Eric Cusimano, the 2014 Stanly and Stella Shouting Contest, screams his victory. 
photo by Brian Cahn
Eric Cusimano, the 2014 Stanly and Stella Shouting Contest, screams his victory. photo by Brian Cahn

New Orleans Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Brings Food, Fun and Artistic Whimsy to the Big Easy

written by Andrea Verdin

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As if we needed another reason to visit New Orleans — all those who have a penchant for art, literature, music and culinary bliss can flock to the historic French Quarter for the 29th annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, March 25-29, 2015.  Known for A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Hard Candy and more, Williams lived in the city of New Orleans, revolutionizing the way people saw plays, literature and the world.

The event takes place at 16 French Quarter venues in New Orleans over the span of five days, allowing for visitors to truly immerse themselves in the splendor of the Big Easy, just as Tennessee would have wanted it.

“Tennessee Williams is universally loved,” said festival representative Ellen Johnson. “We celebrate Tennessee because when he was living here, he was only Tom. He became Tennessee here.”

Williams’ birthday falls on March 26, and fans can celebrate by performing his work with other aficionados by taking part in a production of “The Hotel Plays,” a slate of Williams one-acts set in hotels and boarding houses that will take audience members from room to room at the historic Hermann-Grima House. If you are hankering to see a play by Williams, Suddenly, Last Summer, his classic play, will be performed in the city it had been originally set in. Presented in partnership with Southern Rep, it will star Brenda Currin as Violet Venable, the cruel and dominating society matron who attempts to lobotomize her niece to cover up the truth about her son’s violent death.

A panel discusses literature at the 2014 Tennessee Williams Literary Conference.
A panel discusses literature at the 2014 Tennessee Williams Literary Conference. -Courtesy photo

It’s important to mention that the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival is not simply about books and literature – there is so much more. People passionate about any type of written word – novels, nonfiction, musical lyrics, even cookbooks – can find something that interests them, but there are also master classes, food events, scholars conferences, and music events. Each day can have a completely different experience.

For example, on Thursday night, March 26, in celebration of the playwright’s birthday, there will be cake, candles, comedy and drama, including Keir Dullea’s and Mia Dillon’s recent tour-de-force performances as Big Daddy and Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

On Friday evening, festival celebrities will gather at the Old Ursuline Convent to stage a spiritual-themed tribute to Tennessee, reading selections of his work and their own words at this religious landmark completed in 1752. In addition, by way of unique dining experiences, festival attendants can dine where Williams was known to eat: Antoine’s.

On Friday, guests will get to savor some of the landmark restaurant’s delectable dishes and cocktails while being regaled with insider stories of Antoine’s fascinating past. Filled with Mardi Gras memorabilia, and complete with a balcony overlooking St. Louis Street, this restaurant paints the perfect picture of the old world that Williams lived in. Guests can also take a tour of the historic eating establishment as part of the celebration of their 175th anniversary.

 

“It’s the perfect combination of being stimulating, educational, and a whole lot of fun,” said Johnson.

In the midst of the festival, New Orleans visitors can enjoy the festivities and excitement that normally occurs in the city. If you want to enjoy a walking tour, or simply gorge on the southern delights that cannot be found elsewhere, you can.

“We are lucky that the event happens in the French Quarter,” said Johnson. “We are lucky the Nola Food Fest is happening concurrently with the event, plus there is food all over the quarter. There is absolutely no way to be able to take it all in.”

Sit near Cafe Du Monde, read some Tennessee Williams masterpieces, and enjoy the world as he once did.
Sit near Cafe Du Monde, read some Tennessee Williams masterpieces, and enjoy the world as he once did.

Other options include improv, late night literary events, and burlesque performances, so up and coming authors should be able to find plenty of inspiration to create their own literary masterpiece.

“I find it’s very wonderfully significant that about 40-45 percent of our attendants come from all over,” said Johnson. “We’re unique. Festivals happen all the time, but there are not too many, Tennessee Williams festivals. It attracts a really interesting audience.”

Whatever you choose to do at the festival, make sure that you don’t miss out on the riotous closing ceremony in Jackson Square, the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest. This shoutfest is in playful homage to the bellowing mates in A Streetcar Named Desire. Even if you’ve never read Williams, you’ll get a kick out of the shouts and beckoning calls that end the festival. If you’re lucky, it’ll rain on the closing ceremony, adding to the excitement and drama. This event isn’t once in a lifetime, but with the amount of fun you’ll have, you’ll feel like it is.

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival from NOLAFugees Press|Productions on Vimeo.

Admission, depending on your attendance, is $10-$100. Group rates are 20% for groups of five or more.
For more information, call 504-581-1144 or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.
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