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NEW ORLEANS - For almost three decades, the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival has claimed the historic French Quarter at the end of March to celebrate its eponymous playwright, his works and literary life in the adopted city he called his "spiritual home." From its modest beginnings in 1986, it has expanded into a five-day fête featuring two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars' conference; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; a breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; and special evening event and social gatherings. The 29th annual event is slated for March 25-29, 2015.
To set the stage, visit this clip from the March 2014 event:
"With more authors participating and an expanded variety of events, this is our most ambitious program in the Festival's history," said Executive Director Paul Willis. "We are excited to welcome old friends and new attendees, including the American Theater Critics Association and the National Association of Schools of Theatre, who have timed their New Orleans conventions to dovetail with the Festival."
Some of the illustrious participants on board to share their diverse talents are:
Roy Blount, Jr., writer, best known as a Southern humorist, and a frequent contributor to NPR's popular news/comedy quiz show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me and Garden & Gun magazine;
Rick Bragg, journalist and non-fiction writer, whose latest work, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, spotlights one of the pioneers of rock and roll whose wild performances and keyboard wizardry earned him the nickname "The Killer;"
Brenda Currin, Obie winner (My Sister in This House), also recognized for her work in film (In Cold Blood) and adaptations of Eudora Welty's stories to the stage;
Amy Dickinson, NPR commentator and syndicated advice columnist ("Ask Amy");
Mia Dillon, Tony Award winner (Crimes of the Heart), who also has many screen credits;
Keir Dullea, veteran star of stage and screen, who played opposite Elizabeth Ashley in the 1974 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof;
Randy Fertel, author of a colorful New Orleans family memoir, The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak, and a new release, A Taste for Chaos: The Art of Literary Improvisation;
Jim Grimsley, playwright and author of several award-winning novels, including the semi-autobiographical Winter Dreams, whose new work, How I Shed My Skin, debuts this spring;
Nigel Hamilton, esteemed biographer, perhaps best known for JFK: Reckless Youth, whose latest work is The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942;
General Russel Honoré, author and CNN contributor who led the Department of Defense response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita;
Saeed Jones, a Pushcart Prize-winning poet and editor of BuzzFeed LGBT;
Phil Klay, Marine Corps veteran and recipient of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction for Redeployment, a short story collection which The New York Times claimed is "The best thing written so far on what the war did to people's souls."
John Lahr, senior drama critic at the The New Yorker and author of Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, a new biography receiving rave reviews from critics as well as a host of celebrated playwrights and actors ("This is a masterpiece about a genius." - Helen Mirren);
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Laila Lalami, fiction and non-fiction author and linguist whose new historical novel is The Moor's Account, which made the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014 list;
Laura Lippman, award-winning author of detective fiction whose recent work, After I'm Gone, garnered this comment from Kirkus Reviews: "Lippman is a bet you just can't lose;"
Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review and By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life;
John Patrick Shanley, multiple award-winning playwright/screenwriter/director (Doubt, Moonstruck), who wowed audiences with his tribute reading to Tennessee at the 2010 Festival;
Martin Sherman, dramatist and screenwriter best known for the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Bent, one of 20 of his works produced in over 55 countries;
Vijay Seshadri, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for 3 Section: Poems and judge of the Festival's 2015 Poetry Contest;
Bryant Terry, a national leader in the movement to promote healthy eating; author of Afro-Vegan, The Inspired Vegan, Vegan Soul Kitchen; and co-author of Grub;
Allen Toussaint, legendary New Orleans music producer, singer, songwriter and pianist who recently received the National Medal of Arts for his many talents and for "sustaining his city's rich tradition of rhythm and blues and lifting it to the national stage;" and
John Waters, inimitable filmmaker, writer, stand-up comedian and artist, who wrote the introduction to the 2006 edition of Tennessee Williams' Memoirs.
Literary highlights include spirited panel discussions on a wide range of topics: "Sweet and Savage: Writing the Women of the South," "The Warrior as Writer: Literature of Recent Wars," and "Sensational New Orleans Kidnapping Cases," to name a few.
