Picking Up the Pieces

By Neal Comment

In 1925, William Faulkner spent a year in New Orleans, subletting the ground floor of a French Quarter home. He kicked off his writing career with appearances in a local literary journal from that home, as well as completing his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay. Today, Faulkner House is preserved by a non-profit organization that provides resources for aspiring writers, including an annual arts festival that was to be held next month, before Katrina changed everybody’s plans. Faulkner Society co-directors Rosemary James and Joseph DeSalvo, who live in the building’s upper floors and have been away since evacuating just before the storm hit, made it back to the house recently to check on the damage. In an email, they report no single large calamity, but a lengthy catalog of little things that add up:

  • “Bricks from the chimneys and fire wall fell on our roof and broke the supporting beam in one area of the roof. The caps on the two main firewalls of our house are gone in some places as is some of the stucco on the upper portion of one supporting wall and a piece of the rear wall. This is allowing water to soak into the walls…”
  • “Three of the windows on the outside rear wall leaked considerably. As a result, the carpeting on the stairs got wet and did not get dry for a month, so the carpet was stained and has mildew…”
  • “Because the building was without airconditioning to dry it out from the leaking for a month, the rear walls and certain other walls are losing plaster and are mildew and mold factories…”
  • “The wind in Pirate’s Alley and Cabildo Alley must have been tornadic at one point, as there was a fine layer of dirt on everything in the house, including all of the books, as if the wind drove dirt in through every crack and cranny…”
  • “The kitchen’s 36 inch Sub Zero, had to be totalled, because food rotted in both refrigerator and freezer and was in that condition for a month. It was filled with maggots. The refrigerator leaked all over the kitchen and into the dining room. Three Peshawar orientals, two runners in the kitchen, and an 8 x 9 in the dining room, were ruined by leakage from refrigerator and had to be trashed. Floors in the kitchen and dining room might have to be refinished to get rid of smell and stains. The smell is comparable to a thousand dead rats…”

“And we are among the fortunate,” James and DeSalvo reflect. The Society has hit a financial snag, however, as its annual membership drive was scheduled to kick off during the first week of September and, of course, never did. Their solicationat continues online.

New Yorkers will have another, more localized opportunity to help Katrina victims next Monday night (Oct. 10), when Bookforum hosts a benefit reading at the Cooper Union. Among those scheduled to appear in support of the Acadian Arts Council: Robert Stone, Donna Tartt, Roy Blount, Jr., and John Barry–who, you’ll recall, wrote the book on the flood of ’27. There will also be “special musical guests” of an undisclosed nature.