2016 Christopher Award Winner

From acclaimed actor and producer Wendell Pierce, an insightful and poignant portrait of family, New Orleans and the transforming power of art.

On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans, devastating many of the city's neighborhoods, including Pontchartrain Park, the home of Wendell Pierce's family and the first African American middle-class subdivision in New Orleans. The hurricane breached many of the city's levees, and the resulting flooding submerged Pontchartrain Park under as much as 20 feet of water. Katrina left New Orleans later that day, but for the next three days the water kept relentlessly gushing into the city, plunging eighty percent of New Orleans under water. Nearly 1,500 people were killed. Half the houses in the city had four feet of water in them—or more. There was no electricity or clean water in the city; looting and the breakdown of civil order soon followed. Tens of thousands of New Orleanians were stranded in the city, with no way out; many more evacuees were displaced, with no way back in.
Pierce and his family were some of the lucky ones: They survived and were able to ride out the storm at a relative's house 70 miles away. When they were finally allowed to return, they found their family home in tatters, their neighborhood decimated. Heartbroken but resilient, Pierce vowed to help rebuild, and not just his family's home, but all of Pontchartrain Park.
In this powerful and redemptive narrative, Pierce brings together the stories of his family, his city, and his history, why they are all worth saving and the critical importance art played in reuniting and revitalizing this unique American city.
“Wendell Pierce’s uplifting memoir The Wind in the Reeds explores the transformative role theater played in healing New Orleans post-Katrina.”O Magazine

The Wind in the Reeds tells of his deep roots in the city, the catastrophe of Katrina, and his experience acting in David Simon’s celebrated series. The center of the book is his intertwined effort to put on Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in post-Katrina New Orleans and to help bring back his old neighborhood.”Salon

“A must-read for fans of the two HBO television series that helped make the New Orleans-born actor a star… The Wind in the Reeds is Pierce's passionate, politically critical musing on the life-altering decade since Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 floods.”New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Part memoir, part history lesson, the book takes readers through Pierce’s own connection to the city and his "role of a lifetime" in the HBO series Treme. He spoke by phone about his book, the power of art and the process of rebuilding his hometown.”LA Times

“Pierce writes warmly and admiringly of his forebears, a strong and close-knit family whose roots run deep in Assumption Parish. He tells, too, of his own childhood there, pushed to excel by a passionate and strong-willed mother, and of his eventual success as an actor in New York and Los Angeles. The thread that ties it all together, along with family, is a love for creativity, a belief that '[a]rt tells us who we are, and it tells us who we must become.' In the wake of tragedy, loss, and dislocation, Pierce suggests, it’s our art that will help us survive.”Boston Globe

“Pierce may well be as synonymous with New Orleans as the Crescent City’s music… Pierce proves he is as adept a storyteller as he is an actor with The Wind in the Reeds. Pierce’s electrifying narrative takes us back to the morning of August 29, 2005, and his family’s Pontchartrain Park home. In a poignant voice, he pens a love letter to kin and community.”Essence

“Pierce narrates his story of the actor’s life as a kind of hunt for empathy and for greater understanding of the spiritual usefulness of the creative life… In such difficult times, a hopeful vision like Pierce’s is welcome.”Chapter 16

“Wendell Pierce and Rod Dreher hurtle through The Wind in the Reeds.”Vanity Fair

“The soaring and eloquent voice of Wendell Pierce, one of New Orleans's most famous sons, will inspire you to cheer. This is more than a memoir. It's an adventure in history, encompassing the timeless elements that propelled this fourth-generation grandson of a slave into one of the most important dramatic actors of our age: family, art, truth, religion, and of course a mother's love. This is a story of sacrifice and blood struggle, of victory and selflessness, told with deep humility and grace by one of the most important American artists in our generation.”James McBride author of The Color of Water and The Good Lord Bird

 “But we also see Pierce animated by Katrina's devastations. He has become deeply involved in community restoration—he was able to get his parents back in their storm-ravaged home—and has some sharp words for the politicians and their cronies, many of whom complicate things. It's appropriate that Pierce's work is something of a gumbo—a mix of memoir, social psychology, literary analysis, and political and religious philosophy… An affecting account of a driven man, a sturdy family, and a resilient community.”Kirkus Reviews

“Pierce’s post-Katrina benefit and rebuilding work shows that, especially in devastating times, humans need be reminded of the beauty of the world, the power of art in all forms to raise one’s spirits, and the knowledge that one can make a difference.”Booklist

“A moving memoir by the well-known actor, familiar to many from his stellar performances in The Wire and Treme. Written with Rod Dreher, this is a loving tribute to growing up in New Orleans as part of a strong family, and Pierce’s ongoing efforts to bring back Pontchartrain Park.”New Orleans Advocate

“[A] poignant memoir by the actor (The WireTreme) and New Orleans native about his efforts to help rebuild his hometown, including a now-legendary production of 'Waiting for Godot' staged in two of the city's most damaged neighborhoods.”Tampa Bay Times