10 Things I Learned at the 2013 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
Highlights from this year’s event, held March 20-24 in New Orleans.
1. “I like to think when you walk the streets of New Orleans, you’re apt to bump into him,” said Dr. Kenneth Holditch about Tennessee Williams in an introduction to the festival’s Friday Literary Walking Tour. Although Dr. Holditch isn’t able to lead tours himself anymore, he remains a wealth of information about Williams, his life and work. He doesn’t think Williams would be very fond of the French Quarter these days. (Literary Walking Tours offered twice daily throughout the run of the festival for $25)
2. In promotion of the film version of “Baby Doll,” Director Elia Kazan put up a billboard in Times Square depicting main character Carroll Banker in a baby bed sucking her thumb. It was too offensive and resulted in the movie getting a condemned rating. Consequently, the film’s drive-in release was paired with a movie titled “Shanty Tramp.” (Tennessee Williams And Southern Gothic Tradition Panel with Barton Palmer, Annette Saddik and Harvey Young)
3. Tennessee Williams is considered part of the Southern Gothic canon for tying such characters as Blanche Dubois in “Streetcar” and Amanda in “The Glass Menagerie” to their pasts and works like his “spooksonata” “A House Not Meant to Stand.” (Tennessee Williams And Southern Gothic Tradition Panel with Barton Palmer, Annette Saddik and Harvey Young)
3. WWL in New Orleans was the only CBS affiliate to allow Civil Rights footage to be fed out of the South. New Orleans became a feed center and, as a result, CBS created a Southern bureau. – (Breaking News: A Conversation With Douglas Brinkley)
4. The movie version of “Streetcar” was one of the saddest things in Tennessee Williams’ life, according to Director Emily Mann, because the hero was supposed to be Blanche. Mann directed last year’s production of “Streetcar” on Broadway and helped ensure its authenticity by spritzing actors before they went onstage so that they were covered in a sweaty sheen and pumping streetcar sounds throughout the theater. (“They Told Me To Take A Streetcar Named Desire” – Revisiting a Classic with Aimee Hayes, Thomas Keith, Emily Mann and Harvey Young)
5. Manuel Gonzales from Austin, Texas, is the short story writer to read now. Called a “fresh new voice” by The New York Times, his collection “The Miniature Wife And Other Stories” begins with a plane circling the Dallas airport for decades and ends with zombies in a mall. “I am a proponent of making stuff up because it’s fiction,” he said. “That’s what we get to do.” (Sparkle And Polish: Creating Successful Short Fiction with Danielle Evans, Manuel Gonzales and Geoff Wyss)
6. NPR Fresh Air book reviewer Maureen Corrigan is working on a book about how “The Great Gatsby” defines America, after reading it more than 50 times and teaching the book all her life. (Reading In The Digital Age Panel with Maureen Corrigan, Michael Cunningham and Dwight Garner, moderated by Susan Larson)
7. Corrigan, “The Hours” author Michael Cunningham and Susan Larson (pictured below with Dwight Garner) served as jurors for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but it wasn’t their fault a winner wasn’t chosen. They submitted their three choices to the powers above them, who chose not to award a winner that year. (Reading In The Digital Age Panel with Maureen Corrigan, Michael Cunningham and Dwight Garner, moderated by Susan Larson)
8. A liquor sponsor is the way to go at a literary festival. Sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin, the 2013 festival was almost as gin-soaked as Tennessee Williams himself sometimes. From huge bowls of Night of the Iguana Punch (recipe here) at every party and in the media room to gin and tonics ready to be mixed up at every turn, the festival has figured that 2,500 cups of gin cocktails were consumed.
9. “Mad Men” actor and New Orleans native Bryan Batt (pictured waving at top) is as adorable in person as he was on the show. From appearing in an opening reading of Tennessee Williams’ one-act plays to enjoying the aforementioned punch at the Friday night cocktail reception and serving as a judge in the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, he was a lovely addition to the weekend.
10. The festival’s closing Stanley And Stella Shouting Contest is something every Williams fan should witness at least once. And don’t think you’re just going to get up there and shout “Stanley” or “Stella.” As this year’s 25 contestants proved, you gotta have the lungs to do it.
Dates are already set for the 2014 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, to be held March 19-23. Subscribe to the festival newsletter here to receive updates on next year’s event and find out when tickets go on sale.
Thanks to the St. James Hotel for putting us up during the festival. A full review on this historic and newly renovated property is coming later this month.