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Author Mark Folse picks his best of the Tennessee Williams Fest

The annual Tennessee Williams literary festival continues this weekend with dozens of events culminating in Sunday’s famous “Stella!” Shouting contest. Headquartered at the Hotel Montelone, the festival offers panel dicussions popular and scholarly, masters classes for aspiring writers and a host of other events including Literary Late Nights, walking literary tours and more.

twlogoOnce again Odd Words will be there live-blogging selected events across all four days. In addition to the Odd Word’s pick for Best of the Fest, we will post daily event highlights and write-ups of selected panels, appearing here, on the Odd Words blog, and on NolaVie. Also, follow @oddwords on Twitter for real-time updates while taking notes and balancing a cup of coffee on my knee. There is no extra admission charge to watch me do this. Just find the old fart in the young man’s hate.

This is a list of our own picks, but you can find the full schedule at the Festival web site.


Friday brings a line-up of Master Classes, including Odd Word’s personal pick (because We the Animals is a fantastic novel)
JUSTIN TORRES: THE SUPER SLEEK NOVEL. Torres’ debut We the Animalsarrived on the literary scene at a slender 144 pages. Seductive and heart-crushing with its incantory style and first person plural gaze, the novel was embraced by critics, such as Michael Cunningham who called it a “dark jewel of a book.” In this master class, Torres will discuss word choice, minimalist crafting methods, and how to live while distilling blood of personal experience on to the page, with writer and Festival programming director, J.R. Ramakrishnan. The Historic New Orleans Collection, $25 or included in Master Class series registration.

Other Master Classes include ANN HOOD: THE ART OF REVISION,
DOROTHY ALLISON: A VOICE LIKE THUNDER, A TEXT A WHISPER discussing the performance aspect of reading off the page, and DANI SHAPIRO: SURVIVAL OF THE STORYTELLER.

Friday presents an almost impossible to pick-and-choose line up of Festival panels, including:

      • READING WITH THE FICTION CONTEST AND POETRY CONTEST WINNERS Queen Anne Ballroom, Festival Panel Pass. 10:00 am
      • THE UNFATHOMABLE CITY SALON Pairing acts of rescue and of sabotage during Hurricane Katrina, migrations of the Houma tribe and erosion of the coast, antebellum plantations and present-day dialysis centers—and much more—Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, edited by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker, is a reinvention of the traditional atlas that will forever change the way you think about place. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, Festival Panel Pass. Sponsored in part by University of California Press, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 11:30 am
      • THE DEVIL YOU DON’T KNOW: OTHERWORLDLY FORCES IN FICTION This panel will focus on how different writers repre- sent ideas of evil or horror and how the supernatural may be used and blend with realistic events in order to create a force which speaks to the power of evil in the world. Panelists: David Armand, Victor LaValle, and Valerie Martin. Moderator: Mary McCay. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, 1 pm
      • And, Odd Word’s pick for the day AN EXAMINED LIFE:
        THE MYSTERIES OF MEMOIR. Memoir writing requires the writer to stare into the abyss of a very personal past. Our panelists have addressed death, illness, familial quirks, and cultural identity within their works, and will discuss how they dealt with the challenges of delving back. Panelists: Blake Bailey, Ann Hood, Lila Quintero Weaver, and Emily Raboteau. Moderator: Nancy Dixon. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, Festival Panel Pass. Sponsored by the Collins C. Diboll Foundation. 2:30 pm

The highlight of Friday’s theater performances, which include A Gift of an Orange and The Night of the Iguana, for the first time in more than a decade, the Tennessee Williams classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is brought back to thrilling life on the New Orleans stage by The NOLA Project theatre company. Beau Bratcher (A Truckload of Ink, Night of the Iguana) directs a starry New Orleans cast headed up by James Yeargain, Cecile Monteyne, Randy Cheramie, and Yvette Hargis. This special collaboration between NOLA Project and The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival at Le Petit Theatre is an event no theatre lover will want to miss! The TW/NOLF presents a NOLA Project production. Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter Street, $30.

You can also choose to finish off Friday with this intriguing Literary Late Night at 8 pm: LITERARY DANCE PARTY featuring SURPRISE INTERROGATION READING Spend Friday evening in the club with our literary dance party featuring a live DJ set and a brand new event of a speculative nature, the Surprise Interrogation Reading. Victor LaValle, author of The Devil in Silver will read a short piece, and take his place in the hot seat for a Q&A like no other. His interrogator will be a mystery (even to Victor himself) until the grilling begins. It could be his high school English teacher, his worst critic, or best literary bro— and the questioner can ask him anything at all. Expect revelations and literary dirt. Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom, $15. Sponsored by Whole Foods Market. Ticket sales support high school outreach programs.

