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The Year Before the Flood

Music, race, politics, and history come together in this author’s examination of the year he spent in New Orleans.

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In December of 2004 my husband and I took a short vacation in New Orleans. Like hundreds of thousands of tourists before us, we fell completely under the city’s odd spell. In fact, I have a vivid memory of experiencing a moment of total bliss as we strolled a funky stretch of Magazine Street one sunny morning. Who could have imagined that nine months later that same block would be a morass of broken signs and spray-painted plywood?

Ned Sublette – who lived in the city at that exact time – did have such a premonition. “They’re all in denial,” he told a friend one night the spring of 2005 as they traveled uptown to hear some jazz. Throughout the months he spent in New Orleans, he says, he was constantly haunted by the feeling that the life around him was “imperiled.”

The Year Before the Flood tells the story of the blissful yet troubled, intense but joyous, never-entirely-comfortable year that Sublette spent in New Orleans. It also happened to be the year before the city was struck by hurricane Katrina.

Sublette was a Tulane Rockefeller Humanities Fellow at Tulane University for the school year of 2004-2005. Out of that experience came his excellent history “The World that Made New Orleans” (2008). But his experiences had left him with another, more personal book yet to write – story of the year he spent in New Orleans, brutally punctuated by the city’s devastation at the hands of Katrina.

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