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The Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans

Tennessee Williams Festival
The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival takes place March 25- 29, 2020.(Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

*Editor’s Note: While there are no travel restrictions to New Orleans due to the Covid-19, out of an abundance of caution and consideration for staff, vendors, and guests, The Tennessee Williams Festival has decided to cancel the event scheduled for March 25- 29. Please check the event website for details and updated information. 

The arts and New Orleans are undeniably connected. First opera in North America? New Orleans. Birthplace of American music? New Orleans. Spiritual home and muse for many a writer? You guessed it – New Orleans.

One such writer who was deeply moved by the energy of the city was Tennessee Williams, who after having only been in town for three hours proclaimed New Orleans as the “place I was made for.” Thankfully for us, New Orleans helped give birth to some of Williams’ greatest works, including the famed play, A Streetcar Named Desire.

To celebrate Tennessee Williams’ work and to help inspire others to create, a group of friends got together and created the Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival, which will be celebrating its 33rd installment this March 25-29, 2020. The festival celebrates the connection between New Orleans and literature through writing, as well as the different aspects of a city that has inspired many.

The French Quarter (Photo: Justen Williams)

The literary festival serves up a diverse set of activities and events held at multiple venues mostly in the French Quarter. The festival stays true to New Orleans with its celebration of food, music, culture, and the art of writing. Popular events include walking tours, the writer craft series for aspiring writers, countless literary discussions, live theater productions, and special meal-centric and music-centric events that celebrate both literature and New Orleans.

The festival boasts a wide array of events for literature lovers of all kind. One popular event is the Tennessee Williams Literary Walking Tour, which takes guests to different locations around the French Quarter that served as Williams’ inspiration, often his residences or hangouts (which includes a building that was once night-court).

The Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

The 2020 Festival at a Glance

Opening Night

The opening night spectacular is a dazzling theatrical performance that transports the audience into carnivals’ past through the eyes of Tennessee Williams, featuring an eclectic entourage of the finest performing artists in the Crescent City. The legendary drag icon Vinsantos, will guide us through a journey of circus arts, stunts, vaudeville, and sideshow performances. Stories from the life of Tennessee Williams and a monologue from his rarely staged autobiographical play Vieux Carré will be woven into the performance to capture the hauntingly beautiful atmospherics of the French Quarter.

Writer’s Craft Series

The Writer’s Craft Series is designed to help participants with a variety of writing projects, whether that’s writing a play, personal narrative, or well-crafted letter. In these sessions, accomplished authors and experts reveal crucial skills, anecdotal stories, and personal examples in order to create interactive and educational experiences for participants.

This year’s events vary between panels that help writers tackle such challenges as finding inspiration, writing compelling dialogue, creating a setting that acts as another character, or starting a memoir. Among the eight different craft series, there are options for every kind of writer in need of just a little advice or inspiration from seasoned authors.

Literary Discussions

The festival organizers have put together over 25 different discussions, each conducted by a panel of scholars and literary and theater professionals covering a wide variety of topics. Areas of focus include modern-day issues, as well as Southern/New Orleans-based subject matter and scholarly discussions on the life and works of the famed playwright for which the festival is named after.

new orleans festival
A Tennessee Williams performance at the 2018 festival. (Photo by Cheryl Gerber)

Theater Productions

The variety of theater productions would not be possible without the venues, actors, playwrights, and theater companies that partner with The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival.

This year, the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans will present In the Bar of A Tokyo Hotel by Tennessee Williams, and Beaubourg Theatre Company will present The End of the Beginning,  a program of two Tennessee Williams’ short plays: The Demolition Downtown and The Chalky White Substance, directed by David Williams.

Special Events

This year’s special events include oldies but goodies and annual favorites such as Opening Night, The Tennessee Williams Tribute Reading, and The New Orleans Writing Marathon (which is exactly what it sounds like). This year’s installment of Books and Beignets, will feature Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Other special events include a culinary event featuring author Alexandra Kennon hosting a lively discussion about the rich history of Broussard’s Restaurant, which celebrates 100 years in 2020. Enjoy happy hour drinks and hors d’oeuvres while learning about the French Quarter’s most contemporary “Grande Dame”—from tales of former owners to current ghosts, and how Chef Jimi Setchim puts contemporary twists on traditional menu items to keep this classic updated and fresh. LGBT French Quarter tours offer a leisurely stroll through the French Quarter with a focus on New Orleans’ enchanting past with a focus on the neighborhood’s queer history and its rich literary heritage.

Whether it’s the writing, the community, or just Tennessee Williams himself, there is nothing to lack during this five-day festival. See the full schedule online here.

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