*Not to be confused with Press Street’s Draw-a-Thon
By Cate Czarnecki
Founded by Abram Himelstein and Rachel Breunlin in 2004, the Neighborhood Story Project has been an important presence among the myriad narratives that emerge from the city. This Sunday marks their fourth annual Write-A-Thon, the organization’s primary fundraising event, which aims to raise the much-needed funds that support their various projects and community efforts. (You can donate to the Write-A-Thon and Neighborhood Story Project here.)
From the beginning, the goal of the Neighborhood Story Project has been to provide an outlet for the true expression of what it is like to live in New Orleans—for better as well as for worse.
As Himelstein explains, “We started with the idea of Our Stories Told By Us because we thought that many New Orleans stories were being told badly in mainstream media. Rachel and I were teaching at John McDonogh and watching the way the neighborhoods around the school (our own neighborhoods) were being presented in the media was unrecognizable.”
Not only did the stories in the media seem alien to Himelstein and Breunlin, they were also overwhelmingly negative. “No one ever talked about the strengths. So we asked the high school students to write books about their neighborhoods. The NSP has grown from that original idea into a project that works to do collaborative ethnography with many different communities.”
The funds generated by the Write-A-Thon will go directly towards the publishing of books. Currently, Neighborhood Story Project has five projects in the works which will benefit from the event, including books focused on Preservation Hall, the world of Backside at the Fair Grounds, an autobiography by Bennie Pete of the Hot 8 Brass Band, youth writing workshops under the guidance of teacher Woodlief Thomas, and a book about Mardi Gras Indians told by Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors.
While each year’s funds go to support the work of the organization, this Sunday’s Write-A-Thon endeavors to be a little bit different then those in the past. “This year we are going to be doing medium format photographic portraits of the writers to make a wall of the writers who are a part of making the write-a-thon a success. We’ve been able to grow and change each year—with a bit of the flavor of the different writers who come a Write-a-Thon with us.”
Through a partnership with the University of New Orleans, NSP has helped bring the voices and stories of New Orleans to the masses, including a growing national audience of individuals invested in the recognition and preservation of New Orleans’ unique history and culture.“The national attention we’ve gotten has been lagniappe; we are really focused on creating a more accurate and productive conversation within New Orleans.”