Dan Baum, creator of acclaimed post-Katrina ebook, “9 Lives,” dies at 64
Baum’s 2009 book has been described as “one of the most moving and exciting books ever written about the rich and complicated life we live here”.
Dan Baum, a former Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine reporter known for his acclaimed post-Katrina book, Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans, died October 8th. He was 64 years old.
His death was first reported on the Washington Post. A friend and family spokesman said the cause was glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor.
Although Baum’s career spanned decades as a newspaper and magazine reporter, he wrote his best-known work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“One of the most moving – and exciting – books that have ever been written about the rich and complicated life we live here,” wrote book critic Susan Larson in “The Times-Picayune” in 2009 about “Nine Lives”.
When the book was published, the New York Times critic Dwight Garner said it “could be the most elaborate and emotional resonance book of the year”.
Baum first reported out of town for a series of blog posts and articles for The New Yorker in the days following Hurricane Katrina and the August 2005 Federal Dam failures.
In 2007 he returned to begin work on “Nine Lives,” which captured the city through an almost cinematic narrative that told the stories of nine residents: former Carnival King Bill Grace; Band director Wilbert Rawlins Jr. and his wife Belinda; transsexual bar owner JoAnn Guidos; Ronald Lewis, founder of the 9th District Museum; Police Officer Timothy Bruneau; little drug dealer Anthony Wells; Coroner Frank Minyard; and Joyce Montana, widow of Mardi Gras Indian Chief Tootie Montana.
The best-selling book was later converted into an album with original songs and plays by the musician Paul Sanchez. The album featured more than 100 musicians, including some of the city’s most famous and beloved artists such as Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, John Boutte and Lillian Boutte, as well as actors Wendell Pierce, Michael Cerveris and Harry Shearer
While he was living here and working on the book, Baum fell in love with the city and its people. “I felt the same sense of amazement we all felt in the days after Katrina: that the United States, with its wealth, generosity, and alleged affection for the culture of this idiosyncratic little town, would step aside and let New Orleans suffer alone,” he wrote.
Baum focused not only on the disaster and its effects, but also on the people. The book actually begins with Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and travels through five decades of the life, culture, politics, tragedy, and history of New Orleans – as told by its people.
“I noticed that most of the coverage (on Katrina), including my own, was so focused on the disaster that the essentially odd nature of the place was overlooked,” wrote Baum in Nine Lives.
“Long before the storm,” he continued, “New Orleans was the worst city in the United States by any metric – the deepest poverty, the most murders, the worst schools, the sickest economy, the most corrupt and brutal cops.” However, a poll conducted a few weeks before the storm found that more New Orleans – regardless of age, race, or wealth – were “extremely happy” with their lives than residents of any other American city. “
In his last blog post for the New Yorker in 2007, Baum tried to explain his fascination for New Orleans and his idiosyncratic ways.
“It took me a while to find out that the future doesn’t really exist in New Orleans. There is only the present, ”he wrote.
“It’s not just laziness or rash; It is a reflection of an obligation to enjoy life instead of just achieving something. Do you want efficiency and hard work? Go to Minneapolis. Just don’t expect the good times to roll over there. “
Baum was from New Jersey and graduated from New York University. He worked on newspaper jobs in Anchorage before moving to Singapore and later New York for the Wall Street Journal. He also reported for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
After he and his wife Margaret Knox were married in 1987, they moved to Zimbabwe for three years, opened a news office and supplied stories to news organizations around the world. The couple also lived and worked in Colorado, Mexico, and California.
On his website, Baum said he had written the first draft of his books and articles, but Knox was an essential writing partner: “Anything that comes out under the heading ‘Dan Baum’ is at least half of Margaret’s work.”
Baum said, “I always wanted to write. I used newspapers the way other people used the Marine Corps, and I didn’t stay in it long. In 1987 I met my wife at the writing of the Atlanta Journal. We got married, and on The next day we moved to Zimbabwe, where we freelanced for three years. Then we moved to Montana for eight years and lived in Colorado, Mexico and California. “
In addition to “Nine Lives”, Baum wrote three other books on subjects as diverse as federal drug policy, the Coors brewing family and the culture of gun ownership.
In addition to his wife, his daughter Rosa Baum from Cambridge, Massachusetts survived; his father, Sy Baum from Manhattan; and a brother.