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Interview with C. Ray Nagin

C. Ray Nagin presided over New Orleans as the mayor in 2008 during one of the most harrowing times of the city’s history.  Hurricane Katrina had hit the city in 2005, and much of the media coverage decried the inactivity of the Bush Administration.  For Nagin’s part, he did urge residents to prepare for the storm and evacuate, before issuing an evacuation order in the evening of Saturday, August 27, 2005.  With less than 24 hours before the storm was expected to hit, the city was ordered to evacuate.  Following the devastating storm, he heavily criticized aid efforts from the state and federal governments.

Now, Nagin has written a book, Katrina’s Secrets:  Storms After the Storm, about his experiences during the storm and afterward.  Today, I’ve got an exclusive interview with the former mayor about his experiences and his book.

1.  Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm is your account of what happened during the cleanup and recovery (which is still ongoing) in the Gulf area after one of the most devastating storms in recent memory. Why was it important to you to write this book? And how do you hope it will be received by the public?

As I was getting out of office in May of 2010, I was not planning to write a book, but started to assemble my personal library of my eight years in office. As I looked back over the Katrina time frame I was amazed at how amazing the story was and at how much was still not told. In fact at one point if you Googled Katrina you would get millions of search results. Unfortunately, a significant amount of this did not accurately reflect our experiences. So I decided to give readers a unique insider’s perspective on this historic, catastrophic event. My hope is the public will be open to hearing another side of this story.

2. Since much of the recovery process is still not finished, what have you done to raise awareness about the struggles that have continued since Katrina hit? Do you have plans to provide any of the proceeds from the sale of your book to charities working to help the people of New Orleans recover?

I travel around the country and around the world telling this Katrina story. I have also done TV, radio and other media interviews to keep awareness at a good level. My plans are to donate a portion of the proceeds from this book sales to help senior citizens and children who are still struggling from this disaster as well as other disasters throughout the country. I am in the process of setting up a foundation for this specific purpose.

3. What have you learned from your experiences with the before, during, and after events of Katrina; how have they shaped who you are today; and what lessons will you apply into the future?

The biggest lesson I learned is the best planning may not be good enough when a historic, catastrophic disaster occurs. I also learned that politics, race and class can affect disaster response and recovery. This Katrina experience helped my team to put together one of the best evacuation plans in the country where we successfully evacuated our entire city during Hurricane Gustav. In fact, for Hurricane Katrina we got 95 to 96% of the people in the city out of harm’s way before the storm hit. Unfortunately, it was not 100% and some suffered. I have also led a U.S. Conference of Mayor’s task force that put together a white paper with specific changes to the federal laws that govern disasters. A unanimous resolution of support was passed by the organization and the document was used to lobby Congress.

4. When writing Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm, did you find it difficult to stay on track and how much would you say was edited out? Is there anything important that is not in the book that should have been included?

The story is so complicated and rich that it was a challenge to write. I had a great team of two other people who worked with me on research and fact checking as I did the final writings. We also taped key people who were directly involved to ensure accuracy. I would estimate that 25% was edited out as the original manuscript was quite lengthy. This book covers right before Katrina hit and the extremely intense 30 days right after. The second book in this series will cover the recovery period, five years after until the end of 2010.

5. Was this a solo writing process or did you have input from others who were there at the time of Katrina? How long did it take you to write?

As mentioned above I had a team with two other people assisting me with this project. In addition, as part of the self-publishing process with CreateSpace I purchased additional professional editing services. This project took about one year to complete.

6. Was it difficult to find a publisher? Could you tell us a little bit about the process?

I spoke to several traditional agents who were working with various publishers. There was definitely good interest in this project since Katrina was so high profile. My hesitation was the pushes to either further sensationalize or tone down major sections depending on who I talked to. I was also uncomfortable that once I turned my manuscript over to the publisher that they would have final say on how the book ultimately ended up in print. I decided to self publish my first book to ensure that my voice and story would survive.

7. Speaking of the future, what are your future plans? Any recent projects you’d like to talk about?

I plan to focus the majority of my time over the next couple of months promoting my book. In addition, I will continue on the speaking circuit as this should complement book sales. My other initiatives are emergency preparedness planning and working on green energy entrepreneurial projects centered on solar and LED lights. I just got back from the Chez Republic regarding flood protection and have trips scheduled to Belgium, Australia and Puerto Rico for emergency preparedness lectures.

Katrina’s Secrets: Storms After the Storm can be purchased from my Website, amazon.com, kindles, I-books, Nooks, Sony, etc.

Thanks, C. Ray Nagin, for answering my questions, and I wish you luck with your endeavors.

  • Great interview! I admire him for self-publishing to keep his writing intact.

  • It would be interesting to see what he has to say about all of this since the press maligned him. Great interview!