Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, Katrina Survivor in Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” Has Published Her First Book; Now Appears in “Treme”
This is from the Times Picayune, August 13, 2008:
[…]LeBlanc has chronicled her storm experience — and her comeback — in a new book, Not Just the Levees Broke: My Life Before and After Katrina (Atria Books, $20), due to be released Tuesday. It presents her raw, unvarnished narrative of struggling to keep her head above floodwaters, to keep her loved ones together, to make a new life.
She wrote the book in a FEMA trailer, where she cowered in closets during thunderstorms and made frequent trips to the corner store for Jack Daniels and Coke, her “liquid courage,” as she says.
“I’ve always written, since the third grade,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a means of comfort, of making things better, a way to get things out of my system. I’ve always been a purging personality, so to speak. If it’s outside of me, it can’t do any damage.”
Writing the book became a serious commitment when “Levees” wrapped and Lee introduced LeBlanc to editor Malaika Adero at Atria Books. Lee also wrote the introduction to her book.
After an initial manuscript, mostly poetry, was rejected, LeBlanc settled down to work on her narrative (“I put my soul into it,” she said), and then landed a $100,000 publishing contract.
“It was like, whoa!” LeBlanc said, reliving the joy of that moment. “Spike literally put (the book deal) in my hand. And I asked him why, and he said, ‘I saw something in you — you have a gift. I know you know you already have it, but the world needs to see this.'”
Then the real work began, and it was work LeBlanc had to do the hard way — alone, in that trailer, at the computer.
“So all in 2006, I’m writing while I’m still in the situation,” LeBlanc said. “I wrote until my fingers couldn’t type any more, until my heart couldn’t take any more. Sometimes my heart would get really, really full and I couldn’t write anymore because you know if I write this, I’m going to die right here, and I can’t have my husband come home from work and find me here. And that’s how visual it was for me, that I would just die right here of heartache.
“And nobody knew about it. It was between me, my soul and I, the turmoil, the suffering. I didn’t want anybody else to know about it because everybody else was going through it…. But God has led me forward, and I need to let go of that pain. I feel hope.”
Writing gave her that. “It was such huge therapy. That’s what I told Spike — ‘You saved my life!'”
I know that’s right.
LeBlanc now appears as Antoine Batiste’s (Wendell Pierce) girlfriend Desirée on the HBO show, and the mother of his child (Batiste has two other children–sons–with an ex-wife). The T-P article said that she was planning a second book to talk about domestic abuse during her childhood, and I had hoped to see it by now on the Amazon.com shelves, but it was not there. Yet.
LeBlanc is from a large and well-known New Orleans family. Her cousin is the late [Allison] “Tootie” Montana, the Mardi Gras Indian “chief of chiefs.” She has two older sisters (Gina also appeared in When the Levees Broke), two younger sisters and a younger brother.
“That’s why I talk so fast,” she said. “I’m a middle child, and I get in while I can.”
But her mother, sister Gina and nephew are still living in Texas; the rest have scattered all over the country.
I wish LeBlanc all the best with the show, and hope that she’ll take the time in the future to finish that book. It’s just another way of hearing her voice once more and with the great feeling of which she is capable.