As it was my very first reading and signing ever, and I’m much more comfortable writing than speaking, I was a little nervous as Saturday approached. Add to all that, that the Garden District, New Orleans’ most traditional well-heeled neighborhood is hardly Panther territory, so I wanted to make sure that I was well prepared for my discussion of Showdown in Desire: The Black Panthers Take a Stand in New Orleans.
I practiced a lot, because Melissa had warned me that some authors cry when they read their stuff. I invited the whole world (mostly my good friends came, which was fine with me). I put four little jars of hot pink azaleas on the book table to soften the effect of a black panther jumping out of a red cover.
Standing at the podium in a little mall outside of a quintessential New Orleans book shop surrounded by fine china and embroidered baby clothes and curious tourists waiting for their walking tour, I counted the puzzled expressions as people looked at the posters a win already. It brought back memories for a man named John, but he thought he’d skip the reading because it looked to be a pro-Panther thing.
I delivered my little speech about how I’d gotten involved in the story and I spelled out the dramatic outline. There were some great questions from the audience before I launched into a reading of the Piety street shootout from the point of view of a Panther and of a black cop (same age as the Panther). But before I began reading, the audience was wishing for the perspective of some of the white officers who had tried to evict the Panthers in 1970. The only one I had interviewed was the Chief.
As I was reading the quotes of the black officer, John returned from his walking tour and said to himself, “Hey, I know that guy.” He sat down and when I finished, he introduced himself to the group as a white police officer on the force in 1970, who had ridden in a squad car with Larry Preston Williams, the black officer. I said, “Well, we were just wishing you would show up.”
A spirited discussion ensued and John bought a copy of the book and promised to email me with his reactions.
New Orleans is a small town (smaller than it used to be). It was one of those dazzling spring days, a Saturday when everyone is out, and so you can hardly miss some mystical convergence of unlikely people that remind those of us who are still here why we stay.
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