One of the highlights of New Orleans literary calendar, the Tennessee Williams Festival (March 22 – 26) is celebrating its thirty-first year of festivities in 2017. Over its three decades, the festival has faithfully brought acclaimed poets, writers and playwrights from across the country down to the French Quarter, at once celebrating the rich legacy of its namesake scribe and championing new and established voices in American letters.
Though the festival has seen significant growth over the years – branching out from its traditional headquarters at the Hotel Monteleone, and most recently, assimilating the LGBT-themed Saints and Sinners festival into its programming – the core format remains largely unchanged. Readings, panels, discussions, workshops, and interviews dominate the long weekend, as do performances of Williams’ work (including his lesser-known plays and one-acts), open-mic nights, and social events such as the famous Stanley and Stella shouting contest at festival’s end. For Williams scholars, a day-long academic conference also offers the opportunity to engage with current research on his work.
Each year, the Festival balances established and national voices with local and emerging voices, and this year is no exception. Though it is sadly impossible to attend all the sessions on offer, Room 220 has singled out a few specific events for festivalgoers to look into—while also firmly maintaining that attendees stay tuned to the unexpected and the serendipitous. After all, one of the joys of TWF each year are the new faces, new voices, and new ideas around every corner.
More information about the festival and the full program are available here. Panel passes ($40/day, $100/weekend) are required for most events; workshops, master classes, and performances are extra.
- UNO Panel Series: The Power of Prose: Reading and Discussion. For 25 years, fiction and non-fiction writers have come to the University of New Orleans’ MFA program to hone their skills. This panel features five of the many prose writers who have gone on to great success after leaving the classroom. Award-winning novelists Skip Horack (The Other Joseph), Nicholas Mainieri (The Infinite), and Amanda Boyden (Babylon Rolling) will read from recent work, as will creative non-fiction writers Juyanne James (The Persimmon Trail and Other Stories) and Brenda Quant. The writers will then be open to discussion/questions on any topics relating to the craft or impact of prose. Hotel Monteleone, Cabildo Room, 10am.
- UNO Panel Series: The Power of poetry: 25 years of creative writing at UNO. Poets who have studied at UNO’s rich and diverse MFA program in Creative Writing from across the last quarter century gather to read from and discuss their work, as they consider the odd persistence of contemporary poetry both inside and outside academia in today’s political environment. Nationally and internationally celebrated poets to appear include Jericho Brown (Please, American Book Award; The New Testament), Gina Ferrara (Amber Porch Light, Fitting the Sixth Finger), Clare Louise Harmon (If Wishes Were Horses the Poor Would Ride), Bill Lavender (While Sleeping, I of the Storm, Memory Wing), and John Warner Smith (Soul Be a Witness). Moderator: John Gery. Hotel Monteleone, Cabildo Room, 11:30am
- And Justice For All: Setting the Record Straight. Three veteran journalists talk about their search for truthful accounts of controversial, shameful past events: Ethan Brown, author of Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Jefferson Davis Eight?, searches for the real killer of eight women; Justin Nobel chronicles the wrongful conviction and eventual release of Dan Bright in The Story of Dan Bright: Crime, Corruption and Injustice in the Crescent City, and John DeSantis establishes the historical record of a racial battle in The Thibodaux Massacre. Using interviews, archives, and good old-fashioned detective work in historical records, they’ve come up with three important stories, sometimes at considerable personal risk. Michael Allen Zell, who often rights wrongs in his noir novels, moderates. Hotel Monteleone Queen Anne Ballroom, 1pm.
- Taking No Prisoners: The Challenges of Writing About War In Fiction. In a time when war can break out anywhere at any moment, two distinguished novelists give us insight into their work. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler has constructed a distinguished body of work from his Vietnam experience, most recently in Perfume River. Winston Groom, known for the character immortalized in Forrest Gump, enters a different place in history in El Paso, his new novel of the Mexican Revolution. Longstanding scholar of Vietnam War fiction Randy Fertel Hotel Monteleone Queen Anne Ballroom, 4pm.
