Pierce, Wendell. “The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken”, Riverhead Books, 2015.
Healing New Orleans
Wendell Pierce is an actor by profession, a New Orleanian by birth and a man who was not about to let Hurricane Katrina define his city. In his book he looks at the transformative role theater played in healing New Orleans post-Katrina. He had a plan to put on Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in New Orleans after the storm and to help bring back his old neighborhood. This is at the center of the book. The book is part memoir and part history lesson as it takes readers through Pierce’s own connection to the city and his “role of a lifetime” in the HBO series “Treme”. We feel his love for the city New Orleans on every page and I must admit, being a former New Orleanian myself, I got a little teary eyed more than once.
Pierce’s family came from Assumption Parish and he writes his own childhood there where his mother, a strong-willed person pushed him to excel. He did this as an actor but he has never forgotten whence he came. About Katrina, he says, “In the wake of tragedy, loss, and dislocation, it’s our art that will help us survive.”
I suppose I had been gone from New Orleans for too many years to know of Pierce but today his name and New Orleans go hand in hand. I knew of Pierce from “Treme” and from another movie I had seen but I never knew until this book was published that he was indeed a New Orleanian. And he is as good a storyteller as he is an actor.
He takes us back to August 29, 2005 (a day I will never forget having just returned to New Orleans a couple of days before). On that day Pierce’s family was in Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans East. From here we go back and forth in time and we hear the story of Pierce’s family— he is the fourth-generation grandson of a slave who became an important dramatic actor. We also read his reaction to the devastations of Katrina and how he became involved in the restoration.
Pierce’s work mixes memoir, social psychology, literary analysis, and political and religious philosophy together to bring us his story. Regarding Katrina, Pierce and his family were some of the lucky ones: They survived and were able to ride out the storm at a relative’s house 70 miles away. When they were finally allowed to return, they found their family home in tatters, their neighborhood empty. Pierce promised to help rebuild, and not just his family’s home, but also all of Pontchartrain Park.