University press raising funds for the Gulf Coast

Friday, December 8, 2006
Preceeds from "Hurricane Blues" will benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. (Image courtesy semo.edu)

More than a year has passed since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, but Dr. Susan Swartwout says the people of the region still need help. New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast she calls a "horrible, horrible mess."

"The face of New Orleans is going to change drastically unless people step in and help out," said Swartwout, a native of New Orleans and director of the Southeast Missouri State University Press.

The award-winning press in November published a poetry compilation called "Hurricane Blues," its first book to benefit charity. The 181-page collection brings together work from poets from the Midwest, Northeast and South about hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their effects on the Gulf Coast and the nation.

Money from sales of the book goes to the Salvation Army for ongoing hurricane relief efforts.

"They've always been on the front lines, they don't need to use much funding for organizational costs ... and they're always there," Swartwout said of the decision to choose the Salvation Army for donating book sales revenue.

Swartwout worked with Phillip Kolin, a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi, to create the book, and credits him with the idea. The two solicited work from established and emerging poets to compile the dozens of poems found in "Hurricane Blues."

Retired Tulane University faculty member Catharine Brosman is one of the poets who experienced Katrina directly. Her three-part poem, "Three Modes of Katrina," recounts her own experiences weathering the hurricane with her husband Paul in their New Orleans condo and their subsequent evacuation to Texas. The couple decided to stay in New Orleans, said Brosman, because Paul had lived in New Orleans since he was 2 years old and had never fled from a hurricane.

Brosman is the author of several books of poetry published by the Louisiana State University Press. Brosman had lived in New Orleans for 37 years when Katrina hit, and while her neighborhood wasn't one of the most affected, the experience was still traumatic, she says.

"The experience was so horrible in so many ways, though I did not suffer greatly personally, you can't help but be sensitive to the suffering," Brosman said.

Today, Brosman said, New Orleans is like two or three cities in one, with some neighborhoods basically the same as they were before Katrina and others, like the Lower Ninth Ward, still devastated, its people still homeless.

Both editors also have poems in the compilation, and both have ties to the New Orleans area. Swartwout has friends and family who still live there, and remembers experiencing hurricanes as a child, with snakes and turtles floating in city streets. Kolin lives on the Gulf Coast.

Most of Swartwout's family and friends evacuated before Katrina's approach, though.

Regardless, Swartwout found hurricane relief as an ideal cause for the University Press' first charitable offering. She sees the project as a sort of educational tool.

"When you're a publisher and you have an opportunity to do something like that, it shows people it's not all about profits," Swartwout said. "In our case it's showing students they can make a difference in their work and what they do."

"Hurricane Blues" is available online at Amazon.com, at Broadway Books and Roasting Co., Barnes and Noble Booksellers, the University Bookstore and on the press Web site, www6.semo.edu/universitypress.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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