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Photo: Cheryl Gerber

A Shout Rang Out in Jackson Square

It’s a cruelly beautiful spot for screaming such as this.

Men and women take their turns, alone, on ancient stone. Onlookers swarm, circling them with wide eyes, clutching onto the fence posts of Jackson Square.

Every year, judges hold court on the upper veranda of the Pontalba Building, that sumptuous 19th century dream. Four blocks of lacy ironwork and red brick. Pure French Quarter, the birthplace of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire.

Which brings us back to the screaming.


A stir rises in the colonnade.


At the annual Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival, this shouting contest closes out the week. The material, simple, requiring less talent than it does lung capacity. The directive, straightforward: take a crack at the cat-in-water wail Marlon Brando made famous on screen.

Participants choose either Stella or Stanley as the subject of their torment. Shirts are torn, capillaries burst, liberties taken. Body paint is, for some, a sound costume choice. Whether it’s what Tennessee Williams envisioned is a matter up for discussion.

The American playwright was an on-and-off resident of the French Quarter his entire life. “The last frontier of Bohemia” he called it.

Photo by: Cheryl Gerber

Williams made a home for himself on Toulouse, on St. Peter, on Dumaine. Each apartment provided the contours to Williams’ work, leaving the thick, muddy fingerprints of New Orleans all over it.

Here, “among the thieves and squalor,” as some regarded the French Quarter at the time, Williams became part of its burgeoning gay and literary scenes. Truman Capote, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck. The roster was the stuff of legend.

The area allowed for freedom, both creatively and personally.

Today, you can stroll past Williams’ former residences on any day of the week. Most are still standing, and there are walking tours that point them out, along with the homes of other literary giants.

The Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival takes place at the end of every March, in honor of the writer’s birthday. There are panels and master classes for those looking into the art of craft, and the shouting contest, of course, for those seeking some high-brow catharsis.

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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