“This is the biggest story we have ever encountered and hope to God will ever encounter,” says Stan Tiner, executive editor of the Biloxi Sun Herald.Although the staff was working in dire conditions and facing personal loss, newspaper team was awarded a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Ellis Anderson is another Mississippian who endured Katrina’s direct hit. She began blogging so that her far-flung family and friends what was happening. “I focused on Bay St. Louis to narrow the lens. It was the only way I could sort of make sense out of the experience because it was so big.”
Tom Piazza experienced Katrina in Missouri and didn’t know if anything was left of his New Orleans home. Piazza was “kind of going crazy” when he suggested to his editor that perhaps he could write something. “I started the book by trying to summon all these memories of New Orleans and all these things that were so characteristic of New Orleans.” Five weeks later, Why New Orleans Matters,his tribute to his adopted hometown, was complete.
“I think that we’re going to see this storm become the background for lots of stories’” observes host Gene Edwards. “Your City of Refuge is one of the first novels that came out of it.” “One thing fiction is supremely good at doing,” Piazza explains, “is being able to see large scale events in terms of the innermost lives of individuals, extremely subjective lives.” Comparing fiction to journalism, Piazza notes that “there’s always a little line that you can’t quite ever feel entitled to cross. You have to respect that distance.”
“I hope that as journalists, we break through a little bit and get more depth,” replies Tiner. “What occurs to me in a conversation about the Katrina narrative is that there are layers of it that just keep occurring,” he continues. “Someone will write a book about it fifty years from now and it will have a grander sweep and understanding about what it meant to America and the people that lived through it.”
Anderson did live through the hurricane. She remained in her home just blocks from the coast as the eye passed nearby. “I’ve never been more afraid in my entire life,” she recalls. Her bookUnder Surge, Under Siegegrew from her blog, but she originally called it Katrina Patina. “That was just our local slang and what life was like after we had this experience we couldn’t seem to wash off. It changed us.”
“I started out writing about a weather event, a catastrophe. It started becoming about ‘How is this working?’ ‘Why are these people taking care of each other?’” Anderson continues, “People were astonishingly generous and to me it was the most amazing thing I had ever witnessed in my life.”
Piazza remembers the same spirit of community in New Orleans and then tells the story of visiting New Orleans a few weeks after the city flooded. “As we were on our way out of town, we saw what almost seemed to be a mirage. It was this little store with a couple people sitting outside, apparently enjoying a beer or something at these little picnic tables.” He later wrote about the experience. “We sat there for the better part on an hour, and, by the time we left, our spiritual gas tank, which had been below empty had been filled just enough to carry us the next leg of the trip, at least.”
The Sun Heraldwas a leader in the community spirit. “There were literally a thousand stories that we could write every day,” Tiner remembers. The newspaper team analyzed the stories and printed the ones that “were the most important, had the most usefulness, utilitarianism, the here and now, for people to survive in those moments and days. We felt there was a psychological aspect to what we were doing.” And he praises his staff for their work in the extreme stress. “They’ve really been a champion to me. They’ve inspired me as an editor.”
“It’s still, you know, it’s the story that defines our newspaper and our region,” he adds late in the program. One of the duties he sees as the newspaper’s responsibility “is to help lead the community to get beyond Katrina. We can’t live in it forever.”
Although Tiner never spoke of the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, host Gene Edwards uses the editor’s words to close the interview. “I look back across the fog and the chasm of the months since and I remember not just the death and the devastation but also the courage and the spirit and the love and the hope and the many, many helping hands that pulled us from the rubble to begin the journey to a future that we are traveling each day with sweat and with dignity.”
Author’s official website
Article about Tom Piazza
Interview with Tom Piazza
Interview with Piazza
Book review of City of Refuge
Book review of Why New Orleans Matters
Piazza answering questions from readers
Tom Piazza on writing nonfiction under duress
Piazza on writing Why New Orleans Matters
Piazza’s Book Notes essay for City of Refuge
Biloxi’s newspaper’s official website
Article by Stan Tiner
Article by Stan Tiner
Article by Stan Tiner
Interview with Stan Tiner
Interview with Tiner
Info on Tiner
Article about The Sun Herald winning the Pulitzer Prize
Comments by Tiner about winning the Pulitzer Prize
Article about the Sun Herald’s Pulitzer Prize and where it is kept
Author’s official website
Ellis Anderson’s blog about Katrina
Ellis Anderson’s blog site
Info about Under Surge, Under Siege
Biography of Anderson
Anderson’s Katrina chronicles
Video interview with Anderson
Video and article about Anderson being a watchdog for Bay St. Louis
Click here for a complete list of teaching resources related to this episode.
