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A stellar group of literary, theater and musical talent will gather for the 2014 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, marking its 28th anniversary, March 19-23. The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his “spiritual home” and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; a breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; and special evening events and parties.
To set the stage, sample a taste of last year’s [March 2013] event here.
“I am delighted that we are able to bring so many of Tennessee Williams’ masterpieces to our audiences this year,” said Executive Director Paul Willis. “In addition, we are thrilled to add such a broad spectrum of established and rising literary stars to the mix.”
The programming schedule is still taking shape but some of the illustrious participants on board to share their diverse talents are: Dorothy Allison, author of the best-selling novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, later made into an award-winning movie; Hilton Als, drama critic, writer for the New Yorker, and author of White Girls; Alicia Anstead, editor-in-chief of the national magazines Inside Arts and The Writer; Brenda Currin, Obie winner (My Sister in This House), also recognized for her work in film (In Cold Blood) and adaptations of Eudora Welty’s stories to the stage; John Freeman, writer and critic, former editor of Granta, onetime National Book Critics Circle president, and author of recently-published How to Read a Novelist; Diane Ladd, actress, director, author, producer, and three-time Emmy and Oscar nominee, who, at the age of 17, made her New York theatrical debut in (her cousin) Tennessee Williams’ Off-Broadway revival of Orpheus Descending, to rave reviews; Victor LaValle and Emily Raboteau, both acclaimed authors, husband-and wife, who will jointly judge the 2014 Short Fiction Contest.
Kiese Laymon, novelist, essayist and a contributing editor at gawker.com, Esquire and many other publications; Laura Lippman, masterful and prolific mystery writer, whom The Washington Post dubbed “one of the best novelists around, period”; Valerie Martin, author of ten novels, including Mary Reilly (made into a film), the 2003 Orange Prize-winning Property, and her new book, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste: A Novel, as well as three collections of short fiction and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi; Julia Reed, author and regular contributor to Garden & Gun, Elle Décor, Architectural Digest and Conde Nast Traveler; and Dani Shapiro, best-selling author of three memoirs, Still Writing, Devotion and Slow Motion, and five novels including Black & White and Family History, as well as a contributor to several publications including Travel + Leisure.
Literary highlights include more than two dozen literary panel discussions on a wide range of topics such as Southern history in fiction; the return of the essay; true crime; and the city’s many unique and enduring traditions, to name a few. At The Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas Salon, contributors to this colorful reinvention of the time-honored atlas will read their essays. The popular Breakfast Book Club will examine The Glass Menagerie. And actors will do dramatic readings from The Mascot, the late 19th century New Orleans newspaper that was the most-widely circulated illustrated paper in the South.
For the after-hours crowd, there are Literary Late Night events, including a “Literary Dance Party”; the People Say Projects’s multi-media tribute to crime fiction legend Elmore Leonard, a New Orleans native who passed away in August; and “Through the Looking Glass,” a burlesque show that explores “the literary wonderlands in us all.”
Eight lively Master Classes feature sessions with authors and editors who share literary tips, techniques, and current industry trends with aspiring writers and interested bibliophiles. The 2014 line-up will offer a wealth of information on how to develop a successful writing practice, craft effective and believable dialogue, build a literary brand through social media, and more.
Theater events include a full production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, a Williams classic presented by The NOLA Project, an innovative theater company known for breathing new life into familiar stories. The play will be staged at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, a French Quarter landmark and one of the country’s oldest community theaters, which recently reopened after an extensive renovation.
“The Hotel Plays,” a special opening event, features Williams’ short plays set in hotel rooms. A collection of them will be performed in the historic Hermann-Grima House (a former rooming house) with the audience moving from room to room.
Several blocks away, on Elysian Fields, award-winning Southern Rep Theater will stage The Night of the Iguana, considered by many to be Williams’ last great play.
Daytime soap opera diva Judith Chapman will portray Vivien Leigh in her dazzling one-woman show, Vivien, which has garnered high acclaim. Leigh won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in the original 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Charlotte Donaghy’s one-act play, Gift of an Orange, about a young man’s innocence and an older woman’s desire, was inspired by Williams’ short story, “Gift of an Apple.”
Rounding out the Williams marquee, New York playwright Jeremy Lawrence will present En Vivant, a compilation of his four dead-on portraits of Tennessee Williams, which never fail to mesmerize audiences; and “Tennessee Williams and the Crescent City” will feature star-studded tribute readings of the playwright’s works about – or set in – New Orleans.
In addition, the University of New Orleans will mount a production of Frederick Mensch’s “Father,” the Festival’s 2013 One-Act Play Competition winner; the 2014 prizewinner will receive a staged reading.
Music enlivens the program with “Drummer & Smoke,” a series of Sunday offerings, including sessions with world-renowned clarinetists Dr. Michael White and Tom Sancton. Also on tap is a discussion about integrating words, art and music in Roll with It: Brass Bands in the Streets with the book’s collaborators, author Matt Sakakeeny and noted painter/sculptor Willie Birch. The Hot 8 Brass Band will perform selections throughout the presentation.
Food events promise to pleasure the palate. At one, Kit Wohl will be talking about her new cookbook, New Orleans Classic Celebrations. Participants will sample tasty treats and receive a copy of the book. At another gathering, seasoned food writers, who voted for their favorite gumbo, jambalaya and other New Orleans standards in the “Best of” section of the newly released EAT DAT: The People & Places of New Orleans’ Unique Food Culture, will mince words on the topic. Forks may fly.
The cocktail takes center stage in two spirited discussions with the co-authors of The French Quarter Drinking Companion, who will intoxicate attendees with stories of this historic neighborhood’s fabled drinking haunts. Find out where Tennessee liked to sip.
It’s a Scream! Festival-goers won’t want to miss the riotous closing ceremony, the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, a playful homage to the bellowing mates in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Most of the events take place in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. Sites providing generous support and hosting events include Hotel Monteleone, the Festival’s host hotel; The Historic New Orleans Collection; Williams Research Center; Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré; Dickie Brennan’s Tableau; Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant; Palm Court Jazz Café; Hermann-Grima House; Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro; One Eyed Jack’s; and Beauregard-Keyes House.
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 800-990-3378 (FEST) or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.