The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival was founded in 1986 by a group of local citizens who shared a common desire to celebrate the region’s rich cultural heritage. From an ambitious start with 500 audience members enjoying two days’ entertainment, attendance has increased to the 10,000 audience seats filled in 2011 for our 25th anniversary and five days of programming.
Enjoy our retrospective of highlights from the past twenty-five years — from panels to plays to participants, here’s what we remember most:
- Speakers included Roy Blount Jr., Rick Bragg, Lauren Cerand, Molly Crabapple, Brenda Currin, Amy Dickinson, Keir Dullea, Randy Fertel, Lt. General Russel Honoré, Saeed Jones, John Lahr, Laila Lalami, Yiyun Li, Laura Lippman, Pamela Paul, Paul Sanchez, Vijay Seshadri, John Patrick Shanley, Bryant Terry, Allen Toussaint, John Waters and many others.
- Theater productions included Tennessee Williams’ “Hotel Plays” at the Hermann-Grima House by Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, Southern Rep’s production of Suddenly Last Summer, and “I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays.”
- For more highlights, watch our video of the 2015 Festival at right.
- Speakers included Megan Abbott, Dorothy Allison, Bryan Batt, Thomas Beller, Judith Chapman, John Freeman, Roxane Gay, Mat Johnson, Diane Ladd, Kiese Laymon, Julia Reed, Dani Shapiro, Justin Torres, Laura van den Berg, and many others.
- Theater offerings included Vivien, Southern Rep’s presentation of Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguanaand NOLA Project’s production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
- Check out reel of 2014 highlights at right.
- A Tennessee Williams Songbook: Only a Paper Moon, a compilation of hit songs from Tennessee’s plays performed by Tony-nominated Alison Fraser, enjoyed sell-out performances.
- Zachary Lazar discusses the tools needed to combine scenes from different time periods and places in a master class titled A Sense of Time and Place in Literary Fiction.
- Tennessee Williams’ Auto-Da-Fe has a once-in-a-lifetime staging at the historic Hermann-Grima House with performers costumed by the Krewe of Armeinius.
- Author Kit Wohl and mixologist Hadi Kitiri-Idrissi team up to create cocktails and conversations at the world-famous Arnaud’s French 75 Bar.
- Michael Cunningham, renowned author, is interviewed by Amy Stolls on his path to literary success.
- The audience was packed for Those Rare Electrical Things Between People, an intimate reading of Tennessee’s one-act plays staring Cristine McMurdo-Wallis, Neal Nolan, Harry Shearer, Alison Fraser, and Bryan Batt.
- The Wednesday night fundraiser at The Old U.S. Mint features an exhibit and performance of Song For My Fathers by Tom Sancton and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
- Radclyffe and Julie Smith discuss the changing landscape of the digital revolution and how readers should embrace the change.
- 2012’s Literary Late Nights includes a Poetry Slam with local New Orleans performance poets and Festival-goers. Plus a variety show that brings to life the works of Lafcadio Hearn.
- Ace Atkins holds a Master Class on finding a character’s voice.
- Keith Spera, John Swenson, and others extrapolate on the cultural importance of music in writing in the Got the Swing panel.
- Pitchapalooza contestants have one minute to pitch their idea America Idol style. The winner receives representation from Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.
- John Besh shares stories and recipes from his cookbook My Family Table at a tummy-pleasing cooking demonstration.
- In celebration of Tennessee Williams’100th birthday, friends and fans gather a star-studded CenTENNial Night of readings and remembrances to toast Williams’ iconic career and his connection to the Crescent City — the place he called his spiritual home. Participants include: Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque; poet, Mona Lisa Saloy; Festival thespians Janet Daley Duval and David Hoover; Bastard Out of Carolina author, Dorothy Allison; A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain author, Robert Olen Butler; Tales ofthe City author, Armistead Maupin; filmmaker and writer, John Waters (pictured right, Hairspray); and notable actors Carroll Baker (Baby Doll), Shirley Knight (Sweet Bird of Youth), Christian LeBlanc (The Young and the Restless), Jeremy Lawrence (Everyone Expects Me To Write Another Streetcar), and Grace Zabriskie (Big Love, Seinfeld). A special champagne toast and birthday cake caps off the Festival’s best birthday party ever!
