The 2016 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival has announced its line-up for its 30th anniversary event to be held March 30, 2016 to April 3, 2016 in locations around the city’s iconic French Quarter. As always, there will be theatrical works, literary, and cultural events and much more to celebrate its patron playwright, his works, and literary life.
The festival began in 1986 and has grown into a five-day literary event featuring master classes, Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, discussions among distinguished panelists, celebrity interviews, a scholars' conference, walking tours, book fair, writing competitions, a breakfast book club, theater, food and music events and special evening events and social gatherings.
“The 30th anniversary Festival will be a landmark event in New Orleans literary culture,” said executive director Paul J. Willis. “Our 2016 program is one for the books and will bring together festival veterans, such as Dorothy Allison, Rick Bragg, Dick Cavett, Yusef Komunyakaa, and John Lahr as well as highlight festival first-timers including Alys Arden, Alexander Chee, and Claire Vaye Watkins. We’re excited to continue to grow and expand this historic event honoring Tennessee Williams in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home.’”
The 30th anniversary speaker line-up includes:
Megan Abbott, Edgar-winning noir crime writer, whose latest book, “The Fever,” is being adapted for an MTV show;
Dorothy Allison, award-winning author of “Cavedweller” and the forthcoming “She Who;”
Alys Arden, New Orleans native who parlayed her self-published novel “The Casquette Girls” into a two-book deal;
Cynthia Bond, the New York Times best-selling author of the novel “Ruby,” which is the latest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection;
Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” “All Over But the Shoutin;’”
Dick Cavett, the Emmy-winning broadcaster, who interviewed many cultural icons including Tennessee Williams, and author of the recent books “Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets,” and “Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments, and Assorted Hijinks;”
Alexander Chee, Whiting Writers Award-winning author of the novel “Edinburgh” and the forthcoming “The Queen of the Night;”
Beth Henley, the Pulitzer-winning playwright of “Crimes of the Heart,” who recently adapted Tennessee Williams’ short story, “The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin,” for stage as a one-act;
Yusef Komunyakaa, the Pulitzer-winning poet and author of “Emperor of Water Clocks,” who is also the judge of our 2016 Poetry Contest;
John Lahr, senior drama critic at The New Yorker, author of the highly-acclaimed biography, “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” and “Joy Ride: Show People and Their Shows;”
Claire Vaye Watkins, author of the critically-acclaimed “Battleborn” and newly-released “Gold Fame Citrus,” who is judging our 2016 Fiction Contest.
Literary highlights include panel discussions on a wide range of topics: “Writing the Mississippi River,” “Larger than Life: The Biographer’s Craft,” “Southern Literary Travels,” and “Tennessee Williams’ Short Stories,” to name a few.
Speakers will also discuss the representations of the Civil War in our time (in a special presentation by The Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans), New Orleans in the 1930s (in a panel of talk and music curated by Xavier University), spiritual life in Louisiana, and much more. Our popular Breakfast Book Club will discuss Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” with facilitator Gary Richards presiding.
Also during the festival weekend this year, Saints and Sinners (SAS), our annual LGBT literary event, will take place. Now in its 13th year, SAS gathers the local, national, and international LGBT literary community. Featured authors will include Michael Thomas Ford, Jewelle Gomez, Ellen Hart, Felice Picano, and many others. Visit sasfest.org for more details.
Eight master classes for writers and avid readers feature noted authors and editors who will share literary tips, techniques and current industry trends. Among this year’s sessions: Rick Bragg will discuss literary place; Dorothy Allison will reveal the tricks of sustaining story; and Megan Abbott will mediate on fictional mood-making.
Theater offerings will include “Orpheus Descending,” a classic Tennessee Williams play presented in partnership with Southern Rep Theatre. Stars Beth Bartley, Brenda Currin, and Irene Glezos are members of the cast of Tennessee’s re-imagining of the classical Orpheus myth.
The NOLA Project theater company will stage a late night production of Christopher Durang’s “For Whom The Southern Belle Tolls.” This light-hearted take on Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” is one of Durang’s most popular one-acts. Led by improv comedy maven Cecile Monteyne, The NOLA Project will present a new rendition of “By Any Scenes Necessary,” a fast-paced rollicking improv dedicated to Tennessee.
Festival celebrities will gather at a new venue, The Jaxson on the River, to stage the annual tribute to Williams and read selections of his work around the theme of “Tennessee Williams the Poet.” Also, in honor of the 30th anniversary, the Festival will bring back “Tennessee’s Got Talent,” an evening dedicated to showcasing New Orleans’ vibrant theater companies presenting scenes from Williams’ canon and rarely produced works.
Rounding out the Williams marquée, Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré will present Williams’ elegiac masterpiece “The Glass Menagerie” directed by Maxwell Williams. This “memory play” is one of America’s most powerful, timeless, and compelling works of theater.
Music plays at “Drummer & Smoke,” the Festival’s series of Sunday offerings, including a session on the Music of the Mississippi with Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes; a tribute to Percy Mayfield, the Louisiana-born songwriter of the classic “Hit the Road Jack;” and a sampling of Southern Rep’s BOUDIN: The New Orleans Music Project.
Food events bring added zest and flavor to the offerings. Louisiana culinary historian Poppy Tooker will celebrate the iconic New Orleans restaurant with an event showcasing her latest book, “Tujague's Cookbook: Creole Recipes and Lore in the New Orleans Grand Tradition.” Meanwhile, at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau Restaurant, Caroline Randall Williams will discuss a hundred years of her family’s recipes from her book, “Soul Food Love.”
Most of the events take place in New Orleans' historic French Quarter: Hotel Monteleone, the Festival’s host hotel; The Historic New Orleans Collection; Williams Research Center; Hermann-Grima House; The Jaxson on the River; Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré; Dickie Brennan’s Tableau Restaurant; Muriel's Jackson Square Restaurant; Tujague’s Restaurant; and Palm Court Jazz Cafe; among others.
A Festival Panel Pass is $75 ($60 for students); a One-Day Pass is $30; theater/special events range from $10-$100; master classes are $25; the Scholars Conference is $20; walking tours are $25.Group rates on request. Group rates are 20% off for groups of five or more.
For more information, call (504) 581-1144 or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.
Cheré Dastugue Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.