AN ANALYSIS OF MISMANAGED REPRESENTATION AND RESPONSE AFTER DISASTERS Praise for Consuming Katrina
- Author: Thursday, July 19th, 2018
“Even among the countless books on Hurricane Katrina, Consuming Katrina occupies a place distinctly its own as a champion of disaster survivors’ storytelling rights. Kate Parker Horigan’s guiding principle is that every journalist, scholar, or artist who seeks to help survivors tell their stories must allow them to speak for themselves. In a series of brilliant close readings, Horigan reveals the myriad, often unconscious ways in which outsiders’ stereotypes, misunderstandings, and personal agendas obscure survivor accounts, and she celebrates those moments when survivors’ voices do succeed in breaking through. Everyone who studies disaster narratives, as well as everyone who wonders how disaster survivors feel when others retell their stories, needs to read this book. And, everyone who has had to suffer through a disaster will find an understanding friend in Horigan and great support and solace in Consuming Katrina.”
—Carl Lindahl, founder of the International Commission on Survivor-Centered Disaster Response
Following one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in US history, residents of New Orleans found themselves telling the same stories about Hurricane Katrina. These narrative responses were in part a show of resistance—New Orleanians were not satisfied with the limited and stereotypical national discourse. In Consuming Katrina: Public Disaster and Personal Narrative, author Kate Parker Horigan shows how the public understands and remembers large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, outlining which stories are remembered and why, as well as the impact on public memory and the survivors themselves.
Horigan discusses unique contexts in which personal narratives about the storm are shared: interviews with survivors, Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Trouble the Water, and public commemoration during the storm’s 10th anniversary in New Orleans. In each case, survivors initially present themselves in specific ways, counteracting negative stereotypes that characterize their communities. However, when adapted for public presentation, their stories get reduced back to those stereotypes. As a result, people affected by Katrina continue to be seen in limited terms, as either undeserving of or incapable of managing recovery.
This project is rooted in Horigan’s experiences living in New Orleans before and after Katrina, but it is also a case study illustrating an ongoing problem and an innovative solution: survivors’ stories should be shared in a way that includes their own engagement with the processes of narrative production, circulation, and reception. When survivors are seen as agents in their own stories, they will be seen as agents in their own recovery. Having a better grasp on the processes of narration and memory is critical for improved disaster response because the stories that are most widely shared about disaster determine how communities recover.
KATE PARKER HORIGAN is assistant professor in the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology at Western Kentucky University and associate editor of the Journal of American Folklore.
Consuming Katrina: Public Disaster and Personal Narrative
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