Tom Wooten grew up outside of Boston and attended college at Harvard. Tom and his college roommate Utpal Sandesara researched the 1979 Machhu Dam Disaster, which the Guinness Book of World Records lists as the deadliest dam collapse in history. The flood washed away the city of Morbi in Gujarat State, India, where Utpal’s family lived.
The rigid top-down recovery imposed on Morbi by Gujarat’s government piqued Tom’s interest. He wondered what a “grassroots” recovery would look like, one in which the vision and implementation for rebuilding comes directly from disaster survivors. For better and for worse, this type of recovery was taking place in New Orleans. Tom traveled there for the first time in 2007 to conduct research for his undergraduate thesis.
After graduating in 2008, Tom returned to New Orleans on a grant from the Harvard Kennedy School and spent the subsequent year expanding upon his research. From 2009 to 2011, he taught 5th and 6th grade writing at KIPP McDonogh 15 School for the Creative Arts. Then, he wrote case studies for the Harvard Kennedy School, taught a seminar at McDonogh 15 designed to foster critical and creative thought, and played the fiddle in several local bands.
Prometheus published Tom and Utpal’s book about the Machhu Dam Disaster, No One Had a Tongue to Speak, in 2011 . Beacon Press published Tom’s book about New Orleans recovery efforts, We Shall Not Be Moved: Rebuilding Home in the Wake of Katrina, in 2012. Tom is currently a PhD candidate in sociology at Harvard, conducting research about kids and schools in New Orleans.