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Title: Oral History Interview with Jerry Washington Ward Jr., June 2, 2006. Interview U-0261. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Ward, Jerry Washington, Jr., interviewee
Interview conducted by Guild, Joshua
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: ## Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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Languages used in the text: English
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2008-00-00, Wanda Gunther and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-06-12, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Jerry Washington Ward Jr., June 2, 2006. Interview U-0261. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s. Southern Oral History Program Collection (U-0261)
Author: Joshua Guild
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Jerry Washington Ward Jr., June 2, 2006. Interview U-0261. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s. Southern Oral History Program Collection (U-0261)
Author: Jerry Washington Ward Jr.
Description: 184 Mb
Description: 33 p.
Note: Interview conducted on June 2, 2006, by Joshua Guild; recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Note: Transcribed by Emily Baran.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series U. The Long Civil Rights Movement: The South Since the 1960s, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Jerry Washington Ward Jr., June 2, 2006.
Interview U-0261. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Ward, Jerry Washington, Jr., interviewee

Interview Participants

    JERRY WASHINGTON WARD JR., interviewee
    JOSHUA GUILD, interviewer


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Maybe just start by saying your name, the date, and where we are.
Okay, my name is Jerry Washington Ward Jr. We're at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel. Today is Friday, June second, 2006.
So maybe you could just start with a little background. Tell me where you're from, your people, stuff like that.
I was born in Washington, DC. My parents, of course, were from Mississippi and Louisiana. My father is from Mississippi. My mother is from Louisiana, Saint James Parish. We moved back to Mississippi when I was six years old to my dad's home town, Moss Point, Mississippi, and that's where I grew up. I took my undergraduate degree not in English, but in mathematics at Tougaloo College, graduating in 1964. Then I did my PhD at the University of Virginia in English and I got that degree in 1978. In between, I had done graduate work elsewhere, had been in the army for two years, and I began teaching at Tougaloo in 1970.
What led you to a teaching career?
Something that's buried very deeply in my childhood, I remember thinking when I was very young, kids in the neighborhood who were not quite as gifted as I was in doing certain kinds of things, so occasionally I would play schoolteacher. A number of people in my family had been schoolteachers. So I kind of fell into this by accident and a kind of desire I had to pass on information to other people, especially if I noted that they had more difficulty with mastering ideas and concepts than I had. I was really very much disposed to being a teacher and I have discovered I have no regrets.
That's good. Tell me about Tougaloo, being there as an undergraduate.

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As an undergraduate, I was there between 1960 and 1964 and those were exceptionally exciting years. It's at the beginning and leading up almost to a kind of high point of what I would call the classic phase of the Civil Rights Movement, if we're going to only date that as something that starts with the 1960s. Of course, the Civil Rights Movement has to be interpreted in a much broader way and certainly over a longer period of time.
The advantage of being at Tougaloo in those years was that I received what I call a dual education. There was the academic work, what we did in the classrooms, but there was also the interaction with any number of people who are now exceptionally famous as civil rights workers, heroes of the movement, including some of my classmates. We went to—we, and I'm not speaking for every student at Tougaloo, but most of us went to forums, went to meetings because we had friends who had suffered, some of them quite seriously from physical injuries in this effort to assert our citizenship. I learned much about a world beyond Mississippi. I learned a great deal about the difficulty that what we called integration posed for us. You could do that at Tougaloo; it was an oasis. But once you left the gates, you were in the really brutal world of the South, of Mississippi, and it was dangerous and we knew that. Some of us just braved, they braved danger; we were taking risks.
That part of my education, Josh, involved both resentment of what this country allowed to happen, of its hypocrisy in light of what the Constitution should have guaranteed, particularly after we had the late-nineteenth-century amendments involving the rights of formerly enslaved peoples. It also taught me what balances resentment and that is the strength to believe that things will not always be as they are. There is a possibility of something better happening. And holding that belief certainly for me, in terms of a memory that my ancestors were much stronger than I, that they had endured the most inhumane treatment, and while what

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I endured under the laws of segregation was inhumane, it was less inhumane. I was not branded. I did have an adequate diet. I was allowed to read and write and I had an education. Many of the things that I've done in my teaching and in other activities all go back to the person that was formed during my undergraduate years.
At what point did you return to Tougaloo then on the faculty?
Six years after I graduated. I graduated, as I told you, in '64 and I returned as an instructor in 1970 immediately after I was discharged from the US Army.
Was that a conscious decision to return home, so to speak?
It was not a conscious decision. I had an invitation from the chair of the English department to return and I received that invitation while I was still in Vietnam and immediately said yes. That was really going home and I wanted to see how it would work out, and it worked out very well. I only intended to stay maybe for four years. I actually stayed on the faculty of Tougaloo College for thirty-two years.
What brought you to New Orleans?
An offer that I did not wish to refuse. I had a chair at Tougaloo. I had been chairman of the English department for seven years and then I served an extra two and a half years as acting chair as things changed. I felt that I didn't want to refuse this invitation because I had always liked New Orleans. I had been coming to the city since I was four years old because on my mother's side, we had relatives here; my godparents lived here. And the offer from Dillard was extremely attractive. I had the leverage to say if I actually decide to stay at Dillard, I'm not going through the tenure process. You will have to grant me tenure the second year. They couldn't do it legally at Dillard for the first year. And that did happen. People at

