Tennessee Williams Festival : “Blow out your candles” for another year

I’ve written about this wonderful festival before (see bottom of post) and was happy to find time to go again this year. I believe I went first in the late 1980s, and then began to go annually around 1999 or so.

I have a good outsider viewpoint to share so maybe that this “world-class literary festival”(as a globe-trotting festival-goer firmly declared to me years ago) remains relevant and exciting. The good news is that the people attached to the festival are excellent, and grow increasingly more representative of the city and region. The bad news is fewer locals that are not writers or theater buffs attend even though there are many exciting and enjoyable topics for non-writers. The other bad news is that it is banged about on all sides by a half dozen or more events and festivals happening in the same week.

I’d like to see:

more outdoor events (still like my idea from earlier post of having Streetcar movie playing in Square on Thursday night) should also be a short brass band event to celebrate TW’s birthday (bring back the birthday toast and singing, just move to Square or to Pirate’s Alley)

more interaction between other TW festivals and this one

more on St. Louis!

more on local lore, local history from the 20th century, (an era possibly the least understood of New Orleans’ 3 centuries…)

bring back popular panels from early years

sponsor a nearby Tennessee Flea market full of all (quality) things New Orleans 20th century as well as collector’s editions of his works

more items for sale such as reproduction posters of productions, clothing not directly tied to festival but TW related. Work with stores in FQ to highlight TW and literary items that weekend.

more panels and materials on/from Mississippi, TW’s other home

more panels and materials on the Mississippi River history and places from St. Louis to New Orleans

highlight other Southern writers with their own small track (Flannery, Eudora even gasp Anne Rice)

more with emerging writers, especially with schools around the city (i.e.Neighborhood Story Project)

TWLF history hunt with prizes

Tie in TWLF with FQ Fest and JazzFest with a linked exhibit or sponsored musician

Let’s just make this a engaging, engrossing, and illuminating weekend, centered around the great modern playwright who loved this city.

A cross section of things I’ve written about the festival on this blog:



Time for Tennessee

Every year, I find time in my busy spring work schedule to get to the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, which is my favorite festival of the year. It offers a healthy slice of tidbits for working writers, for lovers of New Orleans  readers of good books and performances for theatergoers.

Their digital schedule is handy, but just go to the Monteleone Hotel today thru Sunday to get a paper schedule, buy tickets, purchase books or concessions (you may find me there volunteering on Friday) and soak up the vibe.


Tickets are ON SALE NOW!

We know you might have your favorite way of viewing our 5-day schedule of events, so here are some options so you can check out all of our panels, master classes, theater, and special events and plan your Festival experience.

  1. Hover over FESTIVAL on the menu bar at the top of our website and you’ll see dropdowns to view the events by category, see all the speakers (whose pages list their events), and a schedule that shows you the daily version.
  2. Or you can view and download our full color program.
  3. Or maybe you’d just like a printer-friendly descriptive program that you can peruse at your leisure.
  4. Or peruse our full color program with digital links.

Check out 2tender4house: an indie lit fest in New Orleans also happening this week.

Local Authors: Make Your Pitch at the2017 Tennessee Williams Festival

Spread the word. Have a New Orleans novel you want to get published?

Crescent City Books, has launched its publishing imprint for New Orleans fiction, CCB. If you have a New Orleans novel you would like to pitch to Michael Allen Zell, this is your opportunity. To register for a spot and for specific details, email ccsubmissions@gmail.com. Deadline: March 15, 2017.


Available Slots: Friday, March 24 3:00 PM • 3:20 PM • 3:40 PM • 4:00 PM • 4:20 PM • 4:40 PM

Two days of Tennessee

In no particular order:

