How the humanities will save New Orleans

<p><strong>By Kristen LaRue</strong></p><separator></separator><p><em>“Part of the way the arts and humanities are necessary in the world is that we stay, record thoughtfully, ‘sing off the charnel steps,’ as Emily Dickinson wrote of the Civil War. We stay on because essays, stories, poems, [and] research take a long time to do well, but without them, the event slips into vague memories.”</em>&nbsp;&nbsp; —Cynthia Hogue<br /><br />Most people know of Katrina: the storm that overcame New Orleans.</p><separator></separator><p>The stories of this hurricane’s devastation are now part of our collective memory. In the days following the storm, people across the United States – and the world – were stunned and shocked at the images of chaos from New Orleans’ Superdome and Convention Center, from the flooded neighborhoods, from the ravaged landscape, from the televised cries for help from the many stranded.</p><separator></separator><p>For those of us here in Arizona, the deserts of the Southwest were so far removed from that destruction. We wished we could do more.</p><separator></separator><p>That very distance, both literal and figurative, has proved beneficial for so many who wanted to help. Thousands of Phoenix-area volunteers mobilized to welcome traumatized residents of Mississippi and Louisiana to the Valley of the Sun, which became home for at least 500 evacuees. Arizona was a dry and welcome refuge in the storm.</p><separator></separator><p>Today, no longer inundated daily with Katrina devastation and recovery news, we are cognizant that there remains still much work, much to be done to restore New Orleans.</p><separator></separator><p>Although many of New Orleans’ flood zone schools are finally being re-opened, they are without books in their libraries. Rebuilding in the decimated Lower Ninth Ward is ongoing, with the help of some high-profile investors (Brad Pitt, for one). But it is slow and incomplete.</p><separator></separator><p>The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf has added a new layer of complication in efforts to resurrect and revitalize, testing the resilience of the place – and its people – yet again.</p><separator></separator><p>Thankfully, New Orleanians and those who care about them don’t give up easily.</p><separator></separator><p>Five years after Katrina, hands and hearts continue the work of helping the Crescent City and its environs come back together. Several students and scholars in the Department of English at ASU are among those doing this restorative work. Not surprisingly for creative types, most of this work isn’t done with hammers and nails, but with pens, compassion and a generosity of spirit that refuses to forget.</p><separator></separator><p>Professors Cynthia Hogue and Jewell Parker Rhodes and photographer Rebecca Ross contribute their expressions of grief and hope in their artwork: stories, poems and photographs. Professor Karen Adams and graduate student Michael Lopez expose the disappointments of social injustice and inequity through their careful scientific and documentary research. Lecturer Larry Ellis, as a former resident of the bayou, as a public scholar, and as a spokesperson, articulates questions about national and personal identities.</p><separator></separator><p>All came to their projects through a humanitarian concern for New Orleans. To view some of the stories and research honoring Hurricane Katrina survivors, click <a href="; target="_blank">here</a>.</p><separator></separator><p>&nbsp;</p><separator></separator><p><em>Kristen LaRue is a program coordinator in the Department of English.</em></p>