Molly Fitzpatrick, songwriter
MS Gulf Coast
Bay St. Louis, MS
Bay Town Inn
The Weather Underground
Beyond Katrina (still images from the MPB series)
Producer: Edie Greene
Associate Producer: Kate Robison
Cameras: Earnest Seals
Floor Director: Kate Robison
Production Audio: John Busbice
CCU: Adam Chance
Videotape: Clark Lee
Location Videography: Jeremy Burson
Lighting Director: Kenneth Sullivan
Production Supervisor: Paul Miller
Editor: Edie Greene
On-line Editor: Larry Uelmen
Editing Supervisor: Scott Colwell
Production Assistant: Kate Robison
Art Director: Karen Wing
Makeup: Pamela Bass
Title Animation and Graphics: Frank Cocke
Audio Post Production: Taiwo Gaynor
Closed Captioning: Keri Horn
Scenic Designers: Karen Wing
Scenic Craftsman: Jack Thomas
Production Coordinator: Glenroy Smith
Publicity: Mari Irby
Webmaster: Thomas Broadus
Host: Gene Edwards
Guests: Ellis Anderson
Director of Television: Jason Klein
Special Thanks to
Foundation for Public Broadcasting in Mississippi
Song “Solid Ground” written and performed by Molly Fitzpatrick (www.myspace.com/mollyryanfitzpatrick), with horns by Kai Welch and additional instrumentation by Steve Martin. Used by permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
“The Chimneys” (before and after), “Old Town, Bay St. Louis” (before and after) “Biloxi Beach Amusement Park” (before and after), “Long Beach Lookout Restaurant” (before and after), “Building Up,” “A Special Sabbath,” “ Sticking to It,” “Beach Boulevard Signs,””Destruction in Biloxi,” “Removing bodies from rubble,” “Bay Town Inn” (before and after), “Celebration of New Orleans Saints,” “Newsroom celebration,” “Pulitzer Prize” “I Fight for My Life,” “Thankful,” “Supplies for Saucier,” “Searching for the Dead,” “Reading the Sun Herald,” “Coleman Avenue at Beach Boulevard, Waveland” (before and after), “Grass Lawn” (before and after), “First Street” (before and after), “The Crawford House” (before and after), and Sun Herald front pages, article from Sun Herald all used by permission of The Sun Herald, www.sunherald.com. All rights reserved.
Video of Hurricane Katrina making landfall and video of evacuation used by permission of Jim Edds, Extreme Storms, extremestorms.com. All rights reserved.
Aerial images of Bay St. Louis beach, levee breaking in New Orleans, flooding in New Orleans, destruction in Slidell, satellite image of Hurricane Katrina courtesy of NOAA.
Images of destruction in the Lower Ninth Ward, Returning to New Orleans, the French Quarter, empty streets in New Orleans (2 images), New Orleans levee 2 years after Katrina, and photograph on mailbox used by permission of David Rae Morris, photographer,davidraemorris.com. All rights reserved.
Aerial image of Bay St. Louis, Bay Town Inn exterior (2 images), and Bay Town Inn interior used by permission of Ken Murphy, photographer, kenmurphysouth.com. All rights reserved.
Image of mother and son reuniting by Patrick Schneider and used by permission of The Charlotte Observer, www.charlotteobserver.com. All rights reserved.
Images of Ellis Anderson’s house, beached boat amid debris, volunteers, Habitat workers, shrines (2 images), mail being delivered, workers constructing new house, Hancock Bank, and Molly and Kat Fitzgerald by Ellis Anderson, coastwriter.blogspot.com. All rights reserved.
Images of flooding of street in Bay St. Louis (2 images), debris in Bay St. Louis, washed out building on Bay St. Louis coast, house collapsed on itself, house on railroad tracks, Bay Town Inn survivors, and female Bay Town Inn survivor by Joe Tomasovsky, www.joetomasovsky.com. All rights reserved.
Copyright © MAET 2010