When Jean-Baptiste le Moyne, the Sieur de Bienville, founded New Orleans in 1718, he was arguably too busy supervising the construction of huts and storage houses along the crescent bend of the Mississippi to stop and write in detail about his adventures as governor of the raw new territory of Louisiana.
The city he was busy launching, however, would go on to nurture the musings and careers of a long and diverse line of wordsmiths, from Lafcadio Hearn to Lillian Hellman.
Thus, when students at Loyola and Tulane universities and the University of New Orleans started a citywide reading series a few years back, they decided to call it 1718 in honor of the date when all things New Orleans began.
“When it started, there was no really prestigious reading series in the city,” says Loyola senior Adam Gnuse, president of the entirely student-run organization. “It was started as a way to bring together writers and an audience, and to give student writers a forum to present their works.”
On the first Tuesday of every month, at the Columns Hotel, 1718 presents a trio of students from the sponsoring universities reading from their works, which runs from poetry to fiction to essays to, occasionally, a farflung literary category like spoken word. In addition, each event features a reading by a local author. And once each semester, an out-of-town writer visits the series.
The monthly readings draw a sizeable crowd to the spacious drawing room of The Columns. Many come from neighboring communities, others are lured by a chance to meet favorite authors, still more are excited by the opportunity to pair words with writers and probably a few are enticed by the venerable bar’s happy hour, which immediately precedes each reading.
“It’s very New Orleans-centric,” says Adam, who as director of student readers helps his peers polish their works for public consumption. To a degree, anyway. “We tell the student readers, no props,” he says with a smile. “Poets especially like dramatic exits.”
Adam himself has read a few times, drawing upon the stories he began writing after Hurricane Katrina, as a student at Lusher. Reading aloud can be intimidating for a young writer, he admits, but also empowering. “It’s a great way to communicate my city and my experience, and to connect with an audience.”
The next 1718 Reading Series takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 1, at The Columns Hotel, 3811 St. Charles Avenue. Student readers will include one each from Loyola, Tulane and UNO.
Tuesday’s featured reader will be poet Julie Kane, author of six books, including a recent poetry collection (her third) called Jazz Funeral. It promises to be an entertaining evening. As Mary McCay wrote in The Times-Picayune, “To read her poetry is to live briefly in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana — to feel the heat, the air, the water, the fire, the life here.”
Who needs more drama than that?
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.