Saturday morning at 10 a is a toss-up for your humble editor:

  • “Whose Life Is It Anyway” is a panel exploring when and how people are entitled to telling their own stories. To family members and friends biographers can seem like psychic vampires bent on destroying their reputations. Panelists Blake Baily, Thomas Beller, Rich Cohen and Nigel Hamilton discuss their years of historical detective work, hostile and friendly encounters and the literary decisions that made their works as compelling as any novel.
  • New Southern Poetry features panelists Lilah Hegnauer, Douglas Ray and L. Lamar Wilson reading from their work and discussing how Southern poetry (and literature in general) has moved from its agrarian and gothic roots toward new paradigms.

At 11:30 the scholars at the Williams Research Center (a venue many casual fest goers often miss) discuss “A Little Piece of Eternity Dropped Into Your Hands”–New Orleans as a Theatrical Setting. Discovering New Orleans was crutical to the development of Tennesee Williams as an artist and an individual. Panelists Foster Hirsch, Kenneth Holditch, David Kaplan and Annette Seddik. The panelists will discuss New Orleans not only as a bohemian backdrop for lyric realism or as a metaphor for nonconformity and the unorthodox but as a visual and musical component is some of his more expressionist works.

The festival’s program of plays continues with afternoon matinees of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Le Petit Theatre and The Hotel Plays by Tennessee Williams at the Herman-Grima House, both at 2 p.m.

At 4 p.m. the Fest continues its traditions of bringing directors, actors and family of Williams for a conversation. This year features Diane Ladd, a cousin of Tennessee Williams, actress, director and author. Ladd has drawn three each Oscar and Emmy nomination, won a Golden Globe and three awards for Best Director for her film Mr. Munck. She will discuss her own career and her cousin Tennessee.

Also at 4 pm Odd Words will be at The Great American Literary Journal to see the amazing Roxane Gay with John Freeman, Jonathan Lee and Michelle Wildgen to discuss the hellish circles of submission and rejection, and the trials of publishing from both sides of the process. Freeman is the former editor of Guernica where Jonathan Lee is a senior editor. Wildgren is an executive editor at Tin House.

At 5 pm the Pinckley Prize will be awarded for Crime Fiction Debut. Diana Pinckley was the long-time mystery columnist of the Times Picayune. The presentation will be moderated by Susan Larson, former book editor of the former newspaper.. (Odd Words was started almost five years ago whe the T-P folded its book page to pick up the local literary listings).

At 8 pm the Festival offers a Literary Late Night “Elmore Leonard was From Here: A Tribute” in the Queen Anne Ballroom of the Hotel Monteleone. The cost is $20 at the door. The master of crime writing, weterns and dark humor was born in New Orleans and spent the early part of his life here

Sunday offers another full program, with Odd Word’s top pick:The Return of the Essay”. Panelists Hilton Als, Kiese Laymon, Roxane Gay and Dani Shapiro discuss how the Internet has spawned a million Montaignes. The literary essay is enjoying a renaissance and the panelists will discuss how humor plays a role in all of their work despite having written books on topics ranging from “drinking and other Southern pursuits” to a paranoid schizophrenic whose condition is complicated by religions mania. 11:30 am in the Queen Anne Ballroom.

An irresistable panel for dedicated locals will be “New Orleans’ Enduring Traditions” at 10 am in the Queen Anne Ballroom.Panelists include notable locals Rick Barton, Carolyn Kolb, Errol Laborde and Micheal Patick Welch.

At 11 am the Fest hosts staged readings of the 2014 Festival One Act Play contest in La Nouvelle Balroom. Also at 11 am Tennessee Williams short storyGift of an Apple is presented as a play Gift of an Orange by award-winning playwright Charlene A. Donaghy. At the Herman-Grimma House.

At 1 pm the Louisiana Humanities Council celebrates the 25th anniversary of their magazine Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Executive editor David Johnson leads a panel including contributors Sally Asher, Richard Campanella and Ben Sandmel.

As I am writing this on my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard at The Kerry Irish Pub, and for all of the festival attendee who show up early for the morning panels in desperate need of coffee, I should throw in Sprited Tipplers in New Orleans, Allison Alsup, Elizabeth Pearce and Richard Read–authors of The French Quarter Drinking Companion–recount their journey through one of America’s most notable drinking neighborhood.

The Festival’s public events conclude of course with the Stella and Shanley Shouting Contest at 4:15 pm in Jackson Square. Contestants vie to rival Stanley Kowalski’s shout for STELAAAAAA!!!! in the unforgettable scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. Women are invited to reverse the role and yell for Stanley.

Mark Folse is a local author. This article is reposted from his blog, Odd Words. Email him at


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