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Tom Piazza's award-winning portrait of a city in crisis, with a new preface from the author, ten years after.
Ten years ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the disaster that followed, promises were made, forgotten, and renewed. What would become of New Orleans in the years ahead? How would this city and its people recover—and what meaning would its story have, for America and the world?
In Why New Orleans Matters, first published only months after the disaster, award-winning author and longtime New Orleans resident Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and still-evolving future of this great and vital American metropolis. Piazza evokes the sensuous textures of the city that gave us jazz music, Creole cooking, and a unique style of living; he examines the city's undercurrents of corruption and racism, and explains how its people endure and transcend them. And, perhaps most important, he bears witness to the city's spirit: its grace and beauty, resilience and soul.
In the preface to this new edition, Piazza considers how far the city has come in the decade since Katrina, as well as the challenges it still faces—and reminds us that people in threatened communities across America have much to learn from New Orleans' disaster and astonishing recovery.
In the heat of late summer, two New Orleans families—one black and one white—confront a storm that will change the course of their lives.
SJ Williams, a carpenter and widower, lives and works in the Lower Ninth Ward, the community where he was born and raised. His sister, Lucy, is a soulful mess, and SJ has been trying to keep her son, Wesley, out of trouble. Across town, Craig Donaldson, a Midwestern transplant and the editor of the city's alternative paper, faces deepening cracks in his own family. New Orleans' music and culture have been Craig's passion, but his wife, Alice, has never felt comfortable in the city. The arrival of their two children has inflamed their arguments about the wisdom of raising a family there.
When the news comes of a gathering hurricane—named Katrina—the two families make their own very different plans to weather the storm. The Donaldsons join the long evacuation convoy north, across Lake Pontchartrain and out of the city. SJ boards up his windows and brings Lucy to his house, where they wait it out together, while Wesley stays with a friend in another part of town.
But the long night of wind and rain is only the beginning—and when the levees give way and the flood waters come, the fate of each family changes forever. The Williamses are scattered—first to the Convention Center and the sweltering Superdome, and then far beyond city and state lines, where they struggle to reconnect with one another. The Donaldsons, stranded and anxious themselves, find shelter first in Mississippi, then in Chicago, as Craig faces an impossible choice between the city he loves and the family he had hoped to raise there.
Ranging from the lush neighborhoods of New Orleans to Texas, Missouri, Chicago, and beyond, City of Refuge is a modern masterpiece—a panoramic novel of family and community, trial and resilience, told with passion, wisdom, and a deep understanding of American life in our time.
The author of City of Refuge returns with a startling and powerful novel of race, violence, and identity set on the eve of the Civil War.
The year is 1855. Blackface minstrelsy is the most popular form of entertainment in a nation about to be torn apart by the battle over slavery. Henry Sims, a fugitive slave and a brilliant musician, has escaped to Philadelphia, where he earns money living by his wits and performing on the street. He is befriended by James Douglass, leader of a popular minstrel troupe struggling to compete with dozens of similar ensembles, who imagines that Henry’s skill and magnetism might restore his troupe’s sagging fortunes.
The problem is that black and white performers are not allowed to appear together onstage. Together, the two concoct a masquerade to protect Henry’s identity, and Henry creates a sensation in his first appearances with the troupe. Yet even as their plan begins to reverse the troupe’s decline, a brutal slave hunter named Tull Burton has been employed by Henry’s former master to track down the runaway and retrieve him, by any means necessary.
Bursting with narrative tension and unforgettable characters, shot through with unexpected turns and insight, A Free State is a thrilling reimagining of the American story by a novelist at the height of his powers.
Acclaimed author Tom Piazza follows hisprize-winning novel City of Refuge and the post-Katrinaclassic Why New Orleans Matters with a dynamic collection ofessays and journalism about American music and American character, in DevilSent the Rain.
“TomPiazza’s writing is filled with energy, and with tender, insightful words forthe brilliant and irascible, from Jimmy Martin to Norman Mailer. Time and timeagain, Piazza identifies the unlikely, precious connections between recentevents, art, letters, and music; through his words, these byways of popularculture provide an unexpected measure of the times.” —Elvis Costello