The 2014 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans literary festival kicked off Thursday, March 20 in the French Quarter. Although pieces of the festival focus on its namesake (like the Tennessee Williams Scholar’s Conference and several theater productions), the event is about so much more than Tennessee Williams. It’s about a love of New Orleans and of literature, and whether you’re a book nerd, a foodie, a drama geek, or a jazz maven, there’s something for you. With such a plethora of master classes, panels, discussions, theater productions, and special events, it’s easy to get lost in the program trying to determine what you want to see. In an effort to help you from getting overwhelmed, I’m going to share my personal itinerary of things that look most interesting to me for the rest of the weekend. You can also check out Chris Waddington’s article on navigating the festival on Nola.com, Waddington’s festival guide, or the festival website.
Saturday, March 22, 2014:
11:30 a.m.: True Crime: The Writer as Investigator, Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant
Writers Megan Abbott (Dare Me), Ethan Brown (Shake the Devil Off), Mary H. Manhein (The Bone Lady) discuss how crime writers get to the truth through personal experience, research, and forensic investigation. Moderated by Laura Lippman, author of the acclaimed Tess Monaghan P.I. series and sponsored by Mystery Writers of America.
1:00 p.m.: Death and Desire, Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant
Four amazing crime writers, Megan Abbott (Dare Me), Gwen Florio (Pinckley Prize winning author of Montana), Bill Loehfelm (The Devil In Her Way), and Laura Lippman (Tess Monaghan P.I. series), discuss desire and how it drives their work – and sometimes results in death. Moderated by local mystery author Greg Herren and sponsored by Mystery Writers of America.
1:30 p.m.: New Orleans Classic Celebrations: Recipes from Favorite Restaurants, Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro, $30
Although it does cost a little extra, this is sure to be a lively event when Peggy Scott Laborde, Poppy Tooker, and Kit Wohl get together to reminisce about New Orleans celebrations found in Wohl’s new book New Orleans Classic Celebrations. The price of admission includes food and a signed copy of Wohl’s book.
2:30 p.m.: Conversation with Hilton Als, Hotel Monteleone Queen Ann Ballroom
Hilton Als is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and he will discuss his collection of essays titled White Girls, which offers broad cultural reach – fashion, music, literature, film, comedy – with John Freeman, author of How to Read a Novelist and former editor of Granta.
4:00 p.m.: The Great American Literary Journal, Williams Research Center
Panelists John Freeman (How to Read a Novelist), Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist), Jonathan Lee (Joy), and Michelle Wildgen (Bread and Butter) discuss the future of literary journals in the Internet age where millions of writers and editors have a voice – and what happens when everyone tries to talk at once. Moderated by Laura van den Berg (The Isle of Youth).
5:00 p.m.: Pinckley Prizes, Beauregard-Keyes House, $10
The Women’s National Book Association will present the first annual Pinckley Prizes for crime fiction, named in honor of the late Diana Pinckley. The prize for Crime Fiction Debut Novel will be presented to Gwen Florio (Montana), and the prize for Achievement in Crime Fiction will be presented to Laura Lippman (Tess Monaghan P.I. series). The winners will read from their work, and two time Pulitzer fiction jury chair Susan Larson will facilitate a conversation with the winning authors.
8:00 p.m.: Literary Late Night – Elmore Leonard was from Here: A Tribute, Hotel Monteleone Queen Ann Ballroom, $20
The People Say Project presents a tribute to Elmore Leonard, who passed away in August 2013. Leonard was born in New Orleans, and local crime writers, reporters, and rising stars will read from Leonard’s work. Burlesque performers and a live band will play and perform to soundtracks from his popular films.
Sunday, March 23, 2014:
10:00 a.m.: New Orleans Enduring Traditions, Hotel Monteleone, Queen Ann Ballroom
Four New Orleanians, Rick Barton (In the Wake of the Flagship), Carolyn Kolb (New Orleans Memories), Errol Laborde (Mardi Gras), and Michael Patrick Welch will discuss the importance of history and tradition in preserving the beautiful oddity that is New Orleans. Moderated by Peggy Scott Laborde and sponsored by the Selley Foundation.
11:30 a.m.: Sing Me a Story, Tell Me a Song, Palm Court Jazz Cafe
Storytellers David Simon (Homicide), Tom Piazza (Why New Orleans Matters), and Luke Winslow-King consider the literary power of songwriting with journalist and host of WWNO’s “Music Inside Out,” Gwen Thompkins.
1:00 p.m.: Roll With It: Integrating Words, Art, and Music, Palm Court Jazz Cafe
Matt Sakakeeny and Willie Birch discuss their book Roll With It, joining members of the Hot 8 Brass Band in a lively discussion on jazz funerals, second line parades, Mardi Gras Indian ceremonies, and other local cultural forms. The Hot 8 will perform selections throughout the presentation.
4:15 p.m.: Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, Jackson Square
You can’t go to the Tennessee Williams Festival and NOT see the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest. At this popular event closing out the festival, contestants shout “STELLLLAAAAA!!!” or “STANLEEEEEYYYY!!!” to try to rival Stanley Kowalski’s shout in the unforgettable scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Come with pipes prepared. Free and open to the public.