New Orleans, LA (PRWEB) January 10, 2006
With determination and passion, a New Orleans writer single-handedly built a coalition including a national labor union, publishing house, and local coffee shop to help Gulf Coast writers rebuild libraries destroyed by Katrina's flood waters. Becky Rolland, who herself lost her home and job in Hurricane Katrina, is helping restore literary collections by connecting area writers with writers union members nationwide.
Rolland's efforts are resulting in a new model of philanthropic activism in which one person has brought together community, state and national resources on behalf of a single goal: writers helping writers recover from a hurricane's destruction. Separate from Rolland's efforts, well-known individual writers, such as bestselling author John Grisham and his wife, Renee, have publicly stepped forward to generously contribute resources to help Gulf Coast residents rebuild.
Ron Anisfeld and Seth Eisenberg, co-chairs of the National Writers Union's At-Large chapter, began reaching out to members in the Gulf Coast immediately after news of Katrina's devastation began emerging.
"We called and emailed dozens of current and past NWU members in the area while we were glued to news reports from the area," Anisfeld said. "We were ready to offer housing, communication assistance, or anything else to help fellow writers survive the disaster. Yet it was nearly impossible to reach anyone as phone and Internet service in the region was virtually non-existent."
Within days, Eisenberg heard from Rolland, who thanked him for the contact and promised to let the group know how they could help. NWU is Local 1981 of the United Auto Workers Union.
Weeks later, as residents began to pick up the pieces of their lives, Rolland saw firsthand that many writers lost a valuable resource that wouldn't be replaced by relief efforts reaching the region: their own personal libraries, including reference books, dictionaries, atlases, style books, and trade books, all lost to water damage.
Remembering the offer from Eisenberg and Anisfeld, Rolland called the At-Large chapter's South Florida headquarters to ask if there was any assistance available to help replace her library. Eisenberg did more than answer her call, he asked her to head the Gulf Coast Writer's Relief Project.
Rolland, a writer and paralegal who lost her home and her job to Hurricane Katrina, formed an immediate friendship with Eisenberg as they discussed the creation and mission of the project, how to promote it, and how to distribute the books. It was decided that the project would be a book drive for used and new books, which would be shipped to Rolland’s post office box and distributed by her.
“The gift is in the giving,” Eisenberg said, “We're grateful for the opportunity Becky offered for the NWU to help organize and inspire writers to help writers.”
What began as a simple goodwill gesture spread nationwide as Jeanne Harnois of the NWU's Boston chapter joined the effort and helped spread word about the project on the union’s website, asking writers to “join us in reaching out across the floodwaters and let your fellow writers know that the NWU cares.”
Rolland has now received so many books - ranging in subject matter from reference to fiction to poetry - that she has run out of space to store them. “I never thought the project would take off like this, but I knew after the third trip to the post office that I needed some help,” Rolland said. “Now I have to find writers who need books and find a place to put them.”
The owner of the Fairgrinds Coffee shop, Robert Thompson, offered Rolland a place to store the books; however he explained that since Katrina the coffee shop has only remained open through a community effort. “We basically put out free coffee in the morning from 7 a.m. to noon and then our coffee shop transforms into a place where people develop friendships, interact with others and discuss the impact this hurricane has had on their lives,” he said.
And since Fairgrinds Coffee, located on 3133 Ponce de Leon, in New Orleans already allows artists and writers to display and perform their work, helping the creative spirit after Katrina fit with the coffee shop’s vision.
Finally, Rolland still searching for writers, asked her employer, Pelican Publishing Company, to provide a list of authors who had lost some or all of their books. As she began e-mailing writers with a list of titles available from the Gulf Coast Writer’s Relief Project, she immediately saw how vital the project is to the Gulf Coast region. Authors such as New Orleans’ own Frank Davis have already responded enthusiastically to the project: “Tell me how this program is gonna work! I lost a beautiful and most extensive library to six feet of water!” he said.
Eisenberg said tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina are an important opportunity to create new models for community activism. "This campaign is the result of Becky Rolland's passionate determination to help neighbors and fellow writers rebuild. She refused to surrender to the horror of Katrina. In doing so, she provided the anchor that allowed people all over the nation to make a difference. Becky is a powerful example of the difference one person can make," he said. "Not every writer has the ability to make the significant generous personal contribution of a Renee and John Grisham," Eisenberg added, "but we can join together to do our part. Becky made that possible."
For more information about the project or to make a donation, contact Becky Rolland at Gulf Coast Writer’s Relief Project, P. O. Box 2067, Mandeville, LA 70470, or call 888-842-2493. To learn more about the National Writers Union At-Large chapter, contact Seth Eisenberg at 4474 Weston Road, Box 140, Davie, FL 33331.
Information on Renee and John Grisham's Rebuild the Coast Fund is available online at http://rebuildthecoastfund.org/.