Room 220: New Orleans Book and Literary News

Toward the end things got weird.

The Recovery School District decided to shut down the Colton School artist studios that, in the spirit of post-Katrina civic experimentation, it had given over to filmmakers, sculptors, fashion designers, rooftop gardeners, puppeteers and nonprofits. Individuals and small groups had dedicated enormous amounts of time and resources into creating a thriving artist community in the imposing brick building that covers an entire block of St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny.

While most left respectfully, some squatted long past the exit date, sleeping and partying in the former classrooms, blasting off fire extinguishers and letting their dogs roam the halls. In the end, everyone dismantled their workspaces to scatter about the city. Colton School was gutted, fenced off, and now awaits a multi-million dollar renovation and a new charter school tenant. Room 220—the collaborative community writing center operated by Press Street that offered youth workshops, drop-in writing guidance, and served as the headquarters for the creation of the recently released How to Rebuild a City: A Field Guide to a Work in Progress—was among the many worthwhile ventures left struggling to find a new home.

Today we are pleased to announce the launch of another project that will fly the Room 220 banner and support Press Street’s mission of promoting literary activity in New Orleans. Like the Colton artist studios occupied vacant but usable physical spaces in a structure, we have commandeered prime unused real estate on Press Street’s website and have turned it into a source of information and commentary on the multitudinous book and literary goings-on in our fair city.

Currently, the scene is pretty grim in terms of New Orleans book news coverage. Former Times-Picayune books editor Susan Larson, who has long been the most prominent and beloved local source of book news, hosts “The Reading Life” weekly on WWNO with help from Fred Kasten. The show is finely executed and aptly tracks the city’s higher-profile book releases and events, but it is simply one weekly radio show, and much falls through the cracks. No other local outlet seriously endeavors to cover book news on a consistent basis.

Room 220 the website will publish weekly feature articles, reviews and interviews that cover local and visiting writers, New Orleans-centric book and literary projects, and whatever other worthwhile pertinent topics we come across. The features will be interspersed with regular updates about readings and releases, as well as multimedia coverage of select events. If you or someone you know is involved in a book event or project we might cover, please let us know: We will not publish fiction or poetry.

In the Colton spirit of collaboration under meager resources, we are excited to say that we have partnered with another burgeoning online operation, the NOLA Defender, in order to spread our efforts to a wider audience. NoDef, which launched 2010, is hip, irreverent and smart, and will simultaneously host on its homepage feature content that appears on the Room 220 section of The eminent New Orleans online culture hub Constance will also host select Room 220 content, as well as event listings and release info.

Look forward in the coming weeks to interviews with Win Riley, director of Walker Percy: A Documentary Film, esteemed local authors John Biguenet and Roger Kamenetz, essays on Yusef Komunyakaa and Beth’s Books, and much more.

Again, if you have information about something we might be interested in covering, please let us know.

The Room 220 Editors