Kate Parker Horigan
is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology at Western Kentucky University, and a co-editor of the Journal of American Folklore.
In Consuming Katrina: Public Disaster and Personal Narrative
(University of Mississippi Press, 2018), she explores some of the numerous narratives generated by Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects on residents of New Orleans in 2005.
Her investigation includes personal narratives of those directly affected by the hurricane and which were recorded as part of the “Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston” project (SKRH). In SKRH – which was set up by folklorists Carl Lindahl and Pat Jasper – survivors were given the training and other resources to interview one another about their experience of the events (see this site
for more information). Horigan notes that many of the narratives collected by SKRH counter widespread and pernicious claims which circulated via the media and through other channels during and after the disaster, including allegations that victims threatened those involved in the rescue effort.
Horigan also interrogates survivor narratives as they are re-presented within more mainstream works inspired by the event, including Dave Egger’s Zeitoun; A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge
, a graphic novel by Josh Neufeld; and the documentary film, Trouble the Water
. She argues that such re-presentations: "propagate dangerously limited and stereotypical representations, which in turn inform responses to disasters such as Katrina. They also allow audiences to feel sympathy for survivors, without feeling complicit in their conditions of suffering or compelled to act" (5).
Horigan suggests that an alternative and more ethical route in re-presenting narratives is to do so in such a way that the original narrators are able to negotiate the ways in which their stories are reproduced. In other words: When trauma becomes public, as the insatiable appetite for disaster stories demands that it must, the texts that most ethically adapt personal narratives are those that include the survivors’ own crucial engagement with the processes of narrative production" (5). Ultimately, Horigan argues that a “better grasp on the processes of narration and memory is critical for improved disaster response because stories that are widely shared about disaster determine how communities recover" (5).
Rachel Hopkin is a UK born, US based folklorist and radio producer and is currently a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University.