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Tougaloo were in a state of disbelief. They said, "You're not really leaving." I said, "Yes," and I did.
Despite what we are now having to endure, I don't regret the decision because the years, my brief time at Dillard prior to last August, was very fruitful and I was able to have a real sense of community here. I knew a lot of people in New Orleans before I came down and I met a lot of wonderful new people at Dillard. So if you asked me to put in a nutshell what I've kind of meandered around telling you, I came to Dillard because it was to be, as I said, a new life with old friends. I could do something that continued my personal mission as a teacher, but in a very new way with a new set of students.
What did it mean to teach, to come to another historically black college?
That's part of the mission. Unlike many people in my academic peer group who decided that they wanted to teach at very large universities, research one institutions, I decided that there was a sacrifice that had to be made. Not everyone should be at the so-called major institutions. If you have a sense of responsibility that I think was ingrained in me in my undergraduate years, that if you were gifted, you had to give back, my way of giving back to a larger community of people was to teach and the site for teaching had to be either my alma mater or another historically black institution.
How would you describe the Dillard student body? What students does Dillard serve?
Dillard serves a very diverse student body both in terms of the geographic origins and the range of abilities and talents that Dillard students bring during their first year. I would think that if Dillard students were compared using various measures with students at other historically black schools, we would find that there were not that many dissimilarities. Perhaps

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it would be New Orleans and their reasons for coming to Dillard, if they're in-state, as opposed to going to Southern or Gramling or UNO or SUNO or even some of the other schools here in New Orleans. That would have to be looked at very carefully. Also, what programs at Dillard University did they find exceptionally attractive? I've noticed that Dillard students, like students at other schools that I know of, develop a fierce attachment to the place and a fierce attachment to their classes and their classmates. What I've noticed is slightly different and I'm not on the inside, so I say this guardedly, as an alumnus of Tougaloo College, I feel that there is an easier interaction with alumni for Tougaloans than there might be for people who graduate from Dillard, but that's just a kind of difference; my perception may be quite false.
What kinds of relationships does Dillard have, in the time that you've been there, with other institutions within New Orleans? I mean other colleges and universities.
From the perspective both of the humanities division and the division of social sciences, I have things to do with both, I think the exchange with other universities was not as rich as I would have liked it to have been. I knew people at Xavier and I would occasionally tell them about things that were happening at Dillard, but there was no real sense that we were going to have an ongoing exchange in terms of even just communicating what programs were going on at either institution between Xavier and Dillard. I really had very little sense of what was going at SUNO unless one of my friends said, "You know there's a special program. Yanker's going to be there. Let's go to that." Prior to Katrina, I think it would be fair to say, if you're only asking about the communication among the historically black schools—
Actually, any of the institutions.
Oh, okay. Well, I would say that there was, as far as I could ascertain, minimal exchange. Now at another level, in terms of administration, there might have been more things

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going on; I don't know. Certainly if we talked about libraries, yes, sharing books, library loan, and that kind of thing, and having access to other libraries, which we had in a limited way with UNO, Tulane, Loyola. That kind of cooperation was there. I think the library people probably had the most formalized relationships. But if we're talking about academic units, I just felt that there was an awareness that other things were going on at other places, but whether you participated or encouraged your students to participate depended very much on who you knew at the institutions, not that you got the information, say, from a calendar of events or memos coming from administrators at Dillard.
How about the relationship between Dillard and the Gentilly neighborhood?
It seemed to be a very good relationship. I didn't have a sense of that clichéd division of town and gown. Dillard, when you notice the campus, is fenced. It's like a park in the middle of residential areas and a business area, residents with business area. The students went to the stores that were nearby, going down toward Elysian Fields, and seemed to have very little difficulty. There was, as you would have in any urban area, a real need to provide a lot of security for students, especially for our women students because it was all too easy for someone to get in under the wire, despite having guards at the two major gates. There was a part of the campus that was not fenced and that was called Gentilly Gardens. So if someone really wanted to walk in under cover of darkness, it would have been possible.
How would you describe the campus, the physical plan?
Well, I think I used the image of the park and I would pretty much stick with that because you have the immaculate white buildings. This has always been one of the main features of Dillard, the white buildings, and lots of greenery, wonderful oaks, the Alley of the Oaks. The grass was usually very well-kept. In fact, at its best, Dillard had a very manicured

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look and everyone who came was impressed with the physical plant. Many who came said that it was, and this is a hyperbole, the most beautiful historically black campus in America. I'm not prepared to say that because I haven't been to all of them.
Where in the city did you live or do you live?
I live four blocks from the university. The university's address is 2601 Gentilly and my house is 1928 Gentilly, so I'm very close.
How would you describe the Gentilly neighborhood?
I wouldn't call it upscale because it's a very mixed neighborhood involving people who obviously have blue-collar incomes, some who have less than that, and a lot of people who have upper-middle-class incomes, a nice mix. I will tell you, and this may give you an indication of how I really felt about my end of Gentilly, as you went east on Gentilly, there were in those neighborhoods, if we just talked about neighborhoods in terms of blocks, there were many much nicer houses. But what I felt about my very mixed end of that boulevard was a kind of security. I didn't worry about theft and I have two huge glass windows, one in the front and one in the back. If anyone really wanted to rob my house, especially if they knew I was not there, it would have not been that difficult, although they would have had to deal with a security system. I mean, you don't just invite trouble. But I was pleased, I was very pleased with where I lived.
I was especially pleased because my house is two houses off of Saint Bernard. I'm at that intersection of Saint Bernard and Gentilly Boulevard and at that intersection is a wonderful sculptural construction called Spirit House that was designed by John Scott and I'm trying to remember the other fellow's name; his last name is Peyton, who had been a student of John Scott, I believe. They used some school children in conceptualizing this project, which was a

