“Post-Katrina New Orleans hasn't been an easy place to live, it hasn't been an easy place to be in love, it hasn't been an easy place to take care of yourself or see the bright side of things.” So reflects Billy Sothern in this riveting and unforgettable insider's chronicle of the epic 2005 disaster and the year that followed. Sothern, a death penalty lawyer who with his wife, photographer Nikki Page, arrived in the Crescent City four years ahead of Katrina, delivers a haunting, personal, and quintessentially American story. Writing with an idealist's passion, a journalist's eye for detail, and a lawyer's attention to injustice, Sothern recounts their struggle to come to terms with the enormity of the apocalyptic scenario they managed to live through. He guides the reader on a journey through post-Katrina New Orleans and an array of indelible images: prisoners abandoned in their cells with waters rising, a longtime New Orleans resident of Middle Eastern descent unfairly imprisoned in the days following the hurricane, trailer-bound New Orleanians struggling to make ends meet but celebrating with abandon during Mardi Gras, Latino construction workers living in their trucks. As a lawyer-activist who has devoted his life to procuring justice for some of society's most disenfranchised citizens, Sothern offers a powerful vision of what Katrina has meant to New Orleans and what it still means to the nation at large.
I. Heading Straight for Us: The Days before and after Hurricane Katrina
1. A Man Leaves Home
2. A Stranger Comes to Town
3. "This Blues is Just Too Big"
II. This Could Be Anywhere: Katrina’s Immediate Aftermath, Late Summer 2006
4. A Dollar Short
5. Poor, Nasey, Brutish, and Short
6. Not in My Backyard
7. Left to Die
8. Bring the War Home
9. The Dry Run of the Apocalypse
10. History Repeats Itself
III. Personals: Departures and Homecomings
11. Going Home
12. Oxford Town
13. I Do Believe I've Had Enough
14. Everyday Reminders
IV. Against the Ropes: New Orleans’s Unlikely Recovery
15. Second Line
16. Gideon's Blues
17. Live from the Circle Bar
18. Corporate Limits
19. Fat Tuesday
20. Hard Lot
21. La Neuva Orleans
22. Yours in Struggle
23. In the Parish
24. Not Resigned
Billy Sothern is a staff attorney at the Capital Appeals Project and codirector of Reprieve (US), which is based in New Orleans. He is a graduate of New York University School of Law and has written for The Nation, the New York Times, and Salon, among other publications. Nikki Page is a photographer, painter, and art teacher living in New Orleans.
"Billy Sothern's Down in New Orleans illustrates, in very human and heartbreaking ways, how the horrors that emerged during and following Hurricane Katrina existed long before the storm. These beautifully composed stories not only reveal the dignity—and amazing grit and grace—of the hurricane's survivors; they also illuminate larger truths about the urgent issues of our day. Sothern magnifies the urgency of creating a government that really serves the common good—and a society that protects its poor and vulnerable."—Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor & Publisher, The Nation
"Billy Sothern is the only writer in the world who can simultaneously convince you that the forsaking of New Orleans is so much worse than you thought it was, and also that you should move there immediately. The smartest, most in-love-with-the-world book yet written about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina."—Rachel Maddow, host of "Air America Radio"
"As much as Down in New Orleans is a damning account of everything that went wrong after Katrina struck, it's also a deeply soulful and eloquent tribute—part paean and part eulogy—to a place [Sothern] loves almost despite himself. It's essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the past, present and future of this indispensable city."—Dave Eggers