Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
celebrating the release of
Flight Risk: Memoirs of a New Orleans Bad Boy
from University Press of Mississippi
Flight Risk takes off as a page-turning narrative with deep roots and a wide wingspan. James Nolan, a fifth-generation New Orleans native, offers up an intimate portrait both of his insular hometown and his generation's counterculture. Flight runs as a theme throughout the book, which begins with Nolan's escape from the gothic mental hospital to which his parents committed the teenaged poet during the tumult of 1968. This breakout is followed by the self-styled revolutionary’s hair-raising flight from a Guatemalan jail, and years later, by the author’s bolt from China, where he ditched his teaching position and collectivist ideals. These Houdini-like feats foreshadow a more recent one, how he dodged biblical floods in a stolen school bus three days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
Nolan traces these flight patterns to those of his French ancestors who fled to New Orleans in the mid-nineteenth century, established a tobacco business in the French Quarter, and kept the old country alive in their Creole demimonde. The writer describes the eccentric Seventh Ward menagerie of the extended family in which he grew up, his early flirtation with extremist politics, and a strong bond with his freewheeling grandfather, a gentleman from the Gilded Age. Nolan’s quest for his own freedom takes him to the flower-powered, gender-bending San Francisco of the sixties and seventies, as well as to an expatriate life in Spain during the heady years of that nation’s transition to democracy. Like the prodigal son, he eventually returns home to live in the French Quarter, around the corner from where his grandmother grew up, only to struggle through the aftermath of Katrina and the city’s resurrection.
Many of these stories are entwined with the commentaries of a wry flâneur, addressing such subjects as the nuances of race in New Orleans, the Disneyfication of the French Quarter, the numbing anomie of digital technology and globalization, the challenges of caring for aging parents, Creole funeral traditions, how to make a soul-searing gumbo, and what it really means to belong.
James Nolan is a fiction writer, poet, essayist, and translator. His eleven books include the recent You Don’t Know Me: New and Selected Stories (winner of the 2015 Independent Publishers Gold Medal in Southern Fiction) and the novel Higher Ground (awarded a William Faulkner/Wisdom Gold Medal in the Novel). He has taught at universities in San Francisco, Florida, Barcelona, Madrid, and Beijing, as well as in his native New Orleans.
What has been said about Flight Risk:
"James Nolan looks back unsparingly on a time few writers have faced with such clarity and compassion. There’s suspense and beauty on every page . . ."―Andrei Codrescu
"Hail James Nolan. He sure can tell a story and build it up to a climax."
―Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and publisher of City Lights Books
“A wryly eloquent memoir of world travel and the joys, and difficulties, of returning home.”
“James Nolan’s memoir is vivid, entertaining, and utterly memorable, one of the most enjoyable reads that has come my way for a very long time. The picture he paints of the city he inhabits is unforgettable. New Orleans is fortunate indeed to have such a magnificent writer to record its fragile and extraordinary culture.” ―Alexander McCall Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels