Wendell Pierce on the tragedy and triumph of New Orleans after Katrina: “It’s created a schism between the haves and have-nots” – SCOTT TIMBERG SATURDAY, SEP 5, 2015 11:30 AM PDT

Salon talks to Wendell Pierce, star of “The Wire,” to discusses his poignant new book “The Wind in the Reeds”

Wendell Pierce on the tragedy and triumph of New Orleans after Katrina: "It’s created a schism between the haves and have-nots"

When the actor Wendell Pierce returned to his native New Orleans in the summer of 2005, he saw a city that was 80 percent underwater.

“Nearly fifteen hundred people were dead. Half the houses in the city had four feet of water in them, or more. There was no electricity or clean water in the city; looting and the breakdown of civil order would soon follow.”

You can remember these bare outlines and still be startled by the immediate and direct way that Pierce, best known for his roles in “The Wire” and the post-flood saga “Treme,” recounts them in his new book. “The Wind in the Reeds” tells of his deep roots in the city, the catastrophe of Katrina, and his experience acting in David Simon’s celebrated series. The center of the book is his intertwined effort to put on Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in post-Katrina New Orleans and to help bring back his old neighborhood.

We spoke to Pierce about art, tragedy, his city and its past and future. The interview has been slightly condensed for clarity.

The first part of “The Wind in the Reeds” gives a detailed picture of your family history, the establishment of the black middle-class neighborhood Pontchartrain Park, and your own early years. Your childhood exposure to music, the arts and culture in general made a powerful, and it seems, permanent impression on your life. How did it end up hitting you so hard?

One of things about growing up in New Orleans is that we live our culture. It is part of our life. It is something that you wake up in the morning with; when it comes to our cuisine, you hear music constantly, in every part of your life there is music included. So I always knew culture to be part of my life, and something of great importance.


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