The Yellow House
Sarah M. Broom, 2019
In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant―the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.
A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser-known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.
Coming Through Slaughter
Michael Ondaatje, 1976
At the turn of the century, the Storyville district of New Orleans had some 2,000 prostitutes, 70 professional gamblers, and 30 piano players. It had only one man who played the cornet like Buddy Bolden. By day he cut hair and purveyed gossip at N. Joseph's Shaving Parlor. At night he played jazz as though unleashing wild animals in a crowded room. At the age of thirty-one, Buddy Bolden went mad. From these sparse facts Michael Ondaatje has created a haunting, lushly atmospheric novel about one of jazz's legendary pioneers and martyrs. Obsessed with death, addicted to whiskey, and self-destructively in love with two women, Buddy Bolden embodies all the dire claims that music places on its acolytes. And as told in Coming Through Slaughter, his story is as beautiful and chilling as a New Orleans funeral procession, where even the mourners dance.
A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole, 1980
Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. ("Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.") But Ignatius's quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso--who mistakes him for a vagrant--and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.
Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius's path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you'll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius--selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life--who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life.
1 Dead in Attic
Chris Rose, 2005
1 Dead in Attic is a collection of stories by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, recounting the first four harrowing months of life in New Orleans after Katrina. It is a roller coaster ride of observations, commentary, emotions, tragedy and even humor - in a way that only Rose could find in a devastated wasteland.
They are stories of the dead and the living, stories of survivors and believers, stories of hope and despair. And stories about refrigerators.
With photographs by British photojournalist Charlie Varley, 1 Dead in Attic freeze frames New Orleans caught between an old era and a new, New Orleans in its most desperate time, as it struggled out of floodwaters and willed itself back to life in the autumn and early winter of 2005.
Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward, 2011
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt, while brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting. As the twelve days that comprise the novel's framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel's heart-motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce-pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, "Salvage the Bones" is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
Walker Percy, 1961
The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption he cannot bring himself to believe in. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, he occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the "treasurable moments" absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a hare-brained quest that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin Kate, and sends him reeling through the chaos of New Orleans' French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.
A Streetcar Named Desire
It is a very short list of 20th-century American plays that continue to have the same power and impact as when they first appeared 57 years after its Broadway premiere, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those plays. The story famously recounts how the faded and promiscuous Blanche DuBois is pushed over the edge by her sexy and brutal brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. Streetcar launched the careers of Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden, and solidified the position of Tennessee Williams as one of the most important young playwrights of his generation, as well as that of Elia Kazan as the greatest American stage director of the 40s and 50s.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
In a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee, a six-year-old girl exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, she believes that the natural order is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality.
The Princess and the Frog
Tiana is a beautiful, hardworking young woman with a dream. Naveen is a spoiled, jazz-loving prince who doesn't understand the meaning of hard work. This unlikely pair has nothing in common until they are magically transformed into frogs! Forced to work together as they set out to regain their human forms, will Naveen and Tiana eventually find true love in each other? Disney's fresh take on an old fairy tale reminds us all that true beauty is more than skin deep and dreams really do come true.
When the Levees Broke
Acclaimed director Spike Lee presents this four-part HBO documentary offers a heart-rending elegy for an American city overflowing with culture, beset by natural disaster, and betrayed by institutional indifference.
Four best friends, known as the Flossy Posse, have grown apart over the years. Yet when one of the friends is offered an opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, she decides to bring along her friends to turn her work vacation into a girl's trip. Along the way, they rekindle their wild side by dancing, drinking, brawling and romancing to excess.
Television series, 2010 to 2013
Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, this hourlong drama series, from "The Wire" executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer, follows the lives of ordinary residents as they struggle with the aftereffects of the 2005 hurricane. Says star and New Orleans native Wendell Pierce, "The only things people had to hang on to were the rich traditions we knew that survived the test of time before: our music, food and family, family that included anyone who decided to accept the challenge to return." The large ensemble cast is supported by notable real-life New Orleanians, including many of its famous musicians.