One of the highlights of New Orleans’ literary calendar, the Tennessee Williams Festival (March 30 – April 3) is celebrating its thirtieth year of festivities in 2016. 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.
Room 220 will be hosting a Happy Hour Salon with the Festival’s fiction contest winner and contest judge Claire Vaye Watkins at Antenna Gallery (3718 St. Claude Ave) on Thursday, March 31, at 7 p.m., and we look forward to seeing area readers, writers, and other bookworms here next week. Otherwise, more information about the festival and the full program are available here. Panel passes ($30/day, $75/weekend) are required for most events; workshops, master classes, and performances are extra.
Room 220’s Picks
Wednesday, March 30
- Badham, Bragg, and Tennessee: a conversation between Mary Badham (“Scout” in the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird) and Rick Bragg, and reading from Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré, reception at 5:30 p.m., event at 6:30 p.m. Tickets required.
Thursday, March 31
- UNO Press Publishing Lab: Book Launch. Presentation and reading of inaugural book prize winner, Each Vagabond By Name by Margo Orlando Littell. Antenna Gallery, 3718 St. Claude Ave., 7 p.m.
- Tennessee Williams Festival Fiction Contest Reading. Readings from the annual fiction contest, hosted by Press Street and Room 220, and featuring fiction contest judge Claire Vaye Watkins. Antenna Gallery, 3718 St. Claude, 7 p.m.
Friday, April 1
- Tennessee Williams Walking Tours, led by Kenneth Holditch. Walking tour of Williams’ residences and haunts in the French Quarter. Tours begin in the Hotel Monteleone, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
- A Conversation with Rick Bragg, conducted by David Johnson. Writers will speak about what the South is and how to best convey it on the page. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 1:00 p.m.
- Dirty Laundry: Southern Writers on Memoir. Featuring Dorothy Allison, Rick Bragg, Big Freedia. Moderated by Kiese Laymon. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 2
- New Orleans Indie Literary Spirit. Discussion of New Orleans’ DIY approach to publishing, with area writers, editors, and booksellers. Featuring Candice Huber, Bill Lavender, Kathleen Calhoun Nettleton, and Julie Smith. Moderated by Michael Allen Zell. Muriel’s Jackson Square Restaurant, 10 a.m.
- Called to Witness: Writers on the Triumphs and Challenges of Testimony. Panelists Richard Campanella, Fatima Shaik, and LaKisha Simmons will reflect on their roles as witnesses, exploring how photographs, religion, and subversively derived pleasure propel the narratives of their work. Moderated by Kim Vaz-DeVille. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 4 p.m.
- Alexander Chee reading at the ACE Hotel. Writer and long-time Ace collaborator Alexander Chee teams up with the scenic painters from the New Orleans Opera Association to create an installation and performance surrounding his latest novel The Queen of the Night — a story about an American opera singer in Paris. ACE Hotel, evening.
Sunday, April 3
- Soul Food Love: Caroline Randall Williams on Her Family’ Recipes. Join Caroline Randall Williams and Kiese Laymon for a conversation on generational soul food. Bourbon House will provide recipe tastings from Williams’ latest cookbook, co-authored with her mother, novelist Alice Randall. Bourbon House, 11 a.m. Tickets required.
- New New Orleans Writing. Discussion of new books and writing lives by three writers resident in New Orleans. Featuring Katy Simpson Smith, Addie Citchens, and Nicholas Maineri. Moderated by Benjamin Morris. Hotel Monteleone Royal Ballroom, 1 p.m.
- The News that Stays News: Poetry. A discussion on poetry’s relevance and place in a changing society. Featuring Peter Cooley, Christopher Hannan, Caroline Randall Williams, and Mark Yakich. Moderator: Benjamin Morris. Hotel Monteleone Royal Ballroom, 2:30 p.m.