In this essay I look to three memoirs that recount the experiences of three individuals as they confront the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. All three writers, Natasha Trethewey, Billy Sothern, and Ken Wells have complicated relationships with the Gulf Coast, but they use the memoir genre to work through these feelings. Specifically I highlight the strategy of negative memory that these writers use in their attempt to work through loss. Negative memory is the attempt to remember what a place was like after it has been completely changed by disaster. But negative memory has a productive function in that it also allows one to map memory back onto these changed places. The interplay of memory, memoir, and memorial in the work of these writers moves them toward a reconceptualization of the Gulf Coast as a place that is at once always vulnerable and resilient as the genealogical ties embedded in its culture and the grassroots justice movements that have made the region a hotbed for social justice. Negative memory has the ability for us to take personal experiences of loss and injustice and map them onto a broader national narrative—one that previously shut out certain voices. That dynamic process of mapping, which negative memory affords, has given voice to those who previously had the quietest voices with which to tell their stories.


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pp. 41-70
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