Tag Archives: graphic novel

Post-Katrina Fiction


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing the physical destruction,  human suffering and resulting complicated emotions reflected back to us through fictional lenses. Here’s a look at a few of the many post-Katrina titles worth your time.


A panel from Dark Rain by Mat Johnson

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story – Mat Johnson

In this graphic novel, Dark Rain is not only an allusion to physical presence of the hurricane, but it’s also the name of a shady private security firm policing the citizens of New Orleans while simultaneously trying to capitalize on the mayhem. In a story where all the characters are trying to get a piece of the action, one character in particular has to decide what he’s willing to risk and what he’s trying to gain.


Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

Ok, so this movie isn’t technically about hurricane Katrina, but it’s pretty hard to deny that Katrina helped to shape and influence the film.  With elements of magical realism, the plot centers on a young girl, her father and their surrounding bayou community dealing with a major flood and its aftermath. One of the lead actors, Dwight Henry, has said that living through Hurricane Katrina directly impacted his performance: “I was in Hurricane Katrina in neck-high water. I have an inside understanding for what this movie is about. I brought a passion to the part that an outside actor who had never seen a storm or been in a flood or faced losing everything could have.” With absolutely stellar performances by the two stars, (both novice actors), gorgeous cinematography and evocative storytelling, this one isn’t to be missed.

Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward 

Fourteen year old Esch is pregnant, one of her brothers is attempting to keep pit bull pups alive, her dad is a hard-living alcoholic trying and failing to take care of it all, and, oh yeah, a massive hurricane is on it’s way.  You can feel the looming hurricane in the air as the book builds to its crescendo, yet we never forget that the hurricane isn’t the only, or even the biggest, obstacle these characters face. Life will go on, somehow. Ward brings this family and their struggle to life with poetry and humanity that you won’t soon forget.



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Maira Kalman and the good things.

My dream dinner guest is Maira Kalman. I want to cook something for her, I want to have a cup of tea with her, and then I want to for a long walk with her. If you are familiar with any of Ms. Kalman’s wide range of work, you may understand why I beam at the mention of her name. For those unfamiliar, may I take a moment of your time to recommend her work.

Ms. Kalman is probably most well known for her work on The New York Times blog site. It is from this site that she compiled the observations and stories that make up her most recent works. Before that time, she worked primarily as a children’s book illustrator, but also making a known name with work in The New Yorker and as a designer.

What may be most fun about Kalman’s work is describing it. The Principles of Uncertainty, which was my introduction to her, is a volume of daily observations made simply, but with grace and elegance (“A cheeseburger deluxe, things are really deluxe around here,” she muses at a cheeseburger ordered at a diner). But whether praising  the watermelon man or Goethe’s Faust, she does it with a knowledgable yet lighthearted air, allowing the reader to slow down, and appreciate on their own the occasional levity of life.

Her newest work, And the Pursuit of Happiness, is no different. I devoured and loved every page of this book. This time around, she uses her natural enthusiasm towards a more common, dedicated approach – the study of history. The book jacket features a very unique illustration of Benjamin Franklin on the cover, and on the back, a piece of pie, and the words, “History makes you hungry.” Kalman is at the inauguration of President Obama, she visits Monticello and muses on Jefferson, and dines at the Supreme Court cafeteria – giving each the time she feels, and the reader will in turn agree, they so rightfully deserve.

Kalman reminds us that there is always much to talk about, much to learn, and much to notice. And with that, I leave you to explore on your own.

– Tony


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graphic novel booklists

By now, we all know that graphic novels are (let’s say it together) Not Just About Superheroes.  The question now is “So which ones do I read?”  Since the graphic novel format offers as many genres and styles as prose fiction, that’s a very good question.  And, as you might have guessed, we can help with that. 

We recently added two new graphic novel booklists to our Book Lists page.  One lists Surreal Graphic Novels that blend reality, hallucination and visual delirium to create captivating, disorienting tales.  These stories include demonic talking cats, philosophizing infants, multi-dimentional houses and shifting landscapes. 

The other list showcases Graphic Novel Memoirs, starring real people or their fictional graphic alter-egos.  These stories span the halls of high school to the streets of Mexico City.  They cover topics like adolescent humiliation, refugees, HIV, family, famous comics creators and plenty more.

Both lists include older titles and brand-new classics-to-be, veteran comics-makers and newcomers.  Maybe you’ll find your new favorite book on one of them!


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five books I am always reading

It’s an occupational hazard for library workers to have booklists so long it would take several lifetimes to read them all, but certain titles keep their place at the top of mine, regardless of whatever distracting new temptations I happen upon.  Whether I keep coming back to re-read them, or just can’t seem to finish the whole thing, these five books stay on my “currently reading” shelves in my Goodreads and LibraryThing accounts (and in my livingroom).  They’ll probably be there for awhile, too, so long as I keep bumping them for impulsive replacements, like I did Saturday when I picked up Tresspass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land while shelving.

I’ve read at least a dozen books related to mythology that cite Campbell, and I love Bill Moyers’s Power of Myth interviews, but the bookmark in this one stays stuck somewhere early in the first chapter.   


This essential history starts with the staggering incidents and statistics of early explorers’ Native American genocide,  moves to the horrors of African slavery, then progresses into the violent roots of US class division and labor unrest, and before long gets me so upset, I shelve the book for a few months to process it all.  Luckily, though, Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle recently adapted Zinn’s work into a graphic novel called A People’s History of American Empire


And Her Soul Out of Nothing is the perfect book of poetry.  Davis writes strange, haunting verse that incorporates daily language with profound questions, and gorgeous poetric turns with confronatational statements.  I could re-read “Another Underwater Conversation” every week for the rest of my life.


This volume includes Walt Whitman, Wanda Coleman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, Eileen Myles, Joy Harjo, Alice Notley and more and more.  And it’s almost 700 pages long, so six years later, I’m still not done yet.


If this graphic novel doesn’t break your heart, you probably don’t have one.  Not only is Ware the master of fantastically designed and colored layouts and intricate, vintage-inspired illustrations, but the story (which includes the Chicago World’s Fair and a superhero failure) of a self-conscious man in search of his father is to tender that sometimes I just have to put it down and walk away with my rotten little heart intact.




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