Each year at the Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans the coveted Ashley Award, named in honor of the legendary, larger-than-life Ashley Morris,* is presented to a blogger who has made outstanding contributions to writing about post-Katrina New Orleans.
This year’s winner is Dedra Johnson (right) of The G Bitch Spot, “at which a mad black woman rants about New Orleans, insomnia, teaching, education . . .”, particularly about life in the post-Katrina New Orleans school system. Click here for a video of the presentation, with praise for Dedra by Mark Moseley of The Lens, and here for a special congratulations by someone who knows Dedra well: her husband, Derek Bridges.
To celebrate Dedra’s award and to showcase her strong, no-nonsense writing, we’re showing some samples of her writing. The blog posts chosen have also appeared in A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans, edited by Sam Jasper and Mark Folse (Gallatin & Toulouse Press, 2010).
Dedra Johnson is a creative writing teacher and author of Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow (2007), a coming-of-age novel set in 1970s New Orleans. Sandrine’s Letter was praised by Robert Olen Butler as “an important novel by a true artist” and hailed by Frederick Barthelme as “a remarkable debut novel” that conveys “the intricacies of a vexed family life.” Dedra received her MFA degree from the University of Florida, where she was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. Sandrine’s Letter to Tomorrow was a runner-up for the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Award in 2006. She is also an AOL travel contributor (see “New Orleans Mythbusters”).
“Where You Said You Live At? or Margaritas as Coping Strategy,” posted on March 19, 2006, conveys the fatigue of living in a battered, depopulated city that nearly drowned in floodwaters a half year earlier and is slowly being strangled by bureaucratic red tape and incompetence. This post was selected not only for its evocative prose but because it reflects conditions that persist in many parts of America and may spread with any given natural or unnatural disaster.**
The following is a selection. Click here or on the title above for the full post.
Where You Said You Live At? or Margaritas as Coping Strategy
Why no N.O. news, commentary, rants, pleas? Because it rankles enough to live it, much less reiterate it for the consumption of others. Each front page of the Times-Pic is demoralizing, infuriating—early pundits bashing New Orleanian stupidity in not getting flood insurance when a large percentage HAD flood insurance; every senator and representative bitching and moaning over the Gulf Coast being OK (and needing no more money) since they see clips of the French Quarter up and running on national news then being agog at their first superficial glance of Lakeview (where WHITE people and PROFESSIONAL people lived, not welfare queens and drug dealing pimps specializing in crack whores of all hues) and then the Ninth Ward, not even taking a look at the chaos of half-repaired and completely ignored traffic lights, piles of debris, refrigerators and 3+ weeks’ worth of garbage and a coming election that is plagued by chaos, in-fighting, racial contempt and deep-seated conflict, federal neglect and unprocessed hurt and anger; and the bullshitting cockamamie half-assed amateurish job being done by all decision-makers and -influencers on the local, state and federal level; and then there’s the particular chaos and neglect and fraud and graft that is FEMA.
I’m shattered and nothing happened to my house.
No one is being decisive or honest. Much of the money directed our way in the early days has been wasted. Entergy and LSUHC saw the post-Katrina atmosphere as one in which they could get concessions and privileges no one would give them before—LSUHC closed Charity and University, “furloughed” most of the employees (all while LSU hospital staff were retained and many helped with housing), and claimed the Charity hospital building was unusable and the federal government needed to build a brand new hospital for them; and contractors ran loose and wild with money, squishing the huge amounts they got through more and more subcontractors and therefore smaller funnels until those who actually did the work got paid shit. It offends all my sensibilities, fuels all my social resentments (one, that Entergy, a private for-profit company, owns a utility at all; none of this would’ve happened if we still had NOPSI [New Orleans Public Service, Inc.] b/c there would’ve been no incentive/profit in delaying repairs or service or paperwork gimmicks). Shaw [the Shaw Group, a Fortune 500 construction and engineering firm based in Baton Rouge] made a shitload of money, too. Meanwhile, no one knows what to do while FEMA drags its barely-competent feet on new flood maps and SBA loan requirements and amounts change at random and Burger King pays better than most of the non-construction jobs in town. I feel like my chest is weighed down, and also feel forsaken. Again.
** If you think conditions in storm-damaged America may have improved since 2006, just listen to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor [R-Va.] insisting that federal funds for disaster relief after Hurricane Irene should be offset by additional spending cuts.
Dedra Johnson after being presented with the Ashley Award by Mark Moseley and Leigh Checkman at Rising Tide 6 at Xavier University, August 27, 2011. Photo by Derek Bridges. More RT6 photos here and here.