The 29th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival took place March 25-29, with a banner roster of attendees and speakers, including John Waters, Roy Blount Jr., Rick Bragg, Joe Kanon and John Patrick Shanley. (Laura Lippman missed this year, as she was sick.)
One of the festival’s literary lions was John Lahr, whose biography of Williams came out last year. In his seventies, Lahr announced to the SRO crowd that gathered to hear him talk: “It took fifty years just to learn how to write.”
The four day event strikes a balance between Williams adulation, New Orleans boosterism, and celebration of all things bookish – including a panel on “The New New Publishing: Navigating the Industry Right Now.” When asked what a publisher should do for his authors, Bill Lavender, who founded Lavender Ink and Dialogos, said “Ask not what your publisher can do for you. . .,” which elicited knowing laughter from the fellow panelists and the audience. The other panelists – authors and indie publishers – talked of how sales in the four and five figures made the prospect of agented books – or even advances — unlikely. Still they were passionate about helping their books find an audience, and author and publisher Radclyffe remarked on how much easier it is when you’re in a category (in her case LGBT) small enough to know all the players.
There were also a lot of theatrical events, including a staging of the winner of the one-act play contest, and a one man show in which Joel Vig played Truman Capote talking of his friendship with Tennessee Williams.
The Festival also attracts aspiring writers with its Master Classes where authors and agents are on hand; and academics, who come for its Scholars Conference, hosted by English professor and Williams scholar, Robert Bray. It’s surely one of the few literary festivals that includes in its lineup the editor of the NYTBR (Pamela Paul), a recipient of the National Medal of Arts for his music (Allen Toussaint); the president of Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours (Ron Drez); a PhD in linguistics-turned- author (Laila Lalami); a Mad Men actor (Bryan Batt), and a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, with the Times-Picayune staff, for his coverage of Katrina (Ted Jackson). That’s New Orleans for you.