Since Hurricane Katrina, no other writer has tapped into the emotions of storm-weary Louisianans like Rose. His first post-hurricane column, "Who We Are," introduced the rest of the world to displaced south Louisiana residents with a mix of sincerity, humor and gratitude that resonated so deeply it sparked more than 3,000 e-mails to Rose.
And the avalanche of reader response hasn't slowed down. As a result of the 50-plus columns he's written since Aug. 29, Rose has received more than 10,000 e-mails from around the world. "It's uncomfortable for me to talk about, because I entered a realm I did not seek," Rose says via cell phone while taking a break from painting his house in New Orleans. "In the early days [after the hurricane], I just got on my bike and started riding around Uptown through the Garden district, the French Quarter and [Faubourg] Marigny, and I fell into this surrealistic chronicle. And everybody here had a story. I just sort of became the emotional flashpoint for everyone's stories. There's the sensory overload of it and then the emotional fallout of this thing."
For longtime readers of The Times-Picayune, reading Rose's recent work is akin to witnessing a remarkable artistic transformation. In the last decade, Rose had settled into a comfortable groove as the paper's gossip/entertainment columnist. He covered Britney Spears relentlessly, interviewed visiting celebrities in a "Sixty-Second Interview" format, and chronicled the boom of Hollywood films using New Orleans as a prime shooting location. His columns were mostly light, with plenty of one-liners, and whenever a superstar like Jamie Foxx got into trouble while carousing in the Crescent City, Rose provided all the tabloid details.
But Rose was part of a remarkable team of Times-Picayune reporters who provided some of the most important and compelling journalism in the wake of the hurricane. As Editor Jim Amoss temporarily moved the paper's base of operations to Houma and Baton Rouge in the immediate wake of the storm, Rose huddled in New Orleans with an unlikely group of colleagues that included New Orleans Saints beat writer Jeff Duncan, art critic Doug MacCash, music writer Keith Spera and restaurant critic Brett Anderson to provide a ground-level view of the chaos in the city. That exhausted crew of sports and arts-and-entertainment writers helped catalog some of the horrors at sites like the Convention Center and Lakeview.
When the immediate danger subsided, Rose was left to ponder the emotional blackness that filled so much of New Orleans. And he did it alone, as his wife and three children had evacuated to Maryland. In one stretch, he wrote a number of columns that painfully captured the psyche of the city with searing details. "The Storm that Keeps on Killing" detailed the suicide of a new neighbor he'd just met a few weeks before the man killed himself; "1 Dead in Attic" was a harrowing travelogue of sorts that found Rose driving through the Ninth Ward, unable to escape the questions and images that plagued his mind when he saw FEMA markings such as "1 Dead in Attic" on houses.
"As time went on, I became a little unglued there," remembers Rose. "That dark stretch there, I started getting e-mails from strangers asking, 'Are you OK?' I just hit an emotional note over and over and over. People were reading about levees and looting and reconstruction and FEMA, and in the end a lot of them seemed to be getting a visceral feel for what's going on in my columns. The whole process gave me a deep and profound understanding and respect for mental illnesses. I spent a lot of November and December with shaking hands and curled into a fetal position. I couldn't will myself out of it. When my kids came back [to New Orleans], I got cured. I needed to have something to hang onto.
"What kept me going is the response from the stories," he continues. "The stories were getting out there, not only here in town, and I felt like I was part of the lifeline for folks out of town. Those e-mails make me feel like I'm doing something important."
As numerous Louisiana political and editorial writers experienced a renewed sense of civic engagement and took on politicians and politics-as-usual with fury and emotion, Rose also headed into new personal and professional territory. In another one of his memorable columns, "Lurch Lessons," he described an unexpected confrontation in a drugstore parking lot:
"I was at my local Circle K the other day, sitting in my car in a borderline catatonic state when I witnessed a guy in a truck in the parking lot wadding up a ball of trash and throwing it out his window," he wrote. "I have silently witnessed this sight a million times over the past 20 years. On Broad Street, on Magazine Street, in the French Quarter, everywhere. It's almost like litter is a part of our heritage.
"Well, I snapped. I got out of my car and approached the offending vehicle and I tapped on the guy's window. During my walk to said vehicle, a very loud voice inside my head said to me: Don't do this. You are not well. It's none of your business. But there are lots of voices in my head these days â?¦
"We looked at each other. And then I said ' or maybe I screamed: 'You can't do this anymore!' â?¦ The guy was frozen in his seat. He was no doubt wishing he had gone to Winn-Dixie or the Stop-and-Go or anyplace else but this Circle K. But here we were. I laid it out on this poor sap. I said, 'We've got to change. We can't go back to the way we were and the way we were was people just throwing crap in the streets like it doesn't matter. We need to do better. We need to change.' â?¦
"There is no lesson here," wrote Rose. "No moral. Other than we have to erase all the bad things we used to do around here ' big and small ' if we want to survive. We need to be civil. We need to be clean. We need to change. We need to respect ourselves and our city."
While Rose half-jokes that he "got a little preachy there for a while" in some of his columns, he knows that old journalism models won't cut it in post-Katrina New Orleans. "This whole thing has tossed out the notion of objective journalism," he says. "We're fighting for the survival of our jobs and our city."
As New Orleans and Louisiana tries to keep that message alive in Washington, D.C., Rose will help beat the drum with the release of his new book, 1 Dead in Attic, a collection of his finest post-Katrina columns. The first printing of the book is 7,500 copies and will be available at Rose's Web site (www.chrisrosebooks.com) and his book signings. "There have already have been [Katrina] books, but I think what I've got here is something others don't, which is immediacy," he says. "It wasn't ruminated over. I went out, did it, and wrote it. It has an emotional edge that no one else is going to capture and I thought it was a worthy literary component to this whole ordeal. Historically, it tells a small story, but it's emotional, and I think people want to have and remember that."
St. Patty's Day crafts
The former star of Saturday Night Live throws in his 2 cents on the Big Oil lawsuit.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.