- Actress Zoe Caldwell hosts Bright, Beautiful Things: A World Premiere of Tennessee Williams One-Acts, including three never-produced-before The Pretty Trap: A Comedy In One-Act, The Magic Tower, and Every Twenty Minutes.
- Armistead Maupin discusses his works and what it’s like being a writer tied to a city’s identity.
- Celebrated musician and cultural ambassador Curtis Mayfield reads from his new book and CD entitled A Love Letter to New Orleans.
- Alabama writer, Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump, is interviewed about his life and works, including his latest novel about Alabama football, The Crimson Tide.
- Lawyer/environmental activist, Oliver A. Houck, discusses his 25 years chronicling environment issues along the Gulf Coast in Down on the Batture.
Pictured: John Waters
- Edward Albee returns to the Festival for a “Conversation With” event and participates in the “I Remember Tennessee” panel with noted actress Lois Smith.
- Eric Overmyer, David Simon, David Mills, Tom Piazza, and Lois Eric Elie provide a behind-the-scenes look at the HBO series Treme.
- James Carville, political commentator and consultant, is interviewed by Errol Laborde.
- Writer/editor Dave Eggers participates in a “Conversation With” event and in WriteNow, the Festival’s educational outreach program for high school students.
- Novelist Jill McCorkle gives a Master Class on the short story and judges the second annual Fiction Contest.
- Tony Award-winning actresses Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, and Zoe Caldwell and Tony-winning playwright John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation) share their personal experiences of the Great White Way at the panel “Give My Regards to Broadway.” Sternhagen and Caldwell also help kick off the Festival with actor Doug Tompos at “Broadway in the Big Easy: A Night of Literary Revelry to Benefit the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival” and with author James Grissom at the Festival Opening Night Gala.
- David Simon and Eric Overmyer, creators and writers of HBO’s The Wire and Treme, the latter of which is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, speak at “Better Than Your Regularly Scheduled Program: Elevating Television to a Higher Art,” discussing their experiences writing and producing for television.
- John Berendt, the acclaimed author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, teaches a Master Class on “capturing the character of place,” discussing how the element of place can be as important for writers as character and plot.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford judges the first annual Fiction Writing Contest. The winner, Robin Martin, reads from her piece at the Festival.
- Award-winning actress and Grande Dame of American Theater, Marian Seldes joins the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, sharing her years of experiences and her indomitable charm in an interview conducted by Broadway legend and long-time colleague Terrence McNally.
- Legendary actor Wright King, one of two remaining cast members from the 1951 film version of Streetcar Named Desire, joins the Festival for the first time this year for an engaging and entertaining interview conducted by Rob Florence, a New Orleans author, actor and long-time fan of King’s work.
- A Festival first — Tennessee’s Got Talent! 10 teams of actors perform brief duos from Williams’ plays, and are scored American Idol-style by a panel of celebrity judges, Stephanie Zimbalist, Rex Reed, and Terrence McNally. Only one performance can take the grand prize, and the audience makes the final call, awarding honors to Sean Glazebrook and James Bartelle for their rendering of Don Quixote and Sancho from Williams’ Camino Real.
- Poet Laureate of California, Al Young, debuts at the Festival, teaching master classes, giving public readings, and spending an inspiring afternoon with local high school students involved with the Neighborhood Story Project.
- Brooklyn On Foot, a New York City-based theater troupe delivers Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, bringing their youthful energy and street-style performance to the main stage at Le Petite Theatre.
- Filmmaker and author John Waters delights audiences and discusses Tennessee Williams’ Memoirs.
- Novelist Barry Gifford appears at the Festival for the first time.
