Anne Gisleson

recorded in New Orleans, LA

 

Anne Gisleson

My name is Anne Gisleson and I live in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans.


The Knox Writers’ House

How did you get here?


Gisleson

Well I’ve lived in New Orleans my whole life. I’m from here, my family’s been here for generations. I grew up uptown – [a voice on megaphone comes from the street]. Oh, have you recorded this guy? You gotta go, it’s Mr. Okra coming down the street. You guys need to record him.


Mr. Okra

How you all doing?


KWH

Good.


Mr. Okra

Can I get you anything?


Gisleson

You know, I am going to get something.


KWH

Hi, we’re interviewing people about New Orleans.


Okra

Huh?


KWH

We’re interviewing people about New Orleans.


Okra

What about it?


KWH

Well what do you got to say about it?


Okra

[laughs] It’s alright.


KWH

What’s your name?


Okra

My name is Mr. Okra.


KWH

Mr. Okra. Are you from here?


Okra

Yeah, born and raised.


KWH

So, what are you selling in the back?


Okra

[into megaphone] I’m selling oranges and bananas, pears and apples. I’m selling grapes, grapefruit.


KWH

How long have you been doing this?


Okra

I’ve been doing this about 30 years.


KWH

Thirty years? From the same truck?


Okra

No, I got a different truck. You all getting any good stories?


KWH

Yeah, we are getting good stories. There’s a lot of people we’re talking to down here. Do you have a good story?


Okra

Nah.


KWH

[Walking over to Mr. Okra’s assistant] Hey, we’re interviewing people about New Orleans. Can we ask you some things?


Willy

Alright.


KWH

What do you do?


Willy

I work with Mr. Okra.


KWH

How long have you been doing that?


Willy

About a year.


KWH

About a year? Do you like it?


Willy

Yeah, I love it.


KWH

Did you guys stay during the storm?


Willy

Yeah, I stayed for a little while.


KWH

What made you come back?


Willy

Because I own a


KWH

What’s your name?


Willy

My name’s Willy.


KWH

Nice to meet you.


Willy

Nice meeting you.


KWH

[Walking back into the house.] How often do they do that?


Gisleson

Oh, all the time. It’s kind of funny that he came by, because it ties in with the Louis Armstrong thing I was reading before, about how there used to be a lot more of that going on in the neighborhood. But also the reason I liked the Bywater and I moved down here. Where I grew up in Uptown, we didn’t have stuff like that.


KWH

So will you tell us some about how you participate in the arts community here?


Gisleson

Yeah, sure. I probably participate in it way too much. [Laughs.] I guess I could just say a little about Press Street. I teach over at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, which is a kind of institutional force in the arts field. After the storm, we came back and there was nothing going on, culturally. Nothing. And it was shocking. We have this section in the Friday paper that tells you what’s going on, and there was no entertainment section, there was no section saying what was going on with music or film or readings or anything like that. There was just nothing. So, just a group of friends of ours who had come back and a lot of our jobs were in limbo so we had all this spare time, so wed sit around here in this living room with our laptops and instead of Mr. Okra, it would be the Red Cross truck with free meals and we’d all put our laptops down and run out, so it was this great feeling of camaraderie and wanting to do things. Something we talk about in How to Rebuild a City is your natural strengths going towards a certain activity. So, we started having readings, which were very, very small and not very well attended and we did a couple of book projects. There were so many people who were eager to do anything, so that’s what we did. And since my husband’s a visual artist and I’m a writer, we started Press Street, which combines both of those things. All the books have to do with combining visual arts and writing. There’s been a lot of things that have happened since the storm. First of all, there were people who stayed who were already very committed to the arts in town who did a lot of things. There were people who renewed their commitment to culture and the arts because of what was happening. Since the storm, it seems like people making books and people buying books, people wanting to cling to the culture and really support it, that was a big phenomenon. And then there were tons of young, creative types who were really into doing projects and neat things, coming down. And I meet them, I swear to God, every week it seems liked we we’re meeting new people like that. And that’s had a big effect on things. Especially because now, some of us are getting this kind of five year fatigue. We’re sick of all these projects, you know? We open galleries, we do the draw-a-thon, we do book projects, we do all that, but we’re kind of ready to take a break. So it’s been great having all these people come to town now who are really, really eager to do things. And I think some of the disaster glamour is still alluring enough to bring people down, but its safer and not as scary, so that’s why I think that’s another reason why we’re getting a wave of people down here. Because it was scary and awful for the first few years. And now it’s a little better, but there’s still a lot of important work that needs to be done. And I think that’s very attractive to you kids. [Laughs].

Growing Up in New Orleans by Louis Armstrong

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