 'on-the-ground' perspective. The half baked presentations and learning curve stories are maddening.

Patty Friedmann said...

Weeks and weeks later...
Thanks for the mention, Ken, more than you can know. Letters to the editor the week after agreed; the article pandered to the poseurs and parvenus. Now with my sixth-generation New Orleanian rights I want to grant you the mantel of native-hood. Something about your soul, maybe your serotonin level. I hope you'll be buried here. But not soon.