Rebecca Solnit: The Silver Cloud

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Jim Herrington

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, media outlets too often portrayed survivors as helpless victims or barbaric looters, not only propagating public fear and panic but also painting a distorted portrait of disaster-stricken areas. When an earthquake devastated Haiti five years later, reporters followed the same narrative thread. In her steely-eyed critique of the coverage, Rebecca Solnit likens the hyperbole to a “second wave of disaster.” Solnit is telling a different story, a story of strength and resilience.

The activist and author also argues convincingly that sensational media coverage fails to recognize the region’s stout citizenry, along with the courage and humanity displayed by the millions of volunteers who helped save New Orleans from extinction.

Last year Solnit examined that remarkable spirit of communities faced with disaster in her book A Paradise Built in Hell. Her goal: “to write beautiful sentences, to open people’s minds and even change them, to buoy up the hope that is behind engagement and action, and to do what I can about the crises of our times.”

Her latest book is Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, a fresh and intriguing spin on mapmaking.


You can check out some of the amazing maps in Solnit’s Infinite City at 7×7 and The Believer did a great wide-ranging interview with Solnit. She did an interview with PBS Newshour‘s Art Beat on her biography of Eadweard Muybridge. She’s written about the disaster response in Haiti for TomDispatch, and she has written a number of columns for Orion magazine as well.

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