In all art, New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta have appeared as major muses for creative minds. With a history of writers from Kate Chopin to Truman Capote to Tennessee Williams, the delta region has both produced and inspired a rich literary tradition in particular. While most people think of the works of Anne Rice and Poppy Z. Brite when it comes to contemporary New Orleans literature, there are many other exciting authors who are based in New Orleans or for whom the city figures largely in their works. Here are five we recommend.
John Biguenet. Biguenet’s work has won the O. Henry Award for short fiction and a Harper’s magazine writing award, among others. His plays, many of which have been produced locally by Southern Rep, include the Rising Water Trilogy set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. His novel Oyster is set in Plaquemines Parish in the late 1950s and details the rivalry of two oyster-fishing families as a near-Greek tragedy. He is currently a professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans.
Barbara Hambly. Hambly has written in a number of genres, from fantasy to science fiction to mystery. Possibly her most famous series, however, are the Benjamin January mysteries, historical fiction about a free man of color trained as a surgeon but making his living as a musician in antebellum New Orleans. Each book details January solving a murder and navigating the complex religious, ethnic, racial and sexual politics of 1830s New Orleans.
James Sallis. While in recent years the film adaptation of his novel Drive starring Ryan Gosling have gotten Sallis a lot of attention, his longest running book series is the Lew Griffin mysteries set in New Orleans. In the six books so far, Sallis’ Griffin is a black professor, writer and private detective whose gripping cases often involve missing children.
Sheryl St. Germain. Poet, translator, memoirist and essayist St. Germain’s writings frequently reflect the culture and languages of south Louisiana. Her books of poetry include The Journals of Scheherazade and Let It Be A Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems, and her nonfiction includes Swamp Songs: The Making of an Unruly Woman and Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair. Originally from New Orleans, St. Germain is now the director of the creative writing MFA program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.
Jesmyn Ward. The author of three major books, Ward is the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for her second novel, Salvage the Bones, which explores the family dynamics and survival tactics of a family in rural Mississippi in the week before a major hurricane hits and its immediate aftermath. Her third book, Men We Reaped, is a memoir detailing mourning five different men in a four-year span and the pull of family from across the country. Originally from Delisle, Mississippi, Ward is currently an associate professor of English at Tulane University.
These are just a few of the names in New Orleans and Gulf Coast literature, however. For more exciting literary voices to discover, check out the Words & Music festival running Thursday, Nov. 20 to Sunday, Nov. 23. The schedule of events includes readings, workshops, and panels, along with live music and visual art on display.