In 2007, already a father to a teenage daughter, Bailey, Cornell and his second wife were blessed with a daughter, Corrine. When Corrine was just about a year old, Cornell found his beloved city in despair in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Everywhere he turned, he heard naysayers having what he called a New Orleans pity party. He knew that this was not the vision he wanted his baby daughter to have about the place she would call home.
Corrine’s bedtime routine involved reading a bedtime story. Cornell found the selection repetitive and uninspiring. He decided that he would take on the task of molding his daughter’s perception about the place he adored. He would write a bedtime story about NOLA. His first children’s book—Goodnight NOLA— was published in 2009, and now has over 50,000 copies in print.
Since that time, he has written five more New Orleans-centric books. “I wanted Corrine to know that she was growing up in a special place, full of tradition,” he says. “I wanted to shine a light on the beauty and uniqueness of our city and let her know she has so much to be proud of.”
These days, Cornell is busy living the life of a bona fide children’s author, as he promotes his newest book, Happy Mardi Gras. Cornell travels the Gulf Coast region visiting and educating school children on New Orleans and her many gifts. On a recent visit to a school in Lafayette, he was introduced to his biggest fan, a four-year-old boy from Lafayette, Louisiana, who though he cannot read, can recite every book Cornell has written from memory.
Back at home, Cornell says one his favorite things about New Orleans is Sunday morning, strolling the French Quarter, hearing the calliope on the Steamboat Natchez , smelling the smells from Café Du Monde and feeling the rhythm and heartbeat of the city. “There is no other place where absolutely all of your senses come into play when you experience it.”