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Literary Giants Made Themselves at Home

At the crossroads of the world, stories breed.

There are characters in courtyards. Plotlines pulled from avenues. New Orleans proves America’s most exotic stage, alien to the country beyond its borders.

Here, a vibrant bricolage of cultures born of continents far away. The tastes and sounds and sights are whispered recollections of France, of Spain, of Africa. They layer on top of and peel away from one another like paint.

Our city is of another place. Our history cast with immoral protagonists. Pirates, gamblers, thieves. All have made their mark. Each stirs the imagination.

What better place than this,

for a writer to call home

For centuries, New Orleans has played host to some of the most notable literary figures of our time. Twentieth century legends like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Great talents like Sherwood Anderson, Walker Percy, John Kennedy O’Toole.

They have ridden its streetcars, idled on its patios, gathered at its bars. They have, most importantly, worked.

The subjects are varied. The mediums, diverse. The constant is always New Orleans, a familiar thread in a rich tapestry.

1920: A young F. Scott Fitzgerald rents a house overlooking a cemetery, at 2900 Prytania, and commences editing his first novel, This Side of Paradise. He visits his future wife Zelda Sayre in nearby Montgomery, Alabama, bringing with him gifts of Sazerac and orchids.

1922: Ohio-born Sherwood Anderson, on the wave of recent success, moves to NOLA and purchases the house at 715 Governor Nicholls. He relishes in Mardi Gras, in the creative culture of the French Quarter. Here, he writes short stories, memoirs, essays, poetry. His 1925 novel, Dark Laughter, will be his most famous work.

1925: William Faulkner, just 24 years old, arrives. He is very quickly taken under the wing of the accomplished Sherwood Anderson. Faulkner finds a home on Pirate’s Alley, where he writes for the Times-Picayune and begins his novel, Soldiers’ Pay. He leaves a year later, bound for Paris.

1938: A freshly minted English grad, Tennessee Williams, 28, finds his “spiritual home,” as he called it, in the French Quarter. He moves around the neighborhood often, creating work along the way. At 632 ½ St. Peter, he starts the play that will become A Streetcar Named Desire.

1945: Truman Capote makes his New Orleans homecoming by way of Greyhound bus. He takes an apartment at 811 Royal Street. There, he works at nights to avoid the daytime clatter, penning short stories and working on his lurid novel Other Voices, Other Rooms.

1957: Alabama transplant Walker Percy finds his second NOLA home at 1820 Milan Street. Here, in a one-story, two-bedroom house, Percy comes up with the concept for his award-winning novel, The Moviegoer.

1964: Ex-professor and recently discharged Army sergeant John Kennedy Toole completes his first draft of his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. A potential deal with Simon & Schuster unravels. The book is not published until 1980, eleven years after the writer’s death (with the help of the aforementioned Percy). It is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1981.

The New Orleans of the 21st century continues to attract scribes of all stripes. They watch and wait and write, each working to earn their place among the greats who came before them. 

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

Jenny is a writer of culture both high and low. Her work has appeared in V Magazine, Lenny Letter, and TIME, to name a few. She first fell in love with New Orleans over buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves. She’s been a NOLA regular ever since.

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