Tom Wooten

Hello, my name is Tom, and I am a nutria.I first came to New Orleans in February of 2007 as part of a house gutting team. I returned that summer, fell in love with New Orleans, and moved here for good after graduating from college in 2008. On a research grant from the Harvard Kennedy School, I spent my first year in the city doing the bulk of the research for We Shall Not Be Moved. Then, hoping to contribute in a more hands-on way to the city’s recovery, I taught fifth and sixth grade writing at KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts for two years as a Teach for America corps member. I spent the 2011-2012 academic year finishing We Shall Not Be Moved, teaching a seminar for sixth graders at McDonogh 15, and writing case studies for the Harvard Kennedy School. In my free time, I play the fiddle for a couple of up-and-coming local bands, which consist of a healthy mix of natives and nutrias.

Starting in August of 2012, I will split my time between New Orleans and Cambridge, MA, where I will begin to pursue a PhD in sociology at Harvard. I plan to focus on kids and education in New Orleans.

Be sure to check out my author website, where you will also find information about my other book, No One Had a Tongue to Speak

1. Backstory: Donn, the proprietor of a tattoo parlor that operates below my apartment, recently hosted a crawfish boil. While he tended the roaring propane burner and stirred the forty-gallon pot, I sidled up for some conversation. We discussed the secret to keeping crawfish tender (pour ice into the pot after the critters have boiled for 2-3 minutes), the competition between the 400 legal and semi-legal tattoo parlors in greater New Orleans, and nutrias. According to Wikipedia, the ultimate arbiter of truth, a nutria is a “large, herbivorous, semiaquatic rodent and the only member of the family Myocastoridae.” According to Donn, I am a nutria. He means no disrespect.

“After the levees broke, and all of these different folks started moving down here, my friends and I started to refer to them as New Orleanians,” Donn told me, stressing the first syllable of the descriptor instead of the third. “But after a while, that got cumbersome. And then I thought, ‘Nutrias!’” I started laughing, but Donn wasn’t joking. “No, no, hear me out,” he said. “I know everyone calls them nutria rats, but really they’re more closely related to rabbits. And I know they’re an invasive species, eating all of the cypress shoots and killing the wetlands. But the point is, they’re here to stay. They’re part of the landscape now.”