“I have a newfound respect for authors. The hardest part was the writing. The easiest part was also the writing. Once it starts flowing, it’s incredible and comes at the strangest times,” says actor, Tony Award-winning producer, and jazz enthusiast, Wendell Pierce. “Watching a baseball game, you’ve got to stop and find something to write with. It’s like, really? Right now? During the game?”
The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken is the debut memoir by Pierce and includes details of his journey that have left him feeling vulnerable. “I’m sharing so much of myself, and that has been uncomfortable. I keep thinking and wondering, Will you all like it?”
The book includes background on Pierce’s New Orleans, Louisiana roots, and how appreciation for the arts played a role in his family and community. Raised in the historical Ponchartrain Park section,, destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Wendell Pierce shares vivid childhood experiences and exposures readers to the rich New Orleans arts culture, which developed his character.
Pierce recalls, “There was a public park [there] that African Americans were only allowed to enter on Wednesdays. That was the only day we could go into this [particular] park. Eventually, one was built just for us. White people had tours going through our area,” he says. With an animated face and vocals, he adds, “And this is a Negro housewife hanging clothes, and this Negro is . . .” Clearly the humor here is intended for the sake of laughing to keep from crying.
Wendell Pierce chose Rod Dreher, a conservative author and editor to help write this book. “I said ok, I’ll just have lunch with him, because everyone said I should. I had no intention on choosing him, and he was hoping I did not chose him, as well. We were both being courteous,” said Pierce of their initial meeting.
But something incredible occurred over that lunch. Humanity. Although we were raised differently and share different views, we realized [0ur] commonalities.” Commonalities are, often times, perceived quite differently. Although Dreher was instrumental in developing Pirece’s book, Dreher considers the memoir conservative, while Pierce emphatically disagrees.
He further states, “There is something to being able to meet people at the level of humanity. It’s the same humanity I was able to find in Clarence Thomas, whom I will [soon] be portraying.” Pierce pauses, interrupted by disapproval noises from guests, but then continues, “Now-now,” says Pierce. “There is a disconnect, but once I learned his granddad told him there was no such thing as ‘can’t,’ because I buried it a long time ago, I was able to connect through humanity and it helped me in my portrayal of Thomas.” Pierce’s own father had expressed those exact same sentiments.
Wendell Pierce’s sense of humanity is not to be mistaken as submission to inequalities and neglect. This is evident when he recalls President Bush’s visit to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. “Who made sure his Air Force One was low enough for him to fly around and see what was going on? And then, flew him out of there.
He continues, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt created ‘the zones.’ During the New Deal “there were green zones, yellow zones and red zones and if you were in a red zone, one of the criteria included having one black in your neighborhood, you could not get an FHA loan. Hows that for progress?”
The historical Pontchartrain Park section, devastated since Hurricane Katrina, is currently undergoing restoration with the help of Pierce. His palpable dissatisfaction with social injustices, vivid accounts of how the arts and jazz have helped shape him as a person, and even more captivating details of his upbringing in New Orleans are captured in this debut. Take a look at him reading an excerpt here.
The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, a Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken has been selected by Oprah Winfrey for her October Book Club. The memoir is published by Riverhead Books and retails for $27.95. Twitter@WendellPierce
Edited by: Eartha Watts-Hicks