Words and Music

Literary festivals rock New Orleans

By: By Marci DeWolf

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Words & Music, A Literary Feast in New Orleans
Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society

Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival


Stella Shouting Contest // (c) NewOrleansOnline
Stella Shouting Contest
© New Orleans Online

It’s hard to imagine that a full force hurricane hit New Orleans with devastating force three years ago. Today, the French Quarter is back to its former glory, rollicking, rocking and jazzed up with the blues and Dixieland music that blasts from Bourbon Street. And it seems that revelers are partying at a lively roster of festivals to celebrate the city’s comeback.

New Orleans festivals and fairs are an important draw for clients because they give a vacation to the Crescent City focus, whether the theme is food, wine or music.

New Orleans’ two annual literary festivals — the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and Words & Music, A Literary Feast in New Orleans — are the city’s most successful and enduring gatherings of celebrities, literati, writers, and tourists.

The 2008 Williams festival was the largest in its 22-year history, with a legion of attendees frequenting some 100 events during a five-day span. The festival attracted a wide spectrum of luminaries, including stage and screen star Marian Seldes, who joined actor Jeremy Lawrence, film critic/raconteur Rex Reed and Tony award-winning playwright Terrence McNally.

"This was a stellar year for us. We are up to pre-Katrina numbers," said executive director Paul Willis. "Veteran festival-goers from around the country were back in full force, and new events like ‘Tennessee’s Got Talent,’ plus an expanded music program and songwriting panel, brought in a whole new wave of enthusiasts."

Theater productions, lively panel discussions, master classes, receptions and parties were other popular activities. There were also walking tours, book club events and lots of live music. Festival goers often dressed as their favorite Tennessee Williams characters.

For a real scream, there was the much awaited, traditional closing event — the Stanley and Stella shouting contest in Jackson Square. (This year’s contest can be seen via video on the festival Web site, www.tennesseewilliams.net.)

While the festivals showcase national and regional scholars and writers, clients do not have to be authors or even aspiring writers to enjoy themselves. Those who support the arts or want to learn about the city of New Orleans and Southern literature, while meeting local residents, will feel quite at home.

Tennessee Williams, the revered son of New Orleans, wrote some of his best known works while residing in the French Quarter, including the play, "A Streetcar Named Desire." The festival offers tours of Williams’ hangouts, such as his apartment and numerous watering holes.

The Williams festival has never missed a year, including 2006, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the next one is scheduled for March 25-29, 2009.

Words & Music, A Literary Feast in New Orleans will take place Nov. 19-23. This year will pay tribute to the Roaring ’20s and The Great Gatsby, one of the classic American novels. Fitzgerald, like Williams, lived in New Orleans for a while and was inspired by the city and its music.

The principal venue for the Words & Music festival will be the AAA four-Diamond Hotel Monteleone at 214 Royal Street. The hotel — a festival sponsor — is the only New Orleans hotel designated as a National Literary Landmark, according to general manager Ron Pincus. Here, agents get a special rate — $169 per night, based on double occupancy — plus l0 percent commission on bookings. The hotel has a heated rooftop pool and fitness center.

The theme for the 2008 festival is The American Dream, and its highlights will be the Nov. 21 Gershwin and Gatsby events, featuring a "Rhapsody in Blue" piano recital and a talk by the author of Fitzgerald’s biography, Fool for Love.

Other literary events planned are: So You Want to be A Rock Star and The Pleasures and Perils of Writing a Memoir. Event-goers can also take a look at the fading American Dream through the eyes of noted writers such as Jack Fuller, author of Abbeyville.

Parties and author luncheons at top New Orleans dining establishments are among daytime choices, while Jazz After Hours at the historic Napoleon House, with music from Broadway to Tin Pan Alley, are on tap for nightlife activities.

There will also be food, wine and music at the Tall Tales Competition, starring Southern Humorist and best-selling writer Roy Blount, Jr. who will lead this literary romp. It will be held in the Herman Grima House, a magnificent Creole mansion.