Illuminating several milestones, conversations will focus on the decade since Hurricane Katrina as well as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The popular Breakfast Book Club will discuss and toast Carson McCullers' celebrated novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, now in its 75th year. And programmers are cooking up an event at Antoine's, the fabled French-Creole restaurant, which celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2015.
2015 also marks the first year Saints and Sinners, an annual LGBT literary event held in May, will merge with its TWFest-affiliate. [Visit sasfest.com for more details.]
Eight master classes for writers and avid readers feature noted authors and editors who share literary tips, techniques and current industry trends. This year, experts will weigh in on how to manage a literary career, craft essays people will talk about, get your story published, and more.
Theater events include Suddenly, Last Summer, Tennessee Williams' classic play set in New Orleans. Presented in partnership with Southern Rep, it will star Brenda Currin as Violet Venable, the cruel and dominating society matron who attempts to lobotomize her niece to cover up the truth about her son's violent death. As with most of Williams' works, the play raises bold questions about mental illness, sexuality, guilt and the search for truth.
Due to rave reviews and sold-out performances at the 2014 Fest, "The Hotel Plays" by Tennessee Williams will return. Presented by the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival, a new slate of one-acts that Williams set in hotels and boarding houses will take audience members from room to room at the historic Hermann-Grima House, guaranteeing a theatrical experience not to be missed.
The NOLA Project theater company will stage a professional reading of "I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays," a short dark comedy that eventually morphed into part of Vieux Carré, Williams' full-length play, also set in New Orleans. Additionally, led by improv comedy maven Cecile LeMoyne, NOLA Project will present "By Any Scenes Necessary," fast-paced rollicking improv dedicated to Tennessee.
Rounding out the Williams marquée, a Wednesday night special kick-off event, "Tennessee and Toussaint" at the Ogden Museum will showcase a selection of Tennessee Williams' watercolors and a musical presentation by Allen Toussaint.
Thursday night, March 26, in celebration of TW's birthday, there will be cake, candles, comedy and drama, including Keir Dullea's and Mia Dillon's recent tour-de-force performances as Big Daddy and Big Momma in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
On Friday evening, Festival celebrities will gather at the Old Ursuline Convent to stage a spiritual-themed tribute to Tennessee, reading selections of his work and their own words at this religious landmark completed in 1752.
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Music enlivens the program with "Drummer & Smoke," a series of Sunday offerings, including a session with Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque and celebrated accordionist Goldman Thibodeaux, now in his 80s, collaborating in a spoken word and musical tribute to the late Amédé Ardoin, a Creole musician who was among the first to be recorded in a style later known as Zydeco.
Food events bring added zest and flavor to the offerings. At one gathering, Bryant Terry will parse recipes and offer samples from his new book, Afro-Vegan. At another event, Kit Wohl will talk about her new cookbook, New Orleans Classic Creole Recipes and provide tasty treats to sample. Joining the discussion is "Louisiana Eats!" radio host Poppy Tooker and local PBS senior producer Peggy Scott Laborde, also a foodie.
It's a Scream! Last, but not least, Festival-goers won't want to miss the riotous closing ceremony, the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, a playful homage to the bellowing mates in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Most of the events take place in New Orleans' renowned French Quarter. Sites providing generous support and hosting events include Hotel Monteleone, the Festival's host hotel; The Historic New Orleans Collection; Williams Research Center; Hermann-Grima House; Old Ursuline Convent; Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré; Tableau Restaurant; Muriel's Jackson Square Restaurant; Ogden Museum of Southern Art; Antoine's Restaurant; Arnaud's Jazz Bistro; and Palm Court Jazz Café; among others.
A Festival Panel Pass is $75 ($60 for students); a One-Day Pass is $30; theater/special events range from $10-$100; master classes are $25; the Scholars Conference is $20; walking tours are $25. Group rates - 20% off for five or more - on request.
For more information, call 504-581-1144 or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.