Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in New Orleans, a natural disaster that continues to affect thousands of families who lost all they had and now call Houston their temporary home. Their survivor stories are now being compiled into a series of audio narratives, a project led by University of Houston English professor Dr. Carl Lindahl. The stories will become a permanent part of the American folklife center at the Library of Congress.
“It occured to me right after Katrina hit that the perfect project for documenting the experiences of these survivors would be one in which peers would go out and talk to their fellows about the experiences that they shared. I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently this is the first large-scale project in which victims of a disaster take the leading role in documenting the story of that disaster.”
Lindahl and his colleagues have trained 40 Katrina and Rita surivivors on how to use recording equipment and basic interviewing skills and have sent them out to talk to their friends and relatives. So far, they’ve collected about 300 audio narratives.
“Our idea was, you are the world’s leading experts in this experience. We are the onlookers. We can show you how to operate the equipment, we can give you some advice on how to get a story from someone, but you already know how important it is to tell these stories and how important it is to listen to those individuals who have this story to tell.”
“Everyone who I’ve talked to since this tragedy has happened asked me well, Glenda, what was so great about Houston that people went to Houston?”
Former New Orleans resident Glenda Harris evacuated the day Katrina hit. She’s been in Houston ever since and is part of the “Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston” audio project. She was interviewed by Dr. Lindahl in January and has since added her own interviews.
“I share with them that I think that the greatest thing about Houston, Texas for us as a matter of evacuees was that before the federal government or any governmental agency could say anything, the people out of their hearts in Houston reached out their arms and reached out their hands and reached out their heart to say, I understand. If it’s not but by the grace of God, it could have been us rather than you all.”
Lindahl says the hundreds of hours of audio include stories of survival, gratitude, frustration and distrust, all emotions expressed by evacuees who still don’t know when they’ll be able to return home.
“It’s my belief that this project, which is scheduled to end on December 31st, 2007, could well prolong its natural life simply because the story of rebuilding community and creating new bonds in and around Houston is so compelling and so complex.”
The audio will be housed in the wing of the Library of Congress charged with capturing the oral history, folklore and traditional arts and culture of our nation. You can find a link to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress website on our website, KUHF.org.