EDITOR’S NOTE: For those of you who are new to NolaVie, or who caught up with us mid-year, we offer this repost of Renee Peck’s opening column, first published on Feb. 21, 2011, explaining the genesis of the website. NolaVie is reposting a series of stories this week to celebrate its birthday, and to demonstrate the diversity of material published on the website in its first year.
“Rose,” I said to her one day, “why don’t you write fiction?”
“My dear,” she replied. “What do you think I do every day?”
Like Rose, I spent most of my adult life writing stories for the daily newspaper. A few weeks ago, while hanging on the fringes of erudite conversations at the Key West Literary Seminar, I learned that there’s a name for what I’d been doing for three decades. It’s called creative non-fiction, and it’s all the rage among contemporary writers.
Wow, I thought. Three decades of turning everyday stories into (hopefully) entertaining prose, and I never knew. I learned long ago that there are no new newspaper stories under the sun, only ways of repackaging them. Evidently the same holds true for writing styles.
When I left The Times-Picayune almost two years ago, everyone thought I’d write a book. Why is it that people think every journalist has the seeds of the great American novel rattling around in his or her head? Any knack I have for dialogue stems from 30 years of listening to people tell me about their lives.
And that’s what I miss most about writing features for the paper: People’s stories. Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to why you’re reading these words now, and here.
NolaVie is a new web site devoted to people, and their stories. It’s about New Orleanians, our differences and our similarities. It began as a bud of an idea a year or so ago, and hopefully will blossom into something organic and real, a place where conversations start and voices are heard.
Like many New Orleans stories, this one started over a cup of café au lait at a local coffee house.
“How would you like to start a web site with me?” asked Sharon Litwin, a former colleague, longtime friend and indomitable New Orleans cultural crusader.
Instead of the obvious reply – “Are you kidding?” – I said sure, why not, and NolaVie began.
From the outset, the idea was about community. The last time I checked, there were 650,000 individual art blogs out there, each doing its own thing. And institutional web sites seemed to be either too focused — devoted to niche audiences like balletomanes or foodies — or too broad — covering not only lifestyle and culture, but also news and politics and sports and visitor information.
Additionally, while online organizations like Pro Publica or The Lens are trying to save investigative journalism, few sites seemed to be concentrating on what, in the business, we call soft news. People stories. As someone who labels herself the queen of fluff, that’s my beat.
NolaVie, we decided, would be a place where individuals and organizations can gather under one tent, to talk about who we are and why we love the city. About what’s going on here, and what we think about it. We wouldn’t create sections devoted specifically to cuisine or music or theater, but rather we’d start conversations about whatever captured our fancy on a particular day.
Hundreds of conversations later, here we are. A community.
NolaVie’s supporting partners include some of the city’s most influential cultural organizations, groups that impact our leisure and lifestyle here. They’ll be sharing behind-the-scenes looks at what they do, and how you can be involved. Take a look at who they are, at right, and visit their pages.
We’re all about individuals, too. To that end, we have enlisted the talents of writers and photographers and videographers across the city. Young people who have moved here to make a difference; old-timers like me who have been chronicling the Big Easy for years.
I also have discovered that a couple of liters of wine, a ripe Brie and a little conversation can change the world. At a succession of Monday-night gatherings at my new/old house in the Garden District, I’ve sat back and poured the Chardonnay and listened as members of the next generation share their ideas about New Orleans and what it has to offer. The city, I’ve discovered, is in pretty good hands. Read their upcoming articles, and you will get a sense of that, too.
Starting a web site is nothing like starting a magazine, something I’ve done a couple of times before. With a magazine, you plan every detail in advance and deliver a finished product. A web site begins more as an embryo, a fragile being that develops along audience lines, its content dictated by what users like and say.
That’s a little scary for us “legacy journalism” types. But what I like about the digital world is its flexibility, and its promise.
For a creative non-fiction writer, it’s a fertile environment indeed.
Here’s NolaVie, the movie, originally published in February 2011:
Renee Peck, a former feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, is editor of NolaVie.