Civic Benefit, Festivals/Fairs

What to check out at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

All other fests are just Cleveland.

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland,” Tennessee Williams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright famously explained.

Alvin Kamara Floss Dance GIF by NFL - Find & Share on GIPHY

I’m not going to speak about that San Francisco and New York nonsense, but Williams definitely knew New Orleans. He lived in the city for more than 40 years, beginning with his first stint in 1938. He called a number of French Quarter addresses home, including 722 Toulouse Street (the setting for his play, “Vieux Carre”, and now home to The Historic New Orleans Collection), and 1014 Dumaine Street (the 19th century Greek Revival townhouse he purchased in 1962).

He wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” in The Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue (stop by the Garden District property to check out their many tributes to Williams), and spent tons of time at Hotel Monteleone (where they have a suite named after him).

So, when Williams died in 1983, the city he called “his spiritual home” felt the loss.

It just so happened that New Orleans — in the middle of a recession — was also feeling a major loss of funds. City officials thought a literary festival dedicated to Williams might attract visitors to the French Quarter.

And they were right! While the first Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival — a two-day fest held in 1986 — attracted only 500 attendees, the current five-day format brings in more than 10,000 guests every year!

The festival hosts attendees from all over the country for writing workshops, panel discussions, literary readings, stage performances, a book fair, music, writing contests, and so much more — including events related to the life of Tennessee Williams, himself.

There’s a ton to see and do over the course of those five days — which begins on Wednesday, March 27.

So — while I definitely recommend checking out the full schedule here — these are my “best of” picks to help get you started. Please note: all tickets and passes can be purchased here.

Writer’s Craft Series

Set for this Thursday and Friday, this series of writing-focused workshops last 75 minutes each and feature award-winning writers sharing their experiences and expertise.

The event website said the sessions are “perfect for writers of any skill level,” as well as those who want to hear their favorite authors speak.

Sessions are $25 each or are included in the price of the Combo Pass ($200) or the VIP Pass ($600).

One session, “How to Start and Maintain a Writer’s Group”  looks especially helpful for writers. It will be held on Thursday, March 28, at 2:30 p.m., at The Historic New Orleans Collection, and is led by Lisa Herrington (founder of the 349-member Bayou Writers Club) and Tad Bartlett (founding member of the famous Peauxdunque Writers Alliance).

In “He Said, She Said: Scene Building Through Compelling Dialogue“, participants can expect to leave the session with a lifelike exchange between two or more characters, as well as a better understanding of how to make dialogue meaningful to your work as a whole. This sessions begins on Thursday, March 28, at 9 a.m., and is also being held in The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Marlon Brando Stella GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Literary Discussion Series

This series of events includes more than 25 entertaining and enlightening discussions by authors, scholars, historians, publishers and other literary and theater professionals. And there’s something for everyone, as topics include everything from historical interests to New Orleans-based topics, and contemporary issues to those about Tennessee Williams, himself. Sessions are 75 minutes each and include time for Q&A at the end.

The Literary Discussion Pass — which can get you into all events in this series — costs $100 (or $70 for students with a valid school ID). Literary Discussion Day Passes are also available for $40 per day, or you can purchase a ticket to individual discussions at the festival box office for $10 per event. Entry into all discussions is also included as part of the Combo Pass ($200) or VIP Pass ($600).

There are endless amazing discussions to choose from, but here’s a New Orleans-focused one that caught my eye. “Welcome Home: Immigrants and Immigrant Culture in New Orleans” will be held on Sunday, March 31, at 11:30 a.m. in the Hotel Monteleone Royal Ballroom and will include a rich discussion about how our city — as a major port — has long welcomed members of various cultures to our diverse community of many voices.

And, on Friday at 4 p.m. in the Hotel Monteleone Queen Anne Ballroom, “Politics and the Media: How Did We Get Here?” will feature journalists Tom Sancton, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Fieseler and Laine Kaplan-Levinson — moderated by Stephanie Grace — who will each use their own impressive experiences to provide perspective to the hostility between the current presidential administration and the press.

Theater

As one of those most prolific playwrights of the 20th century, it makes sense the Tennessee Williams Festival is full of great theater options — ranging from full productions and one-act plays to staged readings and other theatrical events.

Tickets to all productions are included in the VIP Pass ($600) or can be purchased individually (typically $20 to $40) through the production company putting on the show.

One production that will be popular with local audiences is “A Confederacy of Dunces: Off the Page onto the Stage”. The play follows the misadventures of the eccentric Ignatius J. Reilly — played by Charlie Talbert — and will show at, both, 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center. Tickets are $30, or $25 for students and theater professionals.

For some late night revelry, join The NOLA Project at local dive, Mag’s 940, for By Any Scenes Necessary: Long Lost Williams. In this production, a team of improvisers and a slightly intoxicated Tennessee Williams (probably not the real Tennessee Williams) reconstruct the great writer’s “long-lost play.” It looks like it’ll be a lot of fun, and tickets can be purchased in advance for $15 (or bought for $20 at the door).

Special Events

There are also a plethora of special events throughout the festival, including opening night, book clubs, special interviews, and a Williams tribute reading, as well as various culinary and music events.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Val Kilmer will be in town to introduce the film about his one-man play, Citizen Twain, in which he plays Mark Twain. The film — described as comedic and moving; contemporary and reflective — delves into Twain’s thoughts on politics, as well as his family and faith. This event is at The Joy Theater on Friday, March 29, at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $25 to $40 (or are included in the VIP Pass). Afterward, Kilmer will make himself available for Q&A.

And — perhaps the festival’s most famous event — the Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest commences on Sunday, March 31, at 4:15 p.m. in Jackson Square.

Elaine Benes Seinfeld GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Contestants compete for prizes, reenacting the iconic “STEEEEELLLLLAAAAA!” yell from “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The NOLA Project’s Cecile Monteyne will provide your inspiration as Stella, and celebrity judges will choose five finalists and a winner! This final event is free and open to the public.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to do at this year’s Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. Check out the full schedule so you don’t miss a thing!