Dispatches from Saints & Sinners 2010: Part 1 The Oil Spill

Back in my hometown of New Orleans, I’m sitting at Rue de la Course at the corner of Carrollton and Oak, shaking off the late-night arrival and waking up to continued universal agitation over the oil spill in the Gulf. As a former CNN newswriter and environmental reporter for Gambit, I’m in the unhappy position of reading some of my poems, grounded in this city and its surrounding wetlands, through this new lens.

I’m here—home—for Saints and Sinners, which benefits the NO/AIDS Task Force. NO/AIDS has benefitted my community and many friends of mine directly since the 1980s, when a disaster of another kind struck. It seems that my beloved city just can’t get a break. Fortunately, New Orleanians are nothing if not resilient, and this festival is one example of our history of cultural resistance.

My old friend Brad Richard invited me to take part in a panel discussion titled “To Get The News From Poems.” In an e-mail he sent Ed Madden, Steven Reigns, Emanuel Xavier, and me the other day, he warned: “…the air quality down here has not been great lately…. If you’re at all susceptible to sinus irritation, I suggest bringing along whatever helps you breathe easily. I’m sure I’ll need a cough drop or two during our panel.” The news from poetry is not good.

Driving down from Atlanta, where I’m finishing a Ph.D., directly to the Gulf Coast where I learned to sail, scuba dive, fish, and love the water, I worried about the Dirty Coast’s imminent environmental apocalypse. National coverage of this story has been spotty at best. The spill’s impact began to seep into CNBC’s consciousness yesterday—as a story on possible seafood price increases in New York—as if the question of what the spill means for all Americans were not one of benthic depth. We tend to think of North and South, East Coast and Gulf Coast, as universes apart, yet our lives are far more interdependent than regional allegiances would have us believe. The hundreds of thousands of dead baitfish I saw (and smelled) yesterday at low tide in Ocean Springs, MS have everything to do with Saints and Sinners, with our literature, with queer survival, with human survival. Our coast has been queered, and not in a good way. Some people don’t care whether we live or die. From the point of view of those who live and work in New Orleans and the Gulf South, who “we” are has spread its dark sheen across a far wider surface in recent weeks.

On this beautiful, overcast, humid New Orleans morning, however, I’m happy to report that I don’t smell the chemical funk which many of my friends had complained about in recent days. You can still eat Louisiana seafood for the time being. No one parties like we do in New Orleans. So come on down to Saints and Sinners. Show your support of LGBTQ literature, itself an endangered species for many reasons, and of the fighting spirit which NO/AIDS Task Force and New Orleanians in general live each day. You can register before noon today online, or in person tomorrow at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. By doing so, you can fight back against the forces that would divide us and kill us.

Tonight, the Bourbon Pub and Parade hosts a krewe of queer authors, including Lucy Jane Bledsoe, James Driggers, Jeff Mann, James Nolan, and 2010 Short Fiction Contest winner Wayne Lee Gay. The reading and cocktail party benefits the festival, and revelers will take home a copy of the anthology Saints and Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival, published by QueerMojo (an imprint of Rebel Satori Press) and co-edited by Amie M. Evans. The full schedule of events is available  here. And if you can’t make it, I’ll be filing daily dispatches direct from the Land of Dreams.