Writers, Interrupted

Katheryn Krotzer Laborde

Melnick was quick to point out her blessings: “a second home with a bed to come to, a place to live, and a husband with a job away from New Orleans.” Adding to those the fact that her Crescent City home had only minimal wind damage, she considers herself very lucky indeed. But for ten days after Katrina passed, she and her husband shared their two-bedroom house with four adults, a three-year-old, and two dogs. After Rita stormed through, a friend parked his camper in her backyard, and another friend, healing from a broken heel—an injury sustained as he tried to throw a tarp over a blown-off roof—camped out on the sofa. The constant parade of evacuees was “good for writing material,” Melnick says, “but there was no private place to do that writing. And I felt so strange and unsettled inside, it was hard to just sit and write.”

When I contacted Thomas Bonner Jr., the chair of Xavier’s English department and the editor of Xavier Review Books, for information on how the storm had affected the publication of Turning Up the Volume, I also asked how his work, as a writer, had been interrupted by the storm. He wrote back to say that Melnick’s books were safe, that the official pub date would be put on hold, and so on. But his personal experience with the storm was far more disturbing. He and his wife, Judith, had been on the Gulf Coast celebrating their anniversary when it became apparent that Katrina was heading for New Orleans. There was no time to go home first. The Bonners left for their daughters’ homes in Georgia.

Back in New Orleans, the water rose and rose until only the rooftops of houses could be seen. Helicopters passed overhead as reporters waded through the streets, squinting into cameras to declare the city dead. Views of flooded blocks were eventually replaced with up-close shots of furniture covered with mold, cabinets toppled, refrigerators shifted, photographs ruined. Lives changed. Two weeks after Katrina hit, Bonner had yet to see his home. In an e-mail he wrote:

"As far as my own writing, I have been terribly distracted by losing my home and its contents, including our library and art. Forty years of research notes, drafts, and copies of my creative and scholarly work are gone, as are Judith’s art historical and art critical research and writings (and her sketches, paintings, and painting supplies). Our current mutual project, the biography of John Faulkner, has been dealt a serious blow as ten years of notes and documents are likely destroyed. It will be almost like starting anew. A draft of a long story set in Taos is gone. The only creative work I know to survive is a draft of a series of poems reflecting the landscape and culture of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, which I had sent to my daughter in Georgia to read."

Waves of guilt crashed against prayers of gratitude as I sat there, staring at the screen. The old blue makeup case—stuffed with my work, my words, not all of them worth keeping, God knows, but all of them most certainly there as a piece-by-piece testament to what I’ve been trying to do as a writer, as a person, over the last twenty-something years of my life was shoved safely against a wall in an apartment haphazardly arranged and only momentarily mine. But mine, still, it was.

Katheryn Krotzer Laborde is a freelance writer in River Ridge, Louisiana.