- Women on Women, Literature, and Life: Women are truly at the fore and being “grabbed” in so many places these days, it’s time we look at how these four writers captivate their readers with their stunning storylines and characterization. Just how do they create their complicated female characters, and how much do they draw on their own lives to do so? Do these characters’ lives matter more in this political climate? These writers all craft very strong female characters; however, that is not the way women are often portrayed in the media these days. Let these writers seize your hearts and minds. Panelists: Dorothy Allison, Moira Crone, Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, and Bernice McFadden. Moderator: Nancy Dixon. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 10am
- Wild and Precious Lives: A Panel on Memoir. Long before poet Mary Oliver posed the essential question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?,” memoirists were rising to the challenge, describing battles fought, changes made, new visions of their own lives, clearing the past to make way for the future. Join Patricia Bosworth, Amy Dickinson, Kiese Laymon and Lara Naughton as Anne Gisleson asks them about the struggles of examining their personal experiences for public consumption. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 11:30am
- Who Are These People? Writing About Family in Fiction: You can’t choose your family, as the saying goes, but writers do choose the families they write about. In Perfume River, Robert Olen Butler writes about the way war has shaped one American family. In Wally Lamb’s I’ll Take You There, he reprises protagonist Felix Funicello, who realizes valuable lessons about the women in his family; and in All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg shows how the life of a single woman is anchored by her few remaining family members. Susan Larson moderates a discussion of the way families provide a great—if not the greatest—subject for fiction. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 1pm
- A Conversation about Race: Finding Strength for the Struggle in Great Writing. A panel of impressive writers who work in various forms discuss their inspirations and struggles and readership. Jericho Brown is a rising star in poetry; Kiese Laymon has given us memorable fiction and memoir; Bernice McFadden writes novels of strong black characters; poet and nonfiction writer Kalamu ya Salaam turns to the Black Arts Movement in his most recent book, The Magic of Juju. Short story writer and essayist Maurice Carlos Ruffin moderates a conversation about where we are now and how black literature matters more than ever in these divided states of America. Williams Research Center, 2:30pm.
- Taking the Truth Off the Page: Literary Activists Speak Out. In a time of political change and threats to arts support, writers/activists are seeking and finding new ways to come together. Moderator Megan Holt of One Book/One New Orleans moderates a panel with novelists Jami Attenberg and Adrian Van Young of Writers Resist, A Scribe Called Quess?, and a representative of Louisiana Books 2 Prisoners talk about their ongoing efforts and the new paradigm for literary activism. Hotel Monteleone Queen Anne Ballroom, 4pm.
- New Orleans Gay History: An LGBTQ Mecca. The city has long been known as a welcoming haven for the LGBTQ community, but it has its dark side as well. Clayton Delery-Edwards talks in his award -winning book, The Upstairs Lounge Arson: Thirty-Two Deaths in a New Orleans Gay Bar, June 24, 1973, about one of the great tragedies in that history. Alecia Long, author of the forthcoming book, The Trouble with Tight Pants, chronicles the city’s homophobia, particularly during Jim Garrison’s prosecution of Clay Shaw. And Frank Perez, author of In Exile: The History and Lore Surrounding New Orleans Gay Culture and Its Oldest Gay Bar and founder of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, describes the Archives’ efforts to collect gay history. Moderator: Brad Richard. Hotel Monteleone Royal Ballroom, 10am
- Professors Who Publish: From Poetry to the Paranormal. Nicole Pepinster Greene, Executive Director of Xavier Review Press, leads a discussion of Xavier University authors with works ranging from fiction with a paranormal edge, landmark poetry anthologies and collections, to writing about art and performance. Sim Shattuck, author of Dark Angel, Pass Me, Biljana D. Obradovi?, co-editor of Cat Painters: Contemporary Serbian Anthology,and Ralph Adamo, author of Ever, talk about preparing their work for publication. They are joined by Lisa Flanagan, a specialist in performance writing, and Mapo Kinnord, an expert in ekphrastic writing, will address being part of a larger literary community, and balancing their teaching and writing lives. Hotel Monteleone, Royal Ballroom, 11:30am
- That’s What I Like About The South: A Panel of Great Storytellers: Meet writers who both honor and push against traditional Southern norms of stories of place, race, faith and family. Novelist Michael Farris Smith writes about age-old family rivalries in a small town; M.O. Walsh crafts an unforgettable coming-of-age story with a twist; Martin Pousson chronicles the hard life of a young gay man; and Mary Miller offers stories of young women you probably recognize. Novelist Bev Marshall, a fine Southern storyteller herself, moderates this discussion of what makes Southern fiction so wonderfully Southern, and why it breaks your heart. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 1pm
- The Way of the Poet: Bill Lavender, co-founder of the New Orleans Poetry Festival, previews that festival and moderates a panel of fine New Orleans poets who are also teachers, reading their new work and discussing their poetic concerns: Stacey Balkun, who has just published Lost City Museum; Peter Cooley, whose ninth book is Night Bus to the Afterlife; Jerry W. Ward Jr., author of Fractal Song; and Rodney Jones, whose 11th book is Village Prodigies. Hotel Monteleone, Royal Ballroom, 2:30pm