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Honor the stories: an interview with Daniel Wolff

Daniel-Wolff-

The Fight for Home (left) and Daniel Wolff (right)

Daniel Wolff’s book, The Fight For Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back, comes out in paperback today.

Wolff, who the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame honored last weekend with a Scribe Award, crafted his book over the course of six years, beginning just months after Hurricane Katrina, out of interviews and research he conducted while on project with director Jonathan Demme. Wolff interviewed people struggling to reclaim their place amidst the lingering debris, primarily in the Lower Ninth Ward. The book’s characters span a wide social gamut, from a preacher (and recovering drug addict) to a driven community organizer, reminding us that everyone has the right to come home.

Jenga Mwendo, Lower Ninth native and founder of the Backyard Gardener’s Network,interviewed Wolff for Room 220 last summer:

Rm220: What do you hope that readers get out of your book?

DW: I’m treading lightly here, but one of the things I wanted to communicate is that New Orleans isn’t special in a lot of ways. I    know it is special in a lot of ways—and there are all sorts of distinctive things about it that you can’t find anywhere else in the world—but in terms of   how it treats its poor people and its people of color, and the problems it faces related to having an economy that works and a health care system that works and a police force that works, it’s like a lot of cities in America. So I hope that when people in other cities read the book, they can go, “Well, this all sort of rings a bell. We didn’t have a flood, but the problems that these people faced are the problems that almost every big city in America is facing right now.” The problems in New Orleans were just highlighted by Katrina. If you put a flood through East St. Louis or Detroit or Baltimore, you’d see something very similar, I think.

 Rm220: […] The city takes for granted all these things that make it what it is, and was just willing to let them go. I think New Orleans is trying to hold on to the musicians, definitely, because the city sees that that’s what people come here for, but outside of that I don’t see anything intentional being done in terms of keeping certain people here.

DW: I agree. And just keeping poor people, and giving them a better chance—never mind whether they can play a trombone—the city isn’t being good about that. The Lower Ninth, to me, and I’m not an insider like you, is an incredibly rich and brave place, and ought to be honored that way. And I think that would be a real radical change, if that happened—not just for New Orleans, but for the country—because where there’s the equivalent of the Lower Ninth in Philadelphia or Oakland, the same problem occurs. It isn’t honored.

Click here for Mwendo's full interview with Wolff.

This article by Jenga Mwendo is reposted from Press Street: Room 220, a content partner of NolaVie.