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city-sponsored project. It's a wonderful memorial to African-American and African history. It was thought of as a kind of spiritual space. I remember there was, in least in one instance, storytelling for children under the Spirit House. So it became a great reminder of where people came from, what had happened to them, and the possibilities for the future. To be able to look at a work by perhaps the most gifted artist in New Orleans was just wonderful.
Where were you when Hurricane Katrina struck?
When it actually hit, I was in Vicksburg, Mississippi and I stayed for two weeks in a shelter, a very nice one, I must say, that was provided by the First Baptist Church of Vicksburg. That was just a matter of luck because the first night, and I left the Sunday before the hurricane, I could not find a place to stay, not in Vicksburg, not in Nachez, not in Monroe, Louisiana and I'd been driving around for about fourteen hours. I just crashed at a rest area and when I drove in that Monday morning, I was able to find a shelter in Vicksburg. I stayed there for two weeks and then I was able to rent an apartment, which I still have.
What communication did you have with the folks at Dillard during that time period?
When I was at the shelter, obviously, people were searching for other people and through the telephone, people got to know where I was and I found out where people in Dillard's administration were; they were all in Atlanta. And after I had moved into my apartment, the communication was mainly by telephone, including a very early, I guess it was actually October, there was a conference call involving Dillard faculty and the Dillard administration in Atlanta, which was very good because we really did need to know what we were going to do. There was a long period of great uncertainty and various ideas were being tossed around about what Dillard should do. Should Dillard try to use the facilities of Morris

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Brown in Atlanta, since that campus was no longer being used as a major part of the Clark Atlanta complex? Or should it try to set up camp elsewhere?
I think it would have been overly disruptive for us to have gone to Atlanta because finding housing for faculty and students might not have been that easy there. It wasn't easy in New Orleans either when we knew that we could not use the campus because of the devastation, but at least New Orleans had a lot of hotel rooms and fortunately, Dillard was able to make a deal with the Hilton that has worked out as well as it possibly could. And to be back in New Orleans was very important. One, because it was an announcement that Dillard and its students and faculty and administrators were very much committed to being in the city.
Secondly, I think despite our having to grapple with our various forms of trauma, the healing might have been better in place than trying to do it away from the city. I felt much better because at least I could see my house. The entire period during which we were not allowed to return because there were threats that if you came in and you weren't supposed to be here, you might be shot, and I did not wish to be shot. But I was able to come back to New Orleans in October, very early October. To see the city as it was then was absolutely unbelievable. The first thing that hit me on my return, as I'm driving in on I-10, is the city does not sound right. There was an eerie silence here. You couldn't even hear a bird chirp. And the city had never, in my memory, been dry, I mean bone dry. I said, "This is like going into a frame from an old Western. The only thing that's missing is tumbleweed." It was just that dry, that dusty. Everything was covered with this gray dust.
So no standing water?
Well, by the time I came back, which I think it was October six, the water had evaporated or had been pumped and there was probably still water in certain areas that I didn't

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go into, but around Dillard and certainly in Gentilly, I drove part of the way out toward the east on Gentilly, no standing water. Lots of stench from debris, trash, garbage, and the famous refrigerators that we all put on the curbs. What was most unsettling was the silence and I was accustomed to hearing the schoolchildren at Saint Leo the Great Elementary School laughing and playing, and that wasn't there. The other thing that was rather unsettling if you stayed here at night was the absence of streetlights and of traffic lights and the absence of cars, the silence and darkness, and it made it feel very much like a graveyard to me.
Did you see any of your neighbors?
Not on my first trip; I saw not one neighbor. On the second trip, when I came back to participate in a poetry reading at the Gold Mine Saloon, this is the Seventeen Poets Reading Series, I did see my next-door neighbor and I was delighted to see him. He owns a two-story house next to mine. He rents it and for awhile his daughter lived upstairs and then one of his nephews and he comes in from Homa, Louisiana, which is not that far away, to do work on his property from time to time. It was really good to see Don. The woman who lived closest to Saint Bernard, that's to the right, if we were facing Gentilly Boulevard, of my house, was elderly and partially blinded, so her family took her away. Another neighbor, who was a member of Saint Leo the Great, where I go to church, was in Baton Rouge, I think. Much of the neighborhood was deserted, but by December, you saw more people in the neighborhood, although not a large number, but more people were coming back, trying to attend to their property, to clean out as much mold as we could, take out rugs or just gut the walls, or whatever people were doing.
You have this visual assault, or had this visual assault when you first came back. The more painful part of all of this was to walk into your house and I was glad that I had not had

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nine feet of water; I had probably six inches. But when water stands in a house, and water of whatever kind we had in New Orleans, it becomes like a petri dish and all kinds of things grow. Books that were on the lower shelves in my house, anything that I had on the floor was destroyed. If the water didn't get to it, the mold certainly did. The water and the mold got to my collection of about four hundred LPs; I had to toss all of those. The same with books that I had in a storage area next to my garage, because water really got in there and they were boxes. One of the things that I lost was a rather unusual collection of African-American poetry volumes, some of them I just will never see again. It was very painful to have to throw that out. I was also able to save some things.
Probably one of the things that made me feel good in the middle of all of my being upset about losses was that I had a friend named Shikula Joshua, his real name was McNeil Cayet, but that's his professional name. During August, or late July and August, we were working on a celebration for the Shikula Joshua Theater and I served on the board and we were going to have this grand thing happening in September. We had urged him to put all of his original plays together. Well, he did gather them and I made a copy of each. When I came back, I discovered that all of that material was sitting on the dining room table and it was in perfect condition. When I talked to him, he told me everything that he'd had had been lost. So I felt rather good about being able to send him his plays so at least he had that. He had not lost all of his years of creativity.
Take me again to—I'm interested in this conference call that took place, you said, in October. Describe the call and some of what was discussed and what were some of people's questions.

