Books Toni Morrison (copy)

This 2012 photo released by Alfred A. Knopf shows author, playwright, editor and professor Toni Morrison, who passed away at the age of 88 on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. On Sunday, Aug. 25, New Orleans writers and others will read from her works at Southern Rep Theatre.

A tribute to Toni Morrison, JPSO race rancor, a state rep upset for Debbie Villio, and a $450 million Superdome makeover. Here's what you need to know in New Orleans this week.

Tribute to Toni Morrison Aug. 25 at Southern Rep

When author Jami Attenberg saw readings of the late Pulitzer-and-Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison’s work popping up around the country, she wanted New Orleanians to pay homage to Morrison as well. She sent out a tweet and a Facebook post, and began planning a reading of Morrison’s work that will take place Sunday, August 25 at Southern Rep Theatre.

Morrison, who died Aug. 5 at 88, was a novelist, playwright, editor and professor at Princeton University known for her novels, including “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved,” that explore black identities and experiences.

“I know Toni Morrison was extremely important and influential to me as a writer. I just genuinely love her work and felt like she reinvented the novel every time she sat down to write,” Attenberg said. “I was really feeling sad for a lot of my peers and feeling like I wanted to honor Miss Morrison, but I also wanted to honor a lot of writers that I know.”

So far, a dozen writers have signed up to read their choice of Morrison’s novels, essays, criticisms and speeches for three- to five- minute slots. Featured readers are novelist and Tulane assistant professor Bernice McFadden; Sarah M. Broom, author of “The Yellow House”; author Ladee Hubbard, poet Kelly Harris, writer and artist Kristina Kay Robinson and others.

McFadden said she was first introduced to Morrison’s work when she was 19, taking a hardcover copy of Morrison’s 1987 novel “Beloved” from her boyfriend’s sister who was away at boarding school at the time. (She still has the copy today.) Though it took nearly a decade before she fully resonated with the material, Morrison’s work expanded McFadden’s possibilities as a writer, she said.

“What Toni did for me through her work was allow me to write the story that I wanted to write without the pressure of writing within or beneath the white gaze,” she said, “to be able to portray black people as black people, and not what white people perceive black people to be. To not write through the lens of whiteness, that's what she gave me permission to do.”

The black-owned Community Book Center next to Southern Rep also will be involved with the event, selling Morrison’s books, as well as some of the other authors’ books in attendance.

“New Orleans is such a hub for culture — not just music but literary culture as well — that it is important to celebrate her because she touched so many lives all around the globe,” McFadden said. “Honestly, every city in America should be having some sort of celebration to honor her and to make sure that people who were unfamiliar with her work [are introduced] to her work as well.”

The free event will take place from 5-7 p.m. — KAYLEE POCHE

Ratcheting up the rancor in the JPSO race

The Jefferson Parish sheriff’s election between incumbent Sheriff Joe Lopinto and former deputy and JPSO spokesman John Fortunato got even more chippy last week, with Fortunato calling Lopinto a liar in a public statement and Lopinto claiming Fortunato is “making up stories in an attempt to remain relevant.”

Lopinto had contacted Gambit political editor Clancy DuBos shortly after the qualifying period closed Aug. 8, saying he had contacted the FBI and state Attorney General Jeff Landry after receiving word that Fortunato would drop his bid if Lopinto would help him become chief of the Causeway Police. Fortunato denies that.

“JOE LOPINTO OWES THE PEOPLE OF JEFFERSON PARISH AN APOLOGY,” Fortunato’s statement began. “The fact is, Lopinto went to great lengths to try to keep me from qualifying against him, directing his own emissary to arrange a meeting with me. That meeting never happened. To suggest that I attempted to bribe Joe Lopinto is absurd and just more of his ‘dirty politics.’” Fortunato went on to claim that “property crimes are soaring” under Lopinto’s watch and that murders in the parish had doubled.

Lopinto quickly released his own statement, saying he had contacted the FBI before Fortunato qualified for the race. “Johnny Fortunato apparently spent all his time reading from prepared statements when he was employed by the Sheriff’s Office,” Lopinto said. “He must have somehow missed hearing that lying to the FBI is a crime.” Lopinto also released 2017 crime statistics from Jefferson Parish, saying his office had reduced them by 24.2% during the same months in 2019. “This is the real world and the real facts,” he concluded, “and not a Fortunato production.” — KEVIN ALLMAN

Villio elected as state rep when three opponents drop out

Debbie Villio, an attorney and Kenner Republican, will replace state Rep. Julie Stokes in House District 79 after all three of Villio’s qualified opponents dropped out of the race within a matter of days.

Former Kenner Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch, political newcomer Remy Goodwin and former interim Jefferson Parish Councilman Jack Rizzuto withdrew within a week of qualifying. All are Republicans.

Stokes, who has held the District 79 seat since 2013, said in a statement last month she hadn’t “stopped to smell the roses for at least seven years.” A diagnosis of breast cancer in 2017 derailed her run for the state treasurer’s seat. Having recovered, she ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state the following year, losing to Kyle Ardoin.

District 79 covers a wide swath of Jefferson Parish, bounded by the St. Charles Parish line, Lakeport Drive, Lake Pontchartrain and W. Esplanade Avenue. — KEVIN ALLMAN

$450M makeover set for Superdome

The State Bond Commission last week gave the Superdome's governing body the go-ahead to sell up to $350 million in bonds to fund a stadium upgrade that is a key part of talks to keep the New Orleans Saints in the city for the next several decades.

The funding approval is a major step for the planned $450 million stadium makeover, the terms of which have been haggled over for years.

Gov. John Bel Edwards welcomed the approval. After several months of talks, he said, "the first major step happened today (that will) keep the Superdome competitive for decades to come."

The Saints and the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, also known as the Superdome Commission, are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding soon to extend the Saints' lease and allow the first phase of the renovation project to get underway early next year.

The initial phase is estimated to cost $100 million and will include removing 80,000 square feet of interior ramps and installing a more fan-friendly system of escalators and elevators. It also calls for constructing a large kitchen and food-service area in space currently being used for parking.

Under the terms of the financing deal, the Saints have agreed to fund a third of the project costs, or up to about $150 million, and the LSED will fund $210 million through issuing bonds. The state would cover the remaining $90 million. — ANTHONY McAULEY | THE NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE