February 2011 | Deb Burst

New Orleans Tennessee Williams Festival celebrates two anniversaries

If you're looking for a creative palette, the city of New Orleans never disappoints. A true southern belle, she woos visitors with sultry street-side musicians, cayenne soaked gumbos, and the oozing beauty of garden mansions and French Quarter cottages. But did you know she is home to a very elite clan of literary legends?

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Her southern charm and hospitality offer visitors a soothing climate in year long festivities toasted by mint juleps and sassy Sazeracs. Just as one holiday fades away, another one takes its place. Of course we use the term "holiday" loosely with Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and for me, the Tennessee Williams Festival (TWF). Recently I compared the festival to a spring time Christmas. Just as my New Year's resolutions are tucked away (never to be found again), I start counting the days to the TWF.


My first visit began after reading Mike Tidwell's book on the Louisiana's vanishing coast titled Bayou Farewell. He appeared as a panelist on environmental writing and fell in love with the state after hitchhiking on shrimp boats along Louisiana's ailing coastline. I continued to follow him in subsequent TWF appearances and recall his comments on the New OrSoniat House balcony.jpgleans weather, a nice break from the Chesapeake Bay area, "...you leave the bleak landscapes of the northeast to green grass and flowering wisteria."


And he's right, in the last weekend of March the French Quarter gardens are spiked with irises, azaleas and wisteria. But there's so much more. I have gained a wealth of personal friends and colleagues along the way, a tribute to the festival in gathering hundreds of people who share a passion for the arts. My contacts lead me to two panel assignments, moderator of a travel writing panel in 2008 and a blogging panelist in 2009.

This will be a banner year for the Tennessee Williams Festival celebrating its 25th anniversary March 23-27, and on March 26 the birthday of their namesake, the lauded playwright, Tennessee Williams. He called New Orleans his "spiritual home," and many literary enthusiasts agree. The five-day fête features master classes; distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; comedy improv and a poetry slam; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; a breakfast book cThumbnail image for Thumbnail image for TWF Stella contest 08 winner courtesy of Earl Perry.jpglub; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; special evening events and parties; theater, food and music events; and the infamous Stella shouting contest.

Some of the literary luminaries include Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler,  Winston Groom (Forrest Gump; Vicksburg, 1963); Jason Berry, author, reporter and film director (Vows of Silence); syndicated advice columnist and author Amy Dickinson; best-selling mystery writers John Connolly, Laura Lippman and Nevada Barr, and inimitable filmmaker, writer and artist John Waters.


The festival reaches all genres of writing and writers, fiction and non-fiction, authors and journalists, poets and songwriters. Besides the Literary Late Night at area nightclubs, a must see is the Sunday morning program at the Palm Court Jazz Café with noted jazz musicians, and Irvin Mayfield reading from his new book and performing new tracks from his recent CD.

In addition to lessons learned from this lofty list, perhaps the most treasured gift is the gift of gab for a cloistered freelancer who craves shop talk. At the end of the festival I am inspired, motivated and moved in knowing there are others who know the pain of a blank screen and the frustration of denial letters.


So take a break from the frigid winter and visit the blooming gardens of the French Quarter. Rub shoulders with hundreds of bibliophiles and see why Tennessee Williams and countless others immortalize our fine city in their lifelong creations.  


Festival Info

For more information, call 1-800-990-3378 (FEST), or visit the Festival website at www.tennesseewilliams.net for regular updates, an online Festival program book, ticketing, and information on how to become a "Friend of Tennessee."

Host hotel with special TWF rates:

Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans

300 Bourbon Street
New Orleans, LA
70130   USA
Tel   504.586.0300