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Well, we knew or suspected that there would be a reduction of staff and faculty. What we were not sure about and we were assured of during that call was that all of us who were being retained would continue to receive our salaries. That was really very good news. We were told about our returning to New Orleans. We were told that that was a great possibility because the notion that we would maybe move into Atlanta for a certain period until the campus was restored had not yet been abandoned. So there was a little uncertainty about that. But I think the call might have been designed also to allow us to hear one another. That was very important, to have a sense that no one had died, or people you knew were living with relatives or in shelters or whatever, but they were alive. That feeling of knowing that your colleagues were physically still there led me to think, "Okay, there is life after Katrina. We will have something. We will be back together eventually."
During this conversation, we developed at least a preliminary sense of our commitment to the university and I had been invited by a young woman who was a Dillard graduate to talk at Northern Arizona University. And I said to her before I even knew that we were having this conference call, I said, "Well, I'm going to give my honorarium to Dillard." I was able during the conference to announce, "Well, I'll be sending you a check for a thousand dollars." One of my colleagues in the English department said, "I think I'll try to match you." For faculty who were displaced and having their own problems, maybe even financial problems, whose property has been destroyed, to say that I want to give back to this institution because I believe in it is a very positive sign.
Did you have offers or opportunities to take visiting appointments elsewhere?
Yes and indeed, we were encouraged to take visiting appointments or to take research opportunities. We were not encouraged to be seduced by these. I spent two weeks at

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Grinnell. One of my friends who had been with me at the National Humanities Center is associate dean there and I had gone to Grinnell, what was it, two years before Katrina. He asked me if I would come back and give some lectures and also do a two-week short term course for students. I gladly said yes. So I spent two weeks and I then spent a week at Dickinson College. I had a chance to speak out in Arizona and at the University of Utah. I had an offer to speak at the Schaumburg before December, but I couldn't do that. So I actually went to the Schaumburg at the end of February as a part of the Shabbat conversations.
Talk to me about coming back to New Orleans and coming to the Hilton.
Well, I'd established a new pattern of life in Vicksburg, which involved many trips to my alma mater, which is only forty-some miles away, and enjoyed interacting with former students who were still around Jackson and old friends and people I knew on the faculty. I came back to New Orleans with, well, I suppose, the notion that this is going to be a real challenge. We'd been prepared for that in the conversation because President Hughes had said, "This is going to be an uphill struggle for us." So I was prepared for that. I didn't know exactly what an extended period in a hotel would be like. I didn't know when I came back January third exactly what classrooms would be like. We're sitting in one of them now. There was just a lot of unanswered questions.
We began teaching January tenth. There was a lot of adjusting that had to be done. Approximately one half of the population of students that we had in the fall returned. That was wonderful. We had approximately one thousand and eighty three students here. Most of them were living in the hotel. Most of us on the faculty were living in the hotel and are still doing that, with a few exceptions of people who were able to get back to their homes fairly early. How do you teach under circumstances where you're in one of these partitioned classrooms and

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you are distracted by another class and you realize that you're distracting the class too? I didn't response very well, Josh, to that initially because I suppose when I'm teaching my students, I like a space and I don't like to shout. I mean, I can raise my voice, I can be very loud, but I don't like that. Sometimes you had to really kind of be very forceful so students could hear you. It was hard to hear them, so the quality of the exchange was not what I desired.
I also had to think about what I could not do that I had habitually done in terms of my teaching. There were certain assignments in the courses that I was very reluctant to make, beyond reading the texts and holding them responsible for ideas and certain basic facts. One of the things that I like to do is to create assignments that really demand some work in a library. I'm rather old-fashioned about this, Josh, because especially for English majors, I think new technology, the challenges of making a good marriage between the humanities or actually any discipline and technology is fine. But what has happened is the joy of scholarship has somewhat diminished within certain disciplines. There was for me a peculiar joy of reading a first edition of Equiano in the British Museum. I went when it was still the British Museum. The British Library and the British Museum have now split. To just feel, oh, I mean, this is a high point. I felt the same way using Richard Wright's materials at Yale.
I want for my students a sense that it's not just going to the internet and looking at articles. There's a different discipline that you develop when you have first to go to the MLA International Bibliography, select articles, and then find some of these articles in the bound periodicals. Because despite all of the wonderful things that is done on internet, say with something like JSTOR, there are articles that have not been digitalized and some of them are very important and much older. There are texts that you can only have in print.

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There is among the late-twentieth-century, early-twenty-first-century generation of undergraduates that I am familiar with a real reluctance to use libraries in the old sense. They want instant information and this is a part of a society that has socialized them, that they've been raised in. And I'm of an age where that's not what shaped me and I realize that they've been shaped differently. I also realize that we will discover perhaps in the future that long-term exposure to electronic media will alter the way the brain processes information and I think we have begun to see not necessary and sufficient evidence, but some evidence that this is beginning to happen. Those things force me to make certain kinds of decisions about how I would teach.
Sensitivity to students also affected how I would teach. Not that I was going to become a softie or that I was going to become touchy-feely or overly sentimental about what had happened, but you had to be aware that like oneself, the students were suffering. Even if they were not aware of it, the students were suffering from this rupture, from dislocation. It affected how much they could concentrate on things. So that if I saw a student in a class nodding off, I did not become alarmed. Because many of Dillard students worked and still were working in various kinds of jobs when they came back, such as they could find.
The experience of the hotel, of the new physical conditions as well as the new intellectual conditions under which one would teach and students would learn was a very real challenge. So too was this sense that we were—let me put it this way. Good teachers try to prepare for the courses they're going to teach as many months ahead of the start date as possible. If you've been teaching for more than twenty years, obviously there are some things that are fairly easy for you. What is not always easy is being asked to teach courses that you have not taught for five years or something of that kind, courses that may not have anything to

