Recently read, a New Orleans writers roundup: Anya Groner, Mwende Katwiwa, and Anne Gisleson


Countless writers in New Orleans are ever plucking away at their keyboards, conducting research or interviews, or simply probing their memories and inner lives to create worthwhile work. Much of this is published online, scattered disparately throughout cyberspace. Here are a few things we at Room 220 read recently that compelled us to gather them together and share.

At the Atlantic, Anya Groner, who teaches writing at Loyola University, published a history of drinking water as part of the publication’s “Object Lessons” essay series (which is co-edited by another Loyola prof., Chris Schaberg). Though billed as a discussion of “The Politics of Drinking Water,” the essay neither plumbs deeply the political issues connected to drinking water nor is its scope relegated to that realm—really, it’s a broad meditation on an almost impossibly broad topic, touching on things like the technological evolution of the water fountain, the ecological implications of bottled water, the health benefits of hydration, and a brief history of water-related conflicts (as well as a note on conflicts to come). It’s a piece that will strike close to home in a city where “boil water” advisories are common.

At Winnovating, an online publication that highlights innovative women, poet, essayist, editor, recent Tulane grad, and all-around dynamo Mwende Katwiwa—a.k.a. FreeQuency—adds to her docket of insightful interviews a Q&A with Lauren Chief Elk, founder of the Save Wiyabi Project, which advocates to protect Native American women from violence. In her introduction, Katwiwa describes being moved while reading widely circulated criticisms Chief Elk had made of Eve Ensler, creator of the Vagina Monologues and its corresponding “V-Day,” while she—Katwiwa—was overseeing a production of that performance at Tulane. The two go on to discuss how white, colonial feminism of Ensler’s variety erases long-term and deep-seeded efforts by indigenous people in their own communities and how Chief Elk and Save Wiyabi are working to reframe conversations around domestic violence and sexual assault in a world where relying on protection from “official” bodies is, for many women, simply not an option.

At Electric LiteratureRoom 220 contributor (and Press Street co-founder) Anne Gisleson sends a dispatch from the Rib Room, where her deceased father, a prominent New Orleans attorney, had held court each Friday for more than 25 years. While Gisleson and her siblings are there “drinking with my father’s fresh ghost,” a reporter from the Times-Picayune calls to get information for their father’s obituary. In the space of nine paragraphs, Gisleson moves the reader swiftly through her father’s life, reflecting in tone the droll pathos with which his children outwardly mourn him, wondering what other lives her father might have led, but concluding it matters little in death, for we all “end up side by side on page B-4 of the Metro section.” The essay got a nod in Slate and Gisleson answered a few questions about it at Electric Literature‘s blog.