Between the Covers welcomes local author Ellen Urbani on the launch of her debut novel, Landfall, published by Portland-based national publisher Forest Avenue Press.
At the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Landfall reminds us of all the unfathomable things that occurred during the storm and its aftermath, and relives the human side of the story from ground zero—the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. It shows us all that a body went through.
The story follows two sets of mothers and daughters whose lives collide in a car crash, which two of them don't walk away from. It breaks your heart in Chapter One and that is only the beginning of what author Pat Conroy calls, "a hell of a book, worthy of the storm and times it describes".
Landfall reads like a fever dream—characters living and dead tell the tale, moving through surreal landscapes, as time shifts seamlessly between past and present, heading down roads that are random and predestined, always looking toward the light, and leaning toward joy.
The book explores the extremes to which humans will go to survive, and asks the reader to contemplate what kind of human being they would be under such circumstances. The book illuminates again and again how the smallest, simplest gesture of kindness can mean the whole world to someone, can save a life.
Leigh Anne Kranz
Ellen Urbani is the author of Landfall (Forest Avenue Press, 2015), a work of historical fiction set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the memoir When I Was Elena (The Permanent Press, 2006), a Book Sense Notable selection documenting her life in Guatemala during the final years of that country’s civil war. Her autobiographical essays and short stories have appeared in a variety of bestselling pop-culture anthologies as well as the New York Times.
Ellen earned a B.A. in Writing and Design at the University of Alabama in 1991. After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala from 1991-1993 she returned stateside to obtain a Master of Arts degree in Art Therapy from Marylhurst University in 1996, specializing in oncological illness and trauma survival. She is a renowned speaker on the national lecture circuit, and her work is the subject of a short documentary, Paint Me a Future, which won the Juror’s Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2000, qualifying it for Oscar consideration. As a former mental health specialist for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and advisory board member at the Annenberg Center for Health Science Research, she focused on addressing the emotional repercussions of disease and disaster. This therapeutic perspective informs her characterization of the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Landfall, allowing for a nuanced fictional interpretation of historic events.
Having spent her formative years in Virginia and Alabama, Ellen’s a Southerner at heart—meaning her pets will always be dawgs and any group of two or more is consistently referred to as y’all—though she currently lives on a working farm near Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two young children, and a passel of barnyard pets.