Few can bring more into focus the extraordinary intertwined roots of New Orleans’ cultural vitality than Walter Isaacson.
He saw it growing up in Central City and Broadmoor a generation ago.
“The diversity of a city, like New Orleans, helps add to its creativity,” Isaacson told Humanities magazine in an interview about his career in letters.
For Isaacson, the city remains a remarkable confection, from the roots of jazz and Southern literature and the food that adds particular spice to the mix.
“Even with all the frictions that diversity causes, as it certainly did in the early 1960s in New Orleans, it led also to friendships and creativity,” Isaacson said.
He reminisced about his youth in a wide-ranging interview about the range of books he has written, and his career as journalist, author and head of the Aspen Institute. He also served on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco in the dark days after Hurricane Katrina, when Louisiana needed all the friends it could get in national circles.
Tapped to deliver the 43rd Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities on Monday in Washington, Isaacson will focus on the intersection of the humanities and the sciences — reasonably enough for a biographer of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs.
We look forward to his thoughts on that broad subject, but we also note that neither humanities, nor sciences, emerge from individuals alone — “able to make a dent in the universe,” as Jobs put it to Isaacson. Rather, there is a nexus of people and ideas and the kind of flavors in life that have made New Orleans so unique and interesting.
“We biographers sometimes distort history by making look like it was only single individuals who had the light bulb moments and came up with new ideas,” Isaacson told Humanities. “My own instinct, from having read history and having lived amid a lot of transformative events, is that creativity tends to come from people bouncing ideas around together.”
For that reason, we continue to be extraordinarily optimistic about the region that centers on New Orleans and the entire river region. We see newcomers and deeply rooted families intertwining into the kind of creative culture that prospers in a knowledge-driven economy.
“What really matters,” Isaacson said of innovators, “is being imaginative or creative and being able to think a little bit differently.”
We’ve got that covered, for the better part of 300 years.