- Former Time Paris Bureau Chief and jazz clarinetist Tom Sancton discusses his memoir Songs for My Father: A New Orleans Story in Black and White during the Festival’s “Drummer and Smoke” series.
- Playwright Gregg Barrios presents his play Rancho Pancho, based on the relationship between Tennessee Williams and Pancho Rodriguez.
- Chef John Besh discusses his new cookbook New Orleans Program: East, Exercise, and Enjoy Life and gives a cooking demonstration.
- Katrina doesn’t stop us! Festival Board President said, “If we have to shine flashlights at the stage, the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival will take place as scheduled.” The Festival is the first major festival in New Orleans produced post-Katrina.
- Pulitzer Prize winners Rick Bragg and Robert Olen Butler and literary stars Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Berg, Kent Haruf, John Barry, Elizabeth Dewberry, and Douglas Brinkley, among others, lend their talents to the Festival.
- Tab Hunter draws an enthusiastic crowd for “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star.”
- Blanche and Beyond stars Richard Thomas, directed by Steve Lawson, takes a look at Tennessee’s years of international fame.
- Librix Continuum presents the Festival with TENNESSEE, a limited edition art bookbinding, followed by a reading of These Are the Stairs You Got to Watch, a recently discovered play by Williams which was first printed in this unique folio.
- Tennessee in the Quarter features five previously unpublished scripts with four world premieres — Thank You, Kind Spirit, Interior: Panic, Escape, and Mister Paradise — and the New Orleans premiere of And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens.
- Actor Jeremy Lawrence makes his Festival debut in his one-man show, Talking Tennessee.
- Author and columnist Steve Roberts and his mother-in-law, former U.S. ambassador Lindy Boggs, discuss the current political scene and reflect on their famous family.
- John “Spud” McConnell performs as Ignatius Reily in a staged reading of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.
- Dave Eggers makes his Festival debut.
- A “Scavenger Hunt” relating to the works and life of Tennessee Williams debuts.
- The Festival produces the Williams classic A Glass Menagerie and the rarely seen A House Not Meant to Stand.
- Authors Robert Morgan, Michelle Tea, Sarah Vowell, Michael Perry, and Sister Helen Prejean make their Festival debut.
- Food experts Sara Moulton and John T. Edge are interviewed by Randy Fertel for the annual “Words to Eat By: New Orleans Cooks and Books” panel.
- Jelly Roll Morton experts Butch Thompson, Dr. Michael White and Howard Reich pay tribute to the New Orleans-born jazz pioneer at the Festival’s “Drummer and Smoke” event.
- CBS anchorman Bob Schieffer is interviewed by Errol Laborde concerning his career and reflections on the current political and media scenes.
- Author and historian Douglas Brinkley interviews author George Plimpton.
- Novelists Dorothy Allison, Valerie Martin, and Rick Bragg, along with science fiction writer David Gerrold are among the participants in literary panels.
- Movie critic Rex Reed interviews Dick Cavett and his wife, actress Carrie Nye.
- Actress Lois Chiles, Cavett, and Nye share their memories of Tennessee Williams during the “I Remember Tennessee” panel.
- The Festival produces Rose Tattoo and Vieux Carre. In conjunction with Mesa Productions, there is also a production of Small Craft Warnings.
- Actress Patricia Neal and actor Will Lyman perform a staged reading of two of Williams’ one-act plays: The Lady of Larkspur Lotion and Portrait of a Madonna.
- Actor Richard Thomas reads from the Collected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Vol.1 in a stage presentation, A Distant Country Called Youth, directed by Steve Lawson.
- The Festival produces Sweet Bird of Youth and Suddenly Last Summer.
- Authors Rick Bragg, Roy Blount Jr., Jonathan Yardley, and Marie Arana make their Festival debuts.
- “New Orleans Cooks and Books” event includes a panel on the history of the cocktail. Panelists include William Grimes, restaurant critic for The New York Times and the author of Straight Up and On the Rocks. Also appearing on the panel are Michael Green, wine consultant to Gourmet magazine, and Kerri McCaffety, author of Obituary Cocktail.
