New Yorker writer Thomas Beller interacts with several notable figures who engage in work related to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to explain the contentious and emotional toll of one of the deadliest events in New Orleans.
While natural disasters are admittedly a topic I have not discussed at every opportunity, I am sure journalists throughout the nation, and most certainly here in New Orleans, are tasked with addressing this event for its tenth anniversary. Beller, who moved to New Orleans in 2008, is of no exception to this experience in his article “Don’t Call It Katrina.”
I enjoy Beller’s writing about Bourbon Street and Jazz Fest, his lack of fondness for famous NOLA dishes and the sudden mention of police militarization. The militarization part feels out of place, but is warranted given our current focus on the relationship between police and the community. My favorite part is undeniably the lesson Beller learns in his interaction with Vera Warren-Williams, the owner of an African-American bookstore in New Orleans.
I looked at the book, and the smiling guy with the captain’s hat. Suddenly it was an emotional moment for me. Something in Vera’s voice. The understatement of “probably the stress.” The way she brought her hand toward her clavicle when she said it.
Maybe part of what I heard in Vera’s voice was a certain fatigue that comes with having to explain things, to relay facts, that in your world are enormous and widely known, yet outside your world remain, somehow, not widely known, invisible.
This excerpt from Beller’s writing highlights the task for journalists everywhere in trying to capture Katrina through interactions with people a decade after the experience. As one of America’s five deadliest hurricanes, Katrina deserves a retrospective spotlight.
While I don’t envy the people tasked with this responsibility, I hope they aspire to perpetuate an empathy for those who continue to live with fatigue from the tragedy that befell New Orleans.