This chapter begins with a personal narrative of Katrina, positioning the author as a survivor-ethnographer, and describes the book’s origins in Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston, a survivor-centered documentation project. The chapter explains how theoretical approaches to personal narrative, social trauma, and public memory influence the model put forth here of “public disaster,” or the public dimensions of narrating and remembering large-scale disasters. It describes the appeals and challenges of circulating personal narratives, and makes the case that, adapted in a variety of genres, those narratives perpetuate negative stereotypes. Because scholars in folklore and related fields are equipped to study vernacular responses to tragedy, employ methods of discourse analysis, and understand contextualization of narratives, they can show how survivors integrate themselves into processes of narration and commemoration, and advocate for such integration in future publication and memorialization. The introduction concludes with a chapter summary.
Keywords: Social trauma, Personal narrative, Public memory, Folklore, Contextualization