August 29 marks the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the U.S. This year, there are a few books being released to coincide with the anniversary.
Jewell Parker Rhodes has a new children's book out this month called Ninth Ward that's getting rave reviews. (And isn't that a lovely cover?) Booklist's review: "New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina is the setting for this tense novel that blends the drama of the catastrophic storm with magic realism. Twelve-year-old Lanesha’s teenage mother died while giving birth to her, and, because her mother’s wealthy uptown family won’t have anything to do with her, she is raised in the Ninth Ward by loving Mama Ya-Ya, 82, who feels like her 'mother and grandmother both.' Born with a caul over her eyes, Lanesha is teased at school, but she is strengthened by her fierce caretaker’s devotion and by a teacher who inspires Lanesha to become an engineer and build bridges. Lanesha also has 'second sight,' which includes an ability to see her mother’s ghost. As the storm nears and the call comes for mandatory evacuation, Mama Ya-Ya envisions that she will not survive, but Lanesha escapes the rising water in a small rowboat and even rescues others along the way. The dynamics of the diverse community enrich the survival story, and the contemporary struggle of one brave child humanizes the historic tragedy."
I just finished reading Wading Home by Rosalyn Story. It's a novel about a young jazz musician who has left New Orleans seeking fame and fortune and goes back in search of his father after the hurricane. An accessible, uplifting story about family set against the backdrop of New Orleans immediately after the storm. It comes out September 1st. It's published by Agate Bolden and reminds me a bit of their novel Before I Forget.
LaTonya Jones' debut novel Southern Discomfort. Click the title to read the first chapter and to enter the contest Plenary Publishing is holding. You could win a trip for 2 to New Orleans to celebrate its release!
Plenary says of this novel: "Set against the backdrop of a post-Katrina New Orleans that includes a colorful cast of residents, LaTonya Jones paints a raw and vivid picture of the rebuilding efforts, and what it means to be resilient, to breathe again despite the pain, and to move forward no matter what. SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT will make you laugh and cry over the daily challenges affecting Janae and Neo, and it will stir your soul as you cheer for the city of New Orleans and the people fighting for it to rise again."
Tayari Jones told me of Natasha Trethewey's upcoming Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which reminds us that the devastation stretched beyond NOLA. From Octavia Books website: "Weaving her own memories with the experiences of family, friends, and neighbors, Trethewey traces the erosion of local culture and the rising economic dependence on tourism and casinos. She chronicles decades of wetland development that exacerbated the destruction and portrays a Gulf Coast whose citizens—particularly African Americans—were on the margins of American life well before the storm hit. Most poignantly, Trethewey illustrates the destruction of the hurricane through the story of her brother’s efforts to recover what he lost and his subsequent incarceration."
Hat tip to Tayari for the news about Patricia Smith's poetry collection about Katrina, Blood Dazzler, becoming a play that premiers in Harlem in September. If you're in NYC, check it out. If you can't make the play (and even if you can), read the book (it was a finalist for the National Book Award).
Denver peeps, on August 10th at 7 p.m. Colorado author Traci Jones will read from and sign her new novel for young readers Finding My Place ($16.99 FS&G) at the Tattered Cover Colfax store. Here's a synopsis: "It is October 1975, and while most teens are worried about their Happy Days Halloween costumes, Tiphanie Jayne Baker has bigger problems. Her parents have just decided to uproot the family to the ritzy suburb of Brent Hills, Colorado, and now she’s the only Black girl at a high school full of Barbies. But the longer Tiphanie stays in her new neighborhood, the more her ties to her old community start to fray. Now that nowhere feels like home, exactly where does she belong?" Jones was awarded the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for her first novel, Standing Against the Wind.