New Orleans is back in business — if you’re a conventioneer or a tourist. Next month’s Jazz and Heritage Fest promises to return the destination event to its pre-disaster glory. And in the French Quarter, the bon temps are roul-ing right along. Outside the green zone, though, in the un-moneyed neighborhoods that are most of the Big Easy, the living is still anything but. That largely untold story inspired Life In the Wake: Fiction from Post-Katrina New Orleans, a new short story collection by the online magazine
NOLAFugees editor Joe Longo is a Providence native. The URI alum relocated to the Crescent City in the 1990s for grad school, after briefly working for then-Secretary of State Jim Langevin. Longo is married to writer Sarah Inman, who contributes a story to the anthology. She is also a Rhode Islander; her brother Ed succeeded Langevin in the State House when he moved to Congress.
Like most of the NOLAFugees writers, Longo and Inman juggle teaching and other gigs.  Inman is a trapeze artist and former boxer. They escaped Katrina relatively unscathed, evacuating first to Florida, and then to relatives in Rhode Island. When they returned six weeks later and found their apartment had been spared, they opened it to less fortunate friends. “It was a strange little community,” Inman says. “Stores weren’t open. There was nowhere to work.” That made it “a great time for writing.”
With international media focused on New Orleans and mostly getting it wrong, the group launched its Web site, mixing fact with satire-laced fiction and a large dose of local ’tude. That “reporting” is compiled in a first book, Year Zero. Life in the Wake drops the pretext of nonfiction “to tell the story of what it’s like to live here that isn’t part of a public relations machine,” Longo explains.
This ain’t no Chicken Soup for the Flood Victim’s Soul. The heroes of these raw tales don’t find their mettle in the face of adversity. They hit the bottle, or each other, or simply fall apart. In the astonishing opener, by an 18-year-old, a flood victim waiting on a roof can’t decide whether to flag down the rescue helicopter or end it with his dead mother’s OxyContin. Outsiders are gawkers and exploiters. In one grimly hilarious number, workers brought in to rescue stray dogs meet their quota by stealing pets.  Another piece reports on a reporter who tries to take the city’s pulse without venturing “past the lights” or entering anyone’s home.
As the crisis recedes, residents try — and often fail — to get on with their lives amidst the ruins. A poignant account of a mother taking her kid trick-or-treating puts it this way: “They were gamely making a go at normalcy, gamely moving forward . . . They were also losing it, self-medicating and stealthily pondering leaving town.”
“The initial wave was us versus nature,” Longo offers. “Then it was us versus government institutions. Now it’s us versus each other.”
It turns out that much of New Orleans is now miles away from Bourbon Street.
Year Zero and Life In the Wake are available online, including directly from
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