May 28, 2007 08:47 PDT
e-drum lives. posting every day. the switch to yahoo groups is complete. if
you are not receiving e-drum and want to receive e-drum, simply reply to this
email and i will make sure you are included.
the reason we moved to yahoo groups is because topica had severe delivery
problems and i did not get any reply to my questions to them. e-drum had over
1600 direct subscribers. approximately one third have successfully migrated with
us to yahoo groups. my goal is to have at least 1000 direct subscribers by
june 15, 2007.
if you have not signed on to yahoo groups, please join us. if you know a
writer or supporter you think would benefit from e-drum, please encourage them to
join us. they can simply send me an email [email@example.com] and i will take
care of their request to join.
thank you for your support over the years.
last week i sent out an interview i did that was conducted by my dear friend
and literary comrade, e. ethelbert miller. i realize many of you may not have
received it. i include it below. i am constantly getting formal and informal
requests to describe the situation in new orleans from my perspective. my goal
was to summarize my position. here it is.
a luta continua,
stay strong/be bold
| ||INTERVIEW: kalamu ya salaam
Interview with Kalamu ya Salaam
E. Ethelbert Miller | May 15, 2007
Editor: John Feffer
Kalamu ya Salaam is a writer and educator from New Orleans. An extensive
collection of his writings, plus a feature-length interview are available
at Chicken Bones. You can read his poem You can't survive on salt water in
FPIF's Fiesta. He talks here with poet E. Ethelbert Miller.
E. Ethelbert Miller: How do you feel about the United States not accepting
assistance from Cuba after Hurricane Katrina?
Kalamu ya Salaam: The United States did not accept assistance from a number
of countries including one country that offered to fly in a water
system. The issue is the non-responsiveness of the federal government and the
incompetent response on the part of state and city governments. To only look
at the refusal of physicians and medical aid from Cuba is to get caught up in
kind of cold war/ideological issue that muddies the water of perceiving the
depth and breadth of government failures. I don't believe the federal
government was merely incompetent. I believe there was a larger plan at work,
especially when you consider that the New Orleans voting bloc was directly
for the Democrats winning both the governorship and a senate seat. Without
85%+ voting margin from New Orleans, both the governor and the junior senator
from Louisiana would have been Republicans. I know that Karl Rove can count
votes. I believe this was an opportunity to disperse that concentrated
Democratic voting base. Was this dispersal planned beforehand? I don't think
this dispersal part of the rationale for the way in which the federal
government responded? I definitely believe so. Cuba and communism is not the
That said, an interesting footnote to add is a deep look at the influx of
Latino/a workers (many of them immigrants) into New Orleans to do
service work, an influx that was both encouraged and facilitated by federal
policies and programs.
E. Ethelbert Miller: How has the tragedy of New Orleans influenced your work?
Kalamu ya Salaam: I am involved in a number of media projects that
specifically reference Katrina. One: our Listen To The People oral history
will hopefully be online by August 29, 2007. We have over 70 hours of video
interviews with approximately 30 people who range from a lady who spent five
days atop an expressway and two firemen who did rescue work and were in the
throughout the hurricane and its immediate aftermath, to the president of the
New Orleans city council and the president of Liberty Bank, the largest black
financial institution in the region.
Two: we are producing a number of videos that range from straight
documentaries to fictional movies that focus on post-Katrina life in New
Three: I continue to write prose and some poetry about New Orleans.
E. Ethelbert Miller: Did you experience any personal loss to your literary
Kalamu ya Salaam: Yes but I was fortunate. New Orleans is divided by the
Mississippi River. I live on the west bank, which did not flood. I had books,
equipment, etc. in two storage facilities. One of the facilities completely
flooded. I have not yet done an inventory so I don't know exactly what was
am not inclined to inventory any time soon. One of the coping mechanisms many
of us have adopted is erasing our internal hard drives. There are people,
places, things, possessions, etc. we don't even try to remember. They are
Forget about it, at least for right now. There is too much work to do for us
sit around thinking about our losses.
E. Ethelbert Miller: Will it be difficult to rebuild New Orleans while the
United States is at war in the Middle East?
Kalamu ya Salaam: New Orleans is moribund. I seriously doubt that our city
can be revived under the current federal administration and if certain issues
are not addressed within the next four or five years, then it will definitely
The major issue is the depletion of the marshes and wetlands and the erosion
of the costal areas. Local scientists from LSU, the major state university,
and other individuals and agencies have written detailed reports citing the
catastrophic problem of soil erosion that literally threatens to swamp New
Orleans. The best estimate is that there is a five-year window to take
action to stop and turnaround the environmental problems. Dealing with this
environmental problem will require federal intervention, a huge commitment of
financial, material and human resources, and most of all vision on the part
elected and appointed leaders. To date none of our leaders has publicly
evidenced any of the vision necessary to save New Orleans.
Beyond the long-term environmental problem, New Orleans is facing major urban
infrastructure issues. It will take billions of dollars to fix the broken
water and sewage systems. One estimate is that over $200,000 a day is lost in
terms of potable water leaking into the ground. But that is only an economic
loss. More serious is the sewage system with an unmeasured but significant
of raw sewage leaking into the ground daily. We have had 18 months of sewage
leaking into the ground. As more people return the problem grows
The water and sewage issues are far beyond the means of the city
administration to solve the problem. Once again, however, regardless of
resources, none of the city officials has stepped up and offered an analysis
problem or a vision of how to deal with the problem.
Eighteen months after the hurricane and the city still does not have an
official, agreed upon program for the reconstruction of New Orleans. Frankly,
are in very bad shape, going down slow.
E. Ethelbert Miller: Migration is an important theme in African American
literature. Do you see Katrina being written about many years from now?
Kalamu ya Salaam: Hopefully, Katrina will be understood as part of a larger
issue of urban development in the 21st century. I'm not sure that Katrina
be a major issue because I foresee momentous changes in front of us in the
aftermath of the Iraq debacle, larger environmental issues, and the shifting
geo-political system that sees the rise to singular dominance of China. Also
need to consider the political independence of South and Central America
on a major shift in global economics. Ten years from now, Katrina and the
of New Orleans may be a minor concern compared to the other issues facing us.
E. Ethelbert Miller: I know you have a love for black music, are there any
songs that you feel have a special meaning since Katrina?
Kalamu ya Salaam: Oh, that is too complex to answer quickly. I am very, very
impressed with my friends in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band who released a remake
of all the songs on Marvin Gaye's What's Going On using Katrina rather than
the Vietnam War as the social-political context. A song I reference a lot in
recent poetry readings is "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?"
New Orleans writer and educator Kalamu ya Salaam is co-director of Students
at the Center, a public high school writing program; co-founder of Runagate
Multimedia, a publishing company; leader of the WordBand, a poetry
ensemble; moderator of e-Drum, a listserv for Black writers; and co-moderator
with his son, Mtume, of The Breath of Life - A Conversation About Black
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ethelbert Miller is an award-winning
poet, the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard
and the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies. His interviews
are a regular feature of Fiesta.
Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the
International Relations Center (IRC, online at www.irc-online.org) and the
for Policy Studies (IPS, online at www.ips-dc.org). Copyright © 2007,
International Relations Center. All rights reserved.
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