New Orleans has long provided inspiration, refuge and even a cloak of anonymity to writers and poets in search of their muse.
Both native born writers and those influenced by the city’s particular milieu have contributed work that crosses all genres, from the earliest 19th century works of French poetry by free people of color to arcane musings by the likes of Charles Bukowski, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner and Gertrude Stein, all writers who have played a role in the Southern literary renaissance. Although there are countless famous tomes inspired by, written in and informed by New Orleans, here are 10 that deliver a mighty dose of New Orleans literati.
It was Walker Percy who was responsible for the posthumous publication of John Kennedy Toole’s hilariously sardonic novel about New Orleans, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1980. A statue of the pompous protagonist Ignatius J. Reilly stands outside of the Hyatt at 819 Canal St., site of the former D.H. Holmes Department Store, where the novel’s first scene takes place.
This Pulitzer-winning novel by Robert Penn Warren, which inspired the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, unspools the life of populist Southerner Willie Stark, a politico loosely based on Governor Huey Long, the self-proclaimed "Kingfish" who was Louisiana's governor and one-time senator and an infamous figure in New Orleans.
Tennessee Williams first visited New Orleans in 1938 and long considered the French Quarter, which he famously called "the last frontier of Bohemia" to be his home. He wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire,” with its sultry tangle of class and family melodrama, in the 1940s, along with “Suddenly, Last Summer” and “Vieux Carre.” Williams’ is the inspiration for the city’s annual Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival.
Published in 1948, this historic romance is rich with the conventions, customs, and mores of New Orleans of the 1940s. Author Frances Parkinson Keyes, who wrote more than 50 religious biographies, travel narratives, and romance novels, used her home, the historic Beauregard House in the French Quarter, as a center of literary activity in 1950s New Orleans. It is open for tours.
This was the first of the best-selling Vampire Chronicles that Rice set in New Orleans. This 1976 debut introduced the infamous Lestat and his immortal life of love, betrayal, loneliness and insatiable hunger.
This is an inspired collection of essays from NPR commentator and Transylvania native and longtime New Orleans resident Andrei Codrescu. A poet and dreamer, a subversive satirist, Codrescu nails the wild bohemian character of New Orleans.
In this entertaining read, Gothic yarn spinner Anne Rice, who lived at 1239 First St. in the Garden District from 1989 to 2004, casts an insightful eye on the world of free people of color in 1840s New Orleans.
Although Walker Percy was from Mississippi, he spent much of his life across the lake from New Orleans in Covington and is considered a seminal Southern writer. This wry tale of a French Quarter dandy is equally dark and funny.
James Lee Burke is a renowned writer of hard-boiled detective fiction, with his series featuring retired New Orleans police officer Dave Robicheaux at the heart of his success. The Tin Roof Blowdown finds Robicheaux, who lives in New Iberia, deployed to New Orleans post-Katrina for a hauntingly bleak picture of city life at its best and worst.
Published just after Katrina by award-winning author and longtime New Orleans resident Tom Piazza, this gritty memoir illuminates the storied culture and still-evolving future of this great and vital American city.