Is there anything better than curling up on the couch (or favorite chair, bed, or bathroom fixture) with a good book, and a bottomless glass of wine? If there is, we can most certainly discuss that later, but, as for now, it is time for the 37th annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival on March 22-26.
A veritable fixture of the New Orleans arts scene, this five-day event brings together a diverse group of authors, actors, and musicians from our region (and across the globe) to the French Quarter, for can't-miss readings, writer's workshops, walking tours, as well as a host of other events expertly curated to entertain and educate our community and its guests.
Conceived after Tennessee Williams's death in 1983, the first festival was a two-day event presented in 1986 that attracted 500 visitors to the city of New Orleans, with the present expanded program drawing well over 10,000 attendees each year. Last year's theme (and the first since 2019) celebrated the 75th anniversary of A Streetcar Named Desire, undoubtedly the most revered work from Williams' storied career. As we look forward to this year's festivities, particularly those enthralling literary discussions, it would be remiss not to give heed to book recommendations to keep you busy this spring, some rooted in New Orleans, but all destined to be experienced in whatever room you so desire.
Crescent Carnival (1942) by Frances Parkinson Keyes
Its striking cover art (by George Mayers) is what draws the eye to the book, but you can also delve into the illustrious traditions of Mardi Gras past, as partaken by three generations of two prominent, New Orleans families—separated, as always, by those pesky religious and political affiliations. From right before the turn of the 20th century to the onset of WWII, lives and loves clash along the captivating French Quarter streets, as only Keyes (the best-selling female author of the 1940's) could so richly describe in that Southern Gothic tradition. Thankfully, this true classic of New Orleans literature has been reprinted and made available online since 2014.
Chariots of the Gods? (1968) by Erich von Däniken
You are either going to love this book or you are going to hate it; there is no in-between. Regardless of whether you believe that ancient civilizations were influenced by extraterrestrial beings (or astronauts) who visited the Earth from the future or not, this is a damn good read. Von Däniken wrote about a dozen other books similar to this one, all containing interesting concepts that connect our past with our future and has sold well over 70 million copies of his work. Can all these people be wrong? Seriously, if you are intrigued by the idea of aging slowly while traveling through space (relative to the folks back home), or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah being caused by a nuclear explosion, then give this fascinating non-fiction (now classified as "controversial literature") masterpiece a look.
This Perfect Day (1970) by Ira Levin
From the author of Rosemary's Baby comes the best sci-fi novel you have never heard of—a dystopian thriller that still unbelievably has not been adapted for the screen over a half-century later. Picture this: Every person on the surface of the Earth is controlled by a computer. "But we are," you say. Perhaps, but this particular computer is known as UniComp, and all humans are given monthly "treatments" to align their will with that of the all-knowing corporation. Boys and girls have one of only four names each, everyone must meet weekly with their advisor, they all eat the same food, and they all die before their 63rd birthday. If only there were a group of individuals to secretly challenge the mother of all status quos. It's also the winner of a 1992 Prometheus Award for excellence in "Libertarian Science Fiction."
Christ the Lord series (2005-2008) by Anne Rice
It's been a little over a year since the legendary New Orleans novelist Anne Rice passed away, and her work is more popular now than it's ever been. With not one, but two television shows adapted from her horror novels airing on AMC currently, it may surprise some readers to find out that Ms. Rice took great pride in her Catholic faith and penned two books about the younger life of Jesus of Nazareth: Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (winner of the 2005 Beliefnet Book of the Year) and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana. The first focuses on Jesus as a boy, with he and his family coming to terms with his divine nature, which was adapted into the 2013 film The Young Messiah. The second attempts to paint a reverent portrait of some of those missing biblical years that scholars have debated for centuries, culminating in the famous "water into wine" miracle. Check them both out just in time for Easter.
Still Waters (2022) by Jenna Caldwell
A powerful and engrossing imagining of a life that could have been but didn't have the chance. Based upon the unfortunate true story of George Stinney Jr., who, at the age of 14, was the youngest person ever put to death for a crime in the United States. The conviction was later vacated due to insufficient evidence. It is here that Caldwell presents an alternate version of his life, one which didn't end in a South Carolina execution chamber. It follows George as he grew up and became a high school teacher, with a wife and three kids of his own. But, get this, he doesn't recognize himself or the world around him, remembering only the tragic past that defined him as a child. Just released this past August, Caldwell offers her readers plenty of food for thought concerning a case that deserves to be dissected as much as possible.