An award-winning writer’s account of a life lived in flight from a Louisiana birthplace that ultimately drew him back.
A fifth-generation New Orleans native, Nolan’s (Higher Ground, 2011, etc.) Southern roots ran deep. But by 1968, he realized that his birthplace was as much a “jailhouse” as the psychiatric ward where his mother’s doctor had temporarily confined him for the rebellious behavior he saw as “sick.” After his girlfriend and an ACLU lawyer helped him get out, he took a Greyhound bus to San Francisco. There, he befriended members of the theater group the Cockettes and lost his “gay cherry” in the process. After trips to Colombia, Nolan then became involved in political protests against the American government’s nefarious involvement in Latin America, especially the democratically elected government of Chile. By the mid-1970s, he had become an itinerant professor, fallen in love with a dancer, and moved to Guatemala. His association with political dissenters led to arrest and incarceration, but his escape-artist talent saved him from “certain death” yet again, and he was able to go free. However, like the forebears who had “move[d] across oceans” in the 19th century to establish a life in the French Quarter, Nolan soon found himself doing much the same. His first crossing was to Spain then, a few years later, to China, a country from which he fled after a semester of teaching at a university where he was excluded from planning a revolution for which he hungered. Eventually he returned to New Orleans only to watch his birthplace, already caught in a “boozy maelstrom of guns and drugs, murder and corruption,” struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Filled with eccentric characters—many of whom Nolan memorializes with included black-and-white photographs—and outrageous situations, Nolan’s work also offers serious, often sardonic reflections on such diverse topics as race, family, consumerism, progress, and the fate of a generation of countercultural idealists.
A wryly eloquent memoir of world travel and the joys, and difficulties, of returning home.