My story “A World On Fire” was a finalist the PEN literary non-fiction award for 2013, but alas it didn’t win.
The story is about eight young travelers who died in a squat fire in New Orleans 9th Ward just before New Years 2012. I went to New Orleans two weeks after the fire and two more times after that. I interviewed at length six of the families of those who died as well as many of their friends in New Orleans and wherever I could snag them on the road. The story expanded from the night of the fire to the reasons young people choose this dangerous life and what keeps them there, as well as the agony of the parents who worry that they may never see their children again.
When the story was published in Boston Review’s January/February issue, it got a lot of attention. I’m attaching here a link to my appearance on “Talk of the Nation” the NPR weekday morning show that was cancelled recently. Neal Conan asked if any of the parents of the dead would consent to be interviewed and I immediately thought of Marty Goslee Jaramillo, the mother of Katie Simianer, one of the young women who died in the fire. The piece starts with her beautiful sentiment of peace and acceptance told in her angelic voice. The comments on the piece are pretty good too.
I am honored to be a finalist. PenUSA only nominated three stories in the literary non-fiction category, which makes my story one of a very select few.
I spent a year working on this story which, as you will see if you read it, is very close to my heart. I am so pleased that the traveling community let me in and gave me a chance to honor their friends and the families who have suffered greatly for this tragedy. I am also grateful to PEN for seeing this as a story of value.