Pictured left to right: Patricia Neal, Dakin Williams
- Pulitzer-Prize winning authors Michael Cunningham and Phillip Caputo make their Festival debut.
- John Goodman and Stephanie Zimbalist perform works of Tennessee Williams at the Festival Gala.
- Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson return to the Festival to perform their show that includes reminisces of Williams and works by the playwright.
- Ann Patchett, Wally Lamb, Shirley Ann Grau, Mel Gussow, Barry Unsworth, and Elizabeth Spencer participate as panelists during the Festival.
- The Festival presents the rarely seen Williams plays Tiger Tail and Roads Not Taken — a presentation of alternate versions of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Pictured: Michael Cunningham
- The Festival opens with a staged reading of Night of the Iguana featuring Kent McCord, Elizabeth Ashley, Alec Baldwin, and Stephanie Zimbalist.
- Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of the novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, the Festival presents a panel and a “Happy Birthday Ignatius!” party in conjunction with LSU press.
- In conjunction with the Festival, The New Orleans Opera Association produces Andre Previn’s opera based on Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire.
- Also presenting during the Festival is I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow, a rarely produced Williams one-act.
- Festival coordinates “Dining Out With Tennessee,” in which more than 20 of New Orleans best known restaurants design special menus celebrating the work and life of Williams.
Pictured, left to right: Kent McCord, Elizabeth Ashley, Alec Baldwin, Stephanie Zimbalist.
- Kim Hunter, the original Stella Kowalski of stage and screen, is interviewed for the Arthur Q. Davis “Celebrity Conversation” series. Hunter won the Academy Award for her role.
- Writers Hal Crowther, Julia Cameron, Clyde Edgerton, Peter Feibleman, Edmund White, and Lee Smith appear on literary panels.
- Rex Reed debuts at the Festival.
- Actress Janet Shea performs her one-woman show, Lillian, based on the life of author and New Orleanian Lillian Hellman.
Pictured: Kim Hunter
- The Arthur Q. Davis “Celebrity Conversation” series continues with an interview of noted author and satirist Calvin Trillin conducted by Errol Laborde.
- Novelists Dorothy Allison and Gail Godwin appear on panels. Ann Patchett makes a return visit. Other Festival guests include John Barry, James Lee Burke, Fred Chappell, George Garrett, Winston Groom, Richard Lederer, Wanda Rouzan, Anita Shreve, Julie Smith, and Rebecca Wells.
- The debut of “New Orleans Cooks and Books,” a panel discussing culinary topics along with tastings from New Orleans chefs who have written cookbooks.
- Actor Alec Baldwin is interviewed by Fredrick Barton for the first Arthur Q. Davis “Celebrity Conversation” series. Baldwin also performs dramatic readings of essays and poems by Tennessee Williams.
- World premiere screening of the documentary Storyville: The Naked Dance.
- The Festival produces Three Mortal Ladies Possessed, a dramatization of three short stories by Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Eudora Welty.
- Writers Kaye Gibbons, Gloria Wade-Gayles, and Rebecca Wells make their Festival debut, as does noted literary agent Jonathan Dolger.
- The Festival produces the rarely seen one-act play, Submerged, by Clay Shaw and the highly received off-Broadway play, Me and Tennessee, written by Will Scheffer. The Williams’ play, Purification, is performed by the Deep Ellum Ensemble.
- The Festival opening night event includes playwright Christopher Durang, whose Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You was an off-Broadway hit, interviewed by Times-Picayune theater critic Richard Dodds. Durang’s spoof of The Glass Menagerie, called For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls, is presented, directed by Roy Taglialavore.
- Master classes make their debut, allowing the public an opportunity to learn about the craft of writing from nationally respected writers Richard Ford, Shirley Ann Grau, Robert Olen Butler, and Andrei Codrescu.