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do with the projects that you're trying to deal with at the present time. So although you do what is necessary because you know this is part of your obligation to the university, I'm not sure that you always do it well and I had not taught world literature for a very long time. So I kind of felt, "I'm learning along with my students." And the reading was wonderful and the discussions were wonderful, but I didn't have the same mastery of that course that I would have of a course in Southern literature, African-American literature, or a course devoted to Richard Wright or James Baldwin and some authors that I think I know, or to some of my favorite topics such as autobiography or African-American poetry.
What did students get their books from? Did you do course packets?
No, we didn't do that. Extraordinary efforts were made to find book dealers who would be able to set up sites for students to acquire books and we had to send in our book orders before we came back to New Orleans. Initially it was thought that the books would be out at some large shopping center, which is quite a ways from downtown New Orleans. But we did manage to set up a bookstore within the hotel so the students did not have to go very far to obtain books. Sometimes the book orders didn't get here exactly on time. So for two or three days, you might be compelled to give the students an overview of what the course is, to do a little more lecturing than you would like, and to know that they had no reading material if it were not available online and much of it was not. That was done both for term one, which ended in April, and also for term two, which began in April.
Can you describe the teaching schedule?
Okay, the teaching schedule, as I said, what was unusual here is that many of us had more than what we thought of as our normal loads. I taught three courses and I've taught three courses for both terms. Normally, given my privileged position here, I only do two or one,

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but most times I do two, especially because I was working before Katrina with our honors program and I was teaching the sophomore colloquium, which was a real joy. So I had classes term one Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. I'm a little more fortunate. Term two, I only have classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. And the classes are an hour and a half, but actually, it works out to be an hour and fifteen minutes for each, twice a week.
Now I understand that the university did have to let go of some faculty and staff.
Yes. Approximately fifty-nine percent, initially fifty-nine percent of the faculty and staff were notified that their employment would not continue beyond November fifteenth. A decision was made to keep senior faculty and tenured faculty and a few people who were, by virtue of their expertise, crucial. But most of the junior faculty did not receive contracts. Then when we were back here in January, there was this frantic effort to find teachers to do things because it had not been anticipated that the number of students would return, nor what would be the range of their needs given that many of the students had done a semester at a college in their home towns or at some other university where they'd relocated, because many of the schools in America were very good about opening their doors to Dillard, to displaced students from New Orleans, whether it was Dillard or Xavier or SUNO or whatever. So you found yourself with oddities such as a single student needing a course, so you're almost doing a tutorial with that student and then you would have, as I had, seventeen or eighteen students in a course. Then one or two people, there was a time conflict, so you had to make special provisions to meet with them separate from other students in the class. All of this did work eventually, but believe me, initially there were any number of glitches and minor frustration on top of the major frustration about, "Are we going to ever get this all together?" But we did and I think fairly credible teaching and learning occurred and is still occurring.

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How did you balance your professional obligations here with your kind of personal needs to look after your house and to rebuild that part of your life?
Well, given the problem of identifying a contractor, negotiating with my insurance companies to get insurance money so that I would be able to rebuild, that was very time-consuming. Then also the matter of having to deal with FEMA, which was not a major problem for me because I had initially asked for a trailer and then none seemed to be forthcoming and I said, "Well, I really don't need it if I'm going to be at the hotel." A trailer would just be taking up room in front of my house. Even people who did get trailers had problems about getting electricity connected. So I said, "Okay, that'll go by the wayside."
What I did find myself doing, Josh, was with trying to communicate and have some, as I call it, social communion with my friends who were back in the city. It became very important that one of my friends, who's an exceptionally gifted writer and all-around renaissance person and also a teacher at an alternative program called Students at the Center, and I would be able to get together weekly for dinner. And this is very satisfying for both of you. It's not just so much the food; it's the conversation that's important.
What's this person's name?
[unclear] . You may have heard his name.
Yes, absolutely. I've actually been trying to get in touch with him. I'd like to talk with him.
Okay, I can take care of that. Remind me to give you his number when we end this interview.
On doing something very pleasant, I have two friends who are lawyers here and our little ritual is to have breakfast on Saturday morning and one of the places to have it is at Le

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Richelieu on Charter Street. It's a hotel and there's a very nice little eating area there and one of the lawyers has a favorite waiter because he goes there very often and again, that's a matter of a wonderful meal and conversation. The other ways of keeping myself very much engaged had to do with my friend, Dave Brinks, who is the owner of the Gold Mine Saloon and also himself a very fine poet who had instituted, I guess maybe four or five years ago, what is called the Seventeen Poets Reading Series and he invited me back in October for the first readings that we had at his venue under the title, "We're Still Standing," or just "Still Standing," I think was the phrase used. I also participated in a program there that was taped by PBS in March.
Dave was the person who came and helped me get the rugs out and remove the refrigerator and do all kinds of things back in October. His yeomen efforts to reunite writers and artists in this venue certainly have to be applauded. That is an important part of our community and it's separate from the writers that you would hear about most. I mean, it's not Tom Piazzo; it's not Richard Ford; Ann Rice; Brinkley, who has a book, The Great Deluge; and some other names that kind of stand out because of their national and/or international prominence. These are very good artists, many of them emerging, some of us fully emerged or as emerged as we're going to be, I guess. The whole atmosphere is much more Bohemian. It's reminiscent almost of the 1950s in terms of the openness and acceptance and it's the most democratic reading space in the city. So that was a very important part of what I did and what I'm still doing, because next week, I'm introducing Dave for his book party. He has a new book coming out.
The other activity, I became much more active in doing things with Saint Leo the Great Church. It was basically through our partnership with all congregations together, so that's consumed a lot of my time. But much of my time, when I've not been teaching or doing those

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things or having these interactions with my friends, has been devoted to my own writing. I'm working on a manuscript that I had not intended to be a book called The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery. I've been sharing some of those entries for that journal with people. One was published in African-American Review. Bits and pieces have been published online in ChickenBones. I've shared it with people and gotten quite good feedback about it. Very early on, Joe Parsons at the University of Iowa, I did not contact him; he contacted me and asked me what was I doing and I told him. So he wants to look at the manuscript and so does Bill Lavender, who is a publisher here. I said, "Okay, I'll let people look at a manuscript."
However, I did not intend this to be a book and I'm not going to stop writing whatever I'm doing until the end of August of this year. But it's been a very necessary engagement with my own feelings, my critical and sometimes sarcastic and ironical perspectives on what's happening here in the city, what's happening to me. There's a great deal of subjectivity here. It's a writing experience that precludes my grieving over much, because I'm fascinated by what's coming out of my head and very often I don't know where this stuff is coming from; it just comes. A lot of it I know has to do with something musical, as today I said, "Hmm, I need to rewrite a line from 'What did I do to be so black and blue?' I don't know what I'm going to put it with, which would go, 'What do you do to be red, white, and blue?'" So I'm playing off music, I'm playing off literature, I'm playing off media reports. Also the other thing I got involved with were the elections, not in terms of working for any camp, but I went through the two training periods to qualify as an election commissioner and to work on the polls. So I worked both for the primary and then the runoff elections.
Was that something that you had done in the past?

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No, this was my first time in New Orleans. But I said, "It's a part of civic duty." It certainly gave me a sense of further anchoring myself in the city and doing something very meaningful at that level. I found it very interesting in terms of sitting there and meeting more of my neighbors than I had met for a long time. I worked at one of the mega polling centers up at UNO and I worked for the precinct in which I live, which is ward seven, precinct seventeen. So a lot of people from the neighborhood were coming by and I was saying, "Hey, I'm glad you're back," and I told them where I lived and we had these brief exchanges as I was certifying them for voting.
How soon after the hurricane did you start writing?
I think about a week. The initial things are very, very brief and then it began to grow. There are some longer entries and there's some days I would write only three lines or whatever. That's been a very important part of my being here.
Let's talk a little bit about the future. Let's start with Dillard. How does Dillard come out of experience?
Dillard comes out of this experience with a new sense of its history, a commitment, if you listen to the words of our president, to be not the same, but better than it was, a bit of surety that it can survive against the odds and will become a part of the new New Orleans. And perhaps in a rather different way, because of the planning that is being done for both the restoration and expansion in some ways of the campus, a more integral part of the Gentilly community.
In what ways?
Physically, mainly. I mean, it will be as much a part of the Gentilly community as any other entity there, but if Dillard happens to acquire the property, or to lease it or buy it or

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whatever, property that belongs to the City Park Services which abuts our campus, that would give us a little bit of space to expand and we would be more on a different street, a new border for us. To speak about a future, I will not say the future, I'm going to say a future because I think the futures of New Orleans may be quite varied and the determinants will be whether we're talking about people or we're talking about institutions. I think all will be changed.
Dillard will continue as an institution of higher education. Reality will encourage and perhaps force Dillard to change in ways that we can only guess at. To be very specific, any institution of higher learning is very much dependent upon the number of students it must serve, the availability of scholarship money and other kinds of grants to meet basic operating expenses, as well as the always present need to build endowment. How does that affect a curriculum? When an institution is very dependent upon x number of students who have y number of desires in terms of what they want for an education and what major they want to focus on, you have to reshape your curriculum slightly and sometimes in major ways. If you have a department and there are only a very small number of majors, it's not, in cold terms, economically feasible to continue that program.
Maybe what you want to do to continue your viability is to reshape the curriculum so that you have some very strong programs and you have some other things that serve a supportive service. What that will be, I'm not prepared to tell you at this moment. I will put it this way: President Hughes uses the word "signature." She wants Dillard to have a signature and in a cryptic way, my chair said, "Hmm, I like this much better than having a brand name." And I think the difference between a brand name and a signature is the difference between having Wal-Mart and Neiman Marcus. Wal-Mart is a brand name; Neiman Marcus is a signature.

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How about Dillard's prospects for continuing as a historically black college in New Orleans?
That part of its identity will remain for awhile. It will not surprise me that in a few years, you might find that the percentage of students who are non-black might rise a little bit. At present, it's very low. In fact, as we put it, we have one white student at Dillard, one identifiable white student at Dillard. I think, and Josh, you will appreciate this as a historian, that a future for Dillard is not going to be shaped in the absence of its awareness of the shaky futures for education, educational institutions in toto, and historically black educational institutions in particular. We've noticed a trend of certain public institutions being absorbed in larger systems and are no longer identifiable as historically black because the student body is much more diverse.
I think we have to kind of open up another part of this conversation, which is rarely had and this is, I just ask and I don't want an answer to this, but why is it we say historically black and we never say historically white? I think we have fallen into a little trap here. I'm going to put it this way: I think colleges and universities that have chosen to serve the educational needs of all people, but who see a special need and can form a rationale for providing a space for students who have a particular kind of ethnic history, if you can make a case for that, you will continue. That also depends very much on whether people from that ethnicity make a major effort to ensure your longevity. The argument of reparations, guilt offerings, and all of this is not working in the twenty-first century. The bottom line is: what can you deliver? There's no magic about the delivery. If you prove that a Dillard, Xavier, or UNO is in some way excellent, you have to be prepared for the fact that people who are seeking excellence are not exclusively African-American. You may always in certain ways be able to project the identity as the so-

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called historically-black institution because you're going back to matters of your origin, but your day-to-day practice may have a different kind of identity because it's much more a part of what is going on in the twenty-first century.
How about future or futures for New Orleans? What kind of city should New Orleans be in the future?
Please do not ask me what it should be. I will tell you that New Orleans—
What would you like it to be?
You know, in my worst nostalgic moments, I would like for New Orleans to be what it was in the year 2000.
Which was what for you?
Simply the wonderful crazy place that it had always been, the place that had rhythm, that had great people and great music, and that is not to at all minimize the fact that it had tremendous problems, particularly in terms of the education of young people, particularly in terms of class tensions, and not such a good track record as far as labor was concerned, because this city became far too dependent on tourism. I'm not putting tourism down, but if you're going to be a tourist city, you should also have a vision that maybe other kinds of work have to be possible for the young people who are born and who grow up and are educated in the city. You don't leave them all at the mercy of the service industry.
I would hope that as far as possible, what comes out of the total recovery effort for the city is first of all, building levees, floodgates, and whatever else it takes to live in this mainly below sea level place, that that's done very well. We who live in this city, who have chosen to live in this city have to also be prepared for the fact that weather is with us forever. It doesn't mean that we're not going to continue to get hurricanes. It just means that we have to be a little

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more prepared in terms of trying to do those things physically that can be done to preclude major flooding of the kind that we had and we also have to be evacuation-ready because at any time, the city may have to empty out for everyone's safety. So the future involves first that kind of awareness about man and nature.
The future, as I said when I was asked to speak on a panel entitled, "What makes community?," I said the future of this city must involve honesty. Now this is a loaded word. What am I talked about? When I say it must involve honesty, I think we have to look at our political situation and realize that if we have in the state of Louisiana and in the state of New Orleans a culture of political corruption, that citizens have been complicitious in that culture, let us not make scapegoats of the politicians who are playing the roles that have historically been designed for them. If they are cheating us, maybe we didn't want that, but we certainly helped.
So there must be in a future New Orleans as much political honesty as possible. If people are going to steal money, as Mark Morial's uncle did, I'm cynical. If you're going to do it, be good at it. The man stole pennies. He didn't steal any money; he stole pennies. That was so cheap. He's a shame to all thieves. Well, I'm not going to encourage anybody to be a thief. We don't need anymore Enrons. But honesty means that you have to become much more informed about what the political process is. You have to make more demands of those people who say they represent you. You have to make daily demands of them and ask them to be accountable, as you yourself try to be accountable for where you live, your house, and the people who live in your neighborhood.
The future, or a future for New Orleans, has to involve honesty about the exploitation of the major contributors to a part of the culture of this city: musicians. Without any reference to

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their ethnicities, but if we're talking about jazz and we're talking about certain kinds of blues and varieties of funk and of the new varieties of hip-hop-inspired music, at least with the jazz, we can identify that part of the tradition here has been apprenticeship, the elders teaching younger musicians, and of course, what I call "musical families." If you look at the history of music in this city, you find that an overwhelming number of musically-talented people are related either by blood or marriage to a large number of other musically-talented people. I don't know of any city in this country in which that has happened in terms of music. So if this is going to be what you sell to the world, ways have to be carefully thought through that you do not, in that process of commercialization, destroy the ingredients that have led to a rich evolution of music and certainly, you do not continue the practice of exploiting musicians.
The musicians here—and don't take my evidence, talk to musicians; I'm not one—but when people are surprised that many musicians said, "I'm not coming back to New Orleans," it is very much akin to what people who have said, "I'm not coming back," found elsewhere: better opportunities. Particularly for people who had children, there were better opportunities for schools because the public school system in New Orleans has been an abomination for a very long time and that too has to be addressed for a future as well as, as I put it, the possibility of having labor here that can pay decent fair wages to people and it's not all flipping hamburgers and changing sheets and driving taxi cabs. A future for New Orleans involves honesty about racial resentment and this is not a feature only of New Orleans; it's a national issue.
We have played, Josh, certain polite games post-Civil Rights about how wonderful it is that we are now all Americans. Even when I grant you that and we don't have laws countenancing segregation and other forms of discrimination, whether it's on the basis of race

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or sex or gender identity or sexual preference, although some of that's still there, we don't have it on the books; we have it in the practice. We have it in how people live. In the city of New Orleans, class tensions may have a lot to do with one's sense of family history and wealth, your finances, but there are tensions that have to do with the notion that if you belong to a certain class, you may tend to despise people who have less than you and are seen as problematic.
That's why in the media treatment of New Orleans, if you watched in the first months after the hurricane and were not well-informed, you would think no one other than African-Americans had to be evacuated from this city, because no one else lived here except whites who were in the Garden District and the French Quarter, very strange. It wipes out the awareness that the population of New Orleans has never been exclusively white and black. It may have at various times involved minority-majority ratios that were racially identifiable, but there's always been a rich mix here of people and to not be aware that in the lower ninth ward, there were people who were not poverty-stricken and that in New Orleans East, there were people who had a great deal of money and that the largest Vietnamese community in this city lives in the East and they suffered a great deal, is to do a real disservice to even thinking about planning a future for the city.
There are people in the city of New Orleans who are gleeful that an overwhelming number of people who were renters, not property owners, or people who lived in projects such as the ones that remained, have not been able to get back to the city. They think this will solve some problems because they are always transferring to those people the onus of being criminals and there has been some very interesting work done in terms of why this stereotype is used not only for New Orleans, but for urban areas period. So what I said in my closing remarks at this conference over at Tulane two days ago was we have to stop doing white face. This kind of

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minstrelsy that involves an attitude that New Orleans is a twenty-four-seven, three-sixty-five Mardi Gras has to end. It will not serve us well in terms of building a future and of healing. I really believe this very deeply because it's good for sales and attracting visitors to say, "New Orleans is just wonderful. Even now, it's just wonderful. Look at downtown. Look at all the things. Look at the number of people here. Look at all the festivals we have and the celebrations and etcetera."
That's okay, but you have to also say we have a growing crime problem and the composition of people who perpetuate crime may be changing. Maybe some of the people who are here as guest workers are also criminal and I'm not trying to criminalize Latinos, but MS-13 is active in this city and it's becoming more active. We have a problem with drugs. We have a problem with do we have any vision of what an adequate public school system for this city will be. It's very hard to say that because we don't even know how to project demographics of young people for the next decade; we don't know that. We can guess at it, but we won't really know, and I think we had better do some very intelligent guessing so we don't wait forever to find out before you plan a system. But education is very important; something must be done there.
Something must be done to have adequate facilities for health care in this city and not only adequate facilities for health care, but someone had better be bright enough to figure out that it's not about New Orleans when you're talking about health. You're talking about the entire southeast region of this country that continues to be affected by all kinds of weather conditions and changes in the soil and I don't know what else. And that we need some kind of long-term monitoring of what is happening to the health of the population. We have such things that we call a "Katrina cough" and people having viruses and skin rashes here. And I don't

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know what's actually happening with health in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and parts of Texas, but I think people may be experiencing a little more illness than is normal and that seems not to be factored in sufficiently as a part of this major equation that we're going to be trying to solve for the next fifty years.
So when you ask me about a future, without trying to hedge over much, I will say that we believe, and I want to put that in bold italics, we believe that New Orleans will have a future as one of the unique cities of the United States, as a city from which other cities that in the future as a result of global warming may be threatened, but we don't know really what that future is going to be like. It's going to be exciting and painful simultaneously. It's going to involve a lot of bonding, making of new alliances and what-have-you, but it's also going to involve memory, which must not be erased. I think that twenty-first-century America plays at history when it's convenient to remember events that become legends, that become myths. When you deal with real historical facts and the impact of historical events on human beings and the descendents of those human beings, there is a tendency to want to back away from that and say, "Oh, why don't we just forget the past and try to get along and to coexist? Why don't we forgive and forget?" Well, you know, I suppose in some ways I will forgive you, but I will never forget and the remembering sometimes brings back the temptation to not forgive.
How does apply specifically to hurricane Katrina when you say memory, history?
Well, I'm thinking in terms of how did people respond to you if you were trapped in the city" How did authorities respond to you? Who were those authorities who responded to you negatively or positively? Who were the people who came if you were on your roof and helped you to get out? There was a kind of immediate gratitude there for that help, but as you struggle more to come back if you make that choice, and you realize that there is bureaucratic

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red tape and a lot of planning. I mean, the number of people who are planning the city for the future is enormous and the variety of plans—which I don't know how they're going to all become unified. They have to become unified in one way or another. That's mind-boggling because it is really good for any urban planner or any architectural firm to have on its resume, its track record: "We worked in New Orleans." That's very sexy at the moment. I think people are going to respond to that. They're going to respond, to say: "Yeah, so and so helped me, but you know, these other people were doing things and they were making plans while we were absent and they didn't want us to vote and they tried to disenfranchise us and make us feel that we were no longer a part of the city and they welcomed our exile and they would like to keep us in exile and they would encourage us not to come back."
A certain reality is that if you're going to city of the new New Orleans of the future, Josh, you're going to have to be able to earn money. The motto for the new New Orleans is 3M: money, money, money. That is all that's going to be important in terms of actually being able to afford to live here. In addition to that, culture will continue to shape itself and to become revitalized. But let's get down to the reality of being able to live in a place. Living in a place means having a shelter, paying for utilities and services, paying taxes, having transportation because the city is large enough that the existing transit system can't handle your being able to get to various sites that easily. So it means you need to have transportation and you're going to be paying five dollars a gallon for gas. And you know, what does that leave for food? The food costs are going to go up as they will go up nationally, in proportion to national rates. If your ability to earn much more than you did prior to Katrina is not there, your future in this city is very uncertain.

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So I think we are involved in an interesting kind of drama, an interesting kind of theater here. We're all acting and some of us are writing our own scripts, and others are following scripts that they didn't even know were written, and others are just following instincts and habits. All of this is happening simultaneously and that's why it's very difficult to talk about because no one, no single person, and indeed maybe no group of people have the big picture. The big picture is like an impressionist painting, especially if you were using pointillism. You stand away from it and you think you've got it, but then when you move in closer, you see all these little dots and these little pixels that are very important. How many pixels do you have to deal with if you're going really be able to describe what you've got there? That's what I feel about New Orleans, the future, that I need to know about soil. I need to know about sewage processing. I need to know about psychological problems and how that plays into crime. There's just a lot to know about the urban, that if you're sensitive, you feel overwhelmed. You say, "I'll never master it all, but I'll have to master enough of it to be fairly intelligent in my participation in trying to rebuild this city."
Was there ever a point or might there come a point when you would not return to New Orleans? I guess those are sort of two questions. Did you ever think about not coming back?
I never thought about not coming back, no. I will put it this way: if a hurricane of magnitude five hits this year and my house is damaged again, I will not hesitate to make a certain decision and that is to take such resources as I have and build a house in Saint James parish where I have property.
Last question. This will sort of maybe bring it back to your intellectual, academic interests. What would Richard Wright say about hurricane Katrina?

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I've been asked that question many times.
Yes, because I am a Richard Wright scholar. I think Richard Wright would have said—and I'd hesitate because I don't know what he would have said. So I'm just making a nice guess. I think he would have written about hurricane Katrina much in the way that he wrote about the flood of 1927 in "The Man Who Saw the Flood," which was one of his treatments of it, and "Down By the Riverside," which was the other treatment, that when a natural disaster occurs, what he would now also have to account for man-made errors which intensified the devastation. That there are victims and that in America even in the twenty-first century, victimhood has a certain color and that has to be admitted. Not that the people you relegate to victimhood think of themselves as victims, but Wright would have dealt, as he did in that story, with a person and I think given Wright's own bent, it would have been a male. A man will do whatever he has to do to protect his family even if what he does is criminal and that man, who has lost his wife, who dies in childbirth, and who has been put in a position where he knows that he will not receive justice because of what he did and there are witnesses decides, "I will not allow that system of justice which I see as, in many ways, unjust because I'm dealing with natural law and not man-made law, I will not allow that system to annihilate me. I will select to do something that will force them to kill me." It's like self-imposed suicide, social death that is involved here. I think he would have had to write about Katrina in very much that way. It's important that Wright did not write about '27 until eleven or twelve years later. So the story I'm thinking that Wright would have written would not be written, were he alive and younger, until probably 2017. Then you'll have a very different picture of what Katrina, Rita, and levee disasters and barges creating ruptures was all about.

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Thank you for your time.
You're quite welcome. I enjoyed this.