[Kimberly Farmer/Unsplash]

Tenessee Williams Literary Festival

00:00 March 18, 2013
By: Phil LaMancusa
[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]


Over the years that we have been doing the annual TWNOLF aide memoire, we've wondered what would be the perfect edition of Where Y'at to place this important information. Should we put it in the March issue, when you would have to make plans a month in advance and quite probably forget, or put it in April, when it's "pack up the babies and grab the old ladies"? Guess which one we chose? Yep, you're reading it! And if you're reading this after March 24th , you've missed it again if you weren't prepared.

This literary festival will feature talks with prolifi c fi ction and nonfi ction authors, along with Pulitzer Prize winners and remarkable actors highlighting literary panel discussions and theater performances. Illustrious participants all. There are master classes for individuals who desire more of an intensive opportunity to meet with notable experts on writing or the arts. There will also be a variety of other events, including a Scholars' Conference, the "Drummer and Smoke" music program, and the Literary Late Night Series, as well as walking tours, a book fair, celebrity interviews and food events. And every year, there are short fi ction, poetry and one-act play competitions that are performed and discussed.

Such notables as Leonard Pitts, Michael Cunningham, Bryan Batt, Don Murray, Emily Mann, Ayana Mathis and John Patrick Shanley will be on hand in a myriad of venues that include the Williams Research Center, the Historic New Orleans Collection, Palm Court Jazz Café, the Pelican Club, Hotel Monteleone, and the everpopular Muriel's at Jackson Square. That's the meat and bones of the thing.

Now to the rhetoric and the reasoning. Why, you may well ask, would a person want to go to this or any other literary festival or conference? Well (you may consider), conferences such as these, and this one in particular, are part of the fabric of our collective American experience: an iconic example of a worthwhile event that is organized by a few paid staff members and an army of dedicated volunteers to bring together readers, writers, artists and the admirers of the written word (shout-out to Ellen Johnson). Also, it is a venue for furthering an education in those areas that are such a large part of our inquiring lives and psyches. At these events, you will fi nd serious students and seasoned seniors, neophytes and know-it-alls rubbing shoulders with the unpretentious and the infl uential, all on common ground with the same hunger—to learn more about the words, and theater, and food, and all that goes with them. As the good Tennessee once cracked: "It's a documentary."

The weather is traditionally fi ne and there's only one problem with TWNOLF: how to take in as much of it as you can in the short while that we have it here. I mean it; I literally have my lunch, my water bottle and my program in my pocket, and for me it's a "hurry up and relax" event. I go from informative pillar to entertaining post trying to get everywhere at once, be everywhere at once. There is so much to do, see, discover and experience that I take time off from work so that I can start early and go the distance.

Every year we write about this event and strongly urge our readers to participate. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message in time, and many folks have a "shoulda woulda coulda—whoops missed it again!" déjà vu. On the other hand, a very high percentage of the participants make it to the Fest every year, us included. As the Executive Director has been quoted: "It's like a good habit they don't want to break."

The culmination of the festival is the Stella! and Stanley! yelling contest, where, right there by Jackson Square, under the balcony of the Pontalba Apartments, grown men and women will scream the names of the protagonists of A Streetcar Named Desire, tearing their hair, rending their clothing, and falling to their knees in anguish and high camp.

And, as ever, throughout the four days of frantic literary enlightenment-searching—right there at center stage, at all center stages—is the visage of Tennessee Williams, who called New Orleans his spiritual home, looking upon it all, upon us all from posters, portraits and prints, and you know—wherever he is—he's laughing his butt off.

For more than enough information, go to tennesseewilliams.net.

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