- Literary panels expand to 18. Topics include writing about religion, a sense of place, Louisiana women writers, chronicling New Orleans’ Carnival, children’s literature, mystery writing, and a Ralph Ellison retrospective. Guest writers include John Gregory Brown, Sheila Bosworth, Will D. Campbell, Tomi de Paola, Shirley Ann Grau, Ann Patchett, and Emily Toth.
- The Festival commissions and produces two original theatrical productions: Relative Madness, a comedy by Phyllis Clemons inspired by Williams characters, and Essee and Me and Tennessee, concerning Williams’ relationship with Diana Barrymore, written by David Cuthbert.
- The Festival produces a concert version of Lord Byron’s Love Letter, an opera with libretto by Williams.
- Pulizer-Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler gives the keynote speech.
- National television executive Brandon Tartikoff is interviewed by Rick Barton on television’s influence on the literary world.
- In addition to literary panels on Williams — such as sexuality in his plays, topics include: Elvis Presley as a literary icon, writing about poor white southerners, black literary life in the 1930s, gay ideas and gay identity, the scholarship of jazz, and romance novels. Among the guest authors presenting at the Festival are Margaret Walker, Greil Marcus, Larry Brown, and Jay Tolson.
- The Festival commissions and produces the play Remembering Tennessee: In His Own Words, directed by Francine Segal and narrated by Dr. Kenneth Holditch.
- The Chicago based Free Associates comedy troupe performs Cast on a Hot Tin Roof, improvisational performances inspired by Williams’ plays.
- Southeastern University presents excerpts from an operatic adaptation of Williams’ Summer and Smoke.
- Actress Elizabeth Ashley is interviewed by film scholar Richard Brown on her reminiscences of Tennessee Williams and her own career.
- Nationally acclaimed novelist Richard Ford gives lecture on political correctness and political forces on writers.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Brach discusses writing about race relations.
- A staged reading of Anne Rice’s novel, Feast of All Saints, about the 18th century Creoles of Color community.
- Festival produces The Glass Menagerie and Suddenly Last Summer, both directed by Carl Walker.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee gives a lecture on the American theater. He also conducts playwriting and acting workshops.
- New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn moderates annual poetry panel.
- Festival panel topics include New Orleans jazz in the 1950s, writing about New Orleans “from the inside out,” and numerous panels on Williams. A panel on sex and violence in literature features writers Sheila Bosworth, James Colbert, Louis Edwards, Barry Gifford, and Valerie Martin.
- The Lady of Larkspur Lotion is performed by The University of Scranton, Alma Mater of Pulitzer winner Jason Miller.
- A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot is performed by Sonoma State University dramatic troupe.
- Dakin Williams performs poetry and monologues by his brother Tennessee.
- Novelist Margaret Atwood and her husband, novelist Graeme Gibson read from their works.
- First “Drummer and Smoke: A Jazz Tribute to Tennessee Williams” held at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. Features jazz legend Danny Barker and his band, and a birthday tribute to Williams by his brother Dakin.
- Nationally acclaimed novelist Elizabeth Spencer and poet William Jay Smith read selections from their works.
- Sonoma State University dramatic troupe performs 27 Wagons of Cotton.
- Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison gives lecture and participates in discussion with fellow novelist George Alec Effinger.
- Literary panels include such topics as the legacy of Walter Percy, collecting books, and a Williams scholar panel. A panel focusing on Southern writers includes Valerie Martin and Beverly Lowry. A panel of Southern poets includes Charlie Bishop, Kay Murphy, and Stan Rice.
- Drama troupe from Sonoma State University performs Williams’ one-acts: This Property is Condemned. Actors’ Warehouse Theatre of New Orleans performs Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen.
- Festival presents a performance of Mr. Williams and Miss Wood written by Max Wilk, based on the memoirs of Williams’ literary agent Audrey Wood.
- Adjunct events around the city include Small Craft Warnings at Theatre Marigny and Suddenly Last Summer at Southern Repertory Theatre.
- