“Why New Orleans Matters” by Tom Piazza— Looking at New Orleans

Piazza, Tom. “Why New Orleans Matters”,  Harper Perennial, 2015.

Looking at New Orleans

Amos Lassen

“Why New Orleans Matters” was republished ten years after Hurricane Katrina and is an appraisal of a city in crisis. A new afterword puts the story of New Orleans in the context of the ongoing threat to America’s coastal populations.

Since Katrina devastated the city, Americans have learned much from the resilience of the citizens yet, even as the city has regained some of strength, other regions around the country continue to be battered by hurricanes, snow and ice storms, and massive weather events like the storm Sandy, which devastated the mid-Atlantic coast seven years later. 

When first published just months after the storm, thebook washailed as a passionate and eloquent celebration of the city as both a cultural center and a home to millions of residents from varied walks of life. Piazza, a longtime New Orleans resident, gave his readers the “rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking, but also examined its deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice, and explored how its people endure and transcend those conditions. Perhaps most important”. He further asked that we all, as Americans, think about  our shared responsibility to New Orleans and all the things it has shared with the world with “its grace and beauty, resilience and soul.”

In the years since its first publication, Piazza has continued to explore the story of New Orleans and its people in many ways in other ways. He revisits “Why New Orleans Matters” and, in an all-new foreword for this edition, re-examines the story of Katrina as a cautionary tale for a nation that has too often neglected both its treasures and its people. He evokes the culture and still-evolving future of the city and examines the city’s undercurrents of corruption and racism, and explains how its people endure and get beyond them. He looks at the challenges that New Orleans still faces—and reminds us that people in threatened communities across America have much to learn from New Orleans’ disaster and recovery.

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