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Local Book Recommendations for Tennessee Williams Fest and Beyond

07:00 March 20, 2024
By: Jeff Boudreaux

Spring Reads

Reading a good book is one of life's great joys. Ask any lover of literature and they will corroborate this statement. Furthermore, we are so lucky to call home a city that commemorates our special relationship with the printed word each year.

Yes, friends, it's time for the 38th Annual Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival. From March 20-24, authors from all over the globe will diverge upon New Orleans to share the love of their craft with an adoring public (who's always hungry for more reading material). If you've never taken part in this festival, do yourself a favor and attend a lecture from an award-winning author or, if you're so inclined, take part in one of the writer's workshops. Artistically speaking, this is the place to be if you either wish to write or just love books in general.

With the spirit of the great Tennessee Williams alive and in the air, check out these NOLA-themed book recommendations to keep you busy in and around the festival:

The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin

[QT Publishing]

Any discussion of classic New Orleans literature just has to include this groundbreaking text of a married woman's sudden desire to liberate all aspects of her being—be it physical, intellectual, or sexual. Yes, this book is as important as it sounds. From the vivid portraits of the French Creole way of life to the smashing of societal norms in the name of female empowerment, Chopin has created a textbook account of feminist thought, one that is just as powerful five quarter-centuries after its publication.

Unfavorably reviewed at the turn of the 19th century (the prudes), Chopin's masterpiece of feminist literature wasn't fully appreciated until its rediscovery in the 1970s—when New Orleans was quick to embrace this relocated Missourian into our permanent culture and heritage. Available in paperback, as an audiobook, or for free online.

The Moviegoer (1961) by Walker Percy

[Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books]

Winner of the U.S. National Book Award and praised as one of the best 100 English-language novels by TIME, Percy's debut novel is an existentialist masterpiece, set against 1950s, post-Korean War, New Orleans. Truly, the protagonist, Jack "Binx" Bolling, is one of those 20th century Southern literary heroes that should probably be recognized in the same class as Rhett Butler (Mitchell), Atticus Finch (Lee), and Ignatius J. Reilly (Toole).

Bolling is a movie-loving stockbroker who embarks on a quest for spiritual redemption at Mardi Gras (makes perfect sense). This book will thrill and delight the reader, who may just see a little bit of themselves in Mr. Bolling. Available in audiobook format or wherever books are sold.

The Feast of All Saints (1979) by Anne Rice


The late, legendary Anne Rice appears on this list because, well, she's Anne Rice—the queen of New Orleans fiction. This historical novel examines the bittersweet plight of free people of color, set against the backdrop of the French Quarter in 1840. As opposed to slaves in the pre-Civil War South, the offspring of miscegenation (forced or otherwise) were afforded a status that could be construed as a blessing or a curse—or possibly both.

A thrilling and violent study of clashing class structures, you can find this book in whatever format you choose. To delve further into captivating stories concerning NOLA's free people of color, make sure to also seek out a copy of Charles Waddell Chesnutt's unpublished 1921 novel Paul Marchand, F.M.C.

Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children: . . . and Other Streets of New Orleans! (2001) by John Chase


Now for the nonfiction selection of the list—a delightful read that is guaranteed to both educate and entertain. First published in 1949 (and updated several times over), Chase offers a one-of-a-kind, humorous history of the fascinating NOLA streets we've grown to love (but perhaps have scratched our heads wondering where they derive from).

As you may recall, a few of the thoroughfares in our beloved city have gone through some name changes of their own in recent years. Here, you can learn exactly what sorts of people and places have been chosen throughout the ages for immortalization on our roadways. Will their names someday be on the chopping block? Only time will tell. Available in paperback or on Kindle.

Things We Lost to the Water (2021) by Eric Nguyen

[Vintage Books]

Ah, the Bildungsroman. Who doesn't love a good coming-of-age story? The sheer excitement of following a young man or woman from adolescence to adulthood sheds a generational light upon the characters that is, frankly, unequaled in the annals of literature. It is why classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye have remained in the cultural lexicon and continue to enthrall so many readers to this very day. Eric Nguyen has created a story that may one day be equally celebrated as such.

This poignant novel follows the plight of a family of refugees from Vietnam, beginning its setting at the tail end of the post-war 1970s and their relocation to the city of New Orleans. The lives and loves of the now-single mother Hương, as well as her two sons Tuấn and Bình, are juxtaposed with that of the boys' father Công, who chooses to remain in the country of his birth. As events unfold that will define each member of this family, a fateful day in 2005 will change their lives forever. Available everywhere books are sold.

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