  1. I go to the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival every year, except when there is a cruel twist of fate and one of my work trips must come then. I think that has only happened once or twice in the last 20 years, but it seemed like a betrayal to my own spring routine. Clearly I never forgot it.
  2. I often pay for a panel pass but just as often I volunteer (and know to expect excellent volunteer supervision from Karissa) which means I get that pass for my (few) hours of work, which is so very much appreciated. I’d like to see the volunteer numbers beefed up a bit and some experienced folks given titled jobs ( I see some of the same people each year). And maybe volunteers can get free theater tickets or a panel pass to encourage those with different interests?
  3. One time I purchased a more expensive  pass that gave me access to the Master Classes which just seemed like more panels, except held on Thursday. However, I often also purchase a single ticket to a theater offering or a special event; this year, I would have gone to see Poppy Tooker, but her event sold out early. Honestly, I think getting the panel pass and individual tickets  is the only way to go, unless you rich or need to get your name on the thank you list.
  4. I often skip the Stella Yella (think its actually called the Stella Yell Off) on Jackson Square ‘cuz the crowd is HUGE now and unless you are on a balcony or camped out for hours, you cannot see it. And also,  sometimes the yelling intensity is frightening and I start to get concerned for the actors. (Is there an ambulance nearby in case someone pops a vessel?)
  5. When I first started to attend the Fest (around 2000), I knew no one and happily sat there invisibly, listening, daydreaming and taking notes. Now, I know many of the attendees as my neighbors, and others from doing civic work around the city. I’m not sure I prefer one mode over the other; my time as a observer was sweet and now my time as a chatterer in the hallways is fine too. I just never want to be one of those people who only talk to each other. You know who they are.
  6. Williams Center @ HNOC has been a great addition to the venues. I think Kenneth Holditch’s Walking Tours have attracted new people to the Fest.
  7. Over the years, the effort to add new voices and different perspectives has worked reasonably well. The attention to POC and gender-fluid writers and performers has definitely grown and is treated with dignity and thoughtfulness. However,  some panel topics have worn a bit thin (isn’t there a better way of offering indy publishing perspective than that one 3-person panel?) and yet the stuff about Tennessee and his work seem to be constantly updating and offering some new perspectives.
  8. What happened to the literary world panels? Am I wrong in thinking there used to be more literary agents, editors etc discussing the book publishing world?
  9. Why not more on simply the world of theater, either here in New Orleans or across the US?
  10. I do like the contests (one-act, poetry etc) , but think we can learn hear more about the process and the contestants during the regular panels.
  11. The Saints and Sinners programming is a welcome addition to supporting writers of more genres.
  12. Suggestions: I’d like to see some more (gasp!) TWO person panels or even straight interviews with one author/playwright. And why not show Streetcar each year in the Quarter on the last night, maybe projected in the Square?
  13. Master Class as actual classes? More programming outside of this weekend? theater offerings at schools? TW short story book club at area libraries? (although a shout out to the WriteNow program held during the fest is necessary…)
  14. More used books for sale? How about giving our front line folks (i.e. booksellers at the bookshops around town) a few free tickets to a single panel? so many of them are working writers and of course talk to many literate folks every day and so can spread the word about TWLF.
  15. and this is sort of self-serving, but I think TWLF should encourage more bloggers, tweeters, occasional writers to participate and to write about those on the panels, their works and the entire deal.

Still, in a hurried world of shouting candidates and Kardashians, Tennessee reminds us to care for our sensitive souls. So, knowing there is one more day is a pleasant way to end today:


Tennessee, so long

What is probably my favorite weekend in the Quarter is over. I would say that it is all over but the yelling, but that is prolly still going on at the Stella contest that ends the TWLF. (Although I’d like to know when they stopped ending this day with the happy birthday toast to Tennessee?)

I spent the big bucks for the mid-level pass this year, which gave me access to all panels and master classes. Not sure if I’d spring for the master classes next year, as I’ll wait ’til those become more of a class and less of a one-person panel. I did see some great panels, two of which featured my pal Nancy Dixon, editor of N.O. Lit, which in my opinion, was the book that should have been one of the 2015 books of the year. Lauren Cerand, literary publicist was another standout as a thoughtful and prepared presenter, as was Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan and social justice warrior.

My available cash for this event is always limited but I do spend it. I wish the organizers understood how to give great value to the least as well as they do to those who spend the most. I’d suggest creating more focused tracks for a writer or a scholar to follow throughout the weekend, and maybe even offering a special price for those with LA i.d. to get more working writers there. Additionally, I’d recommend a salon room for writers and bloggers with access to internet and maybe some authors stopping by to keep the buzz moving in between the panels.
The highlight of this is usually the theater offerings, which for the first year ever (of around 20 for me) I did not attend any. Funds and scheduling were the issue there.

Having done all that complaining (as my grandmother would say), I urge every working writer to spend a little time at this event in future years, even if it is just to roam the halls or volunteer at an event to get a panel pass. You’ll walk away with a few nuggets and a renewed belief in New Orleans as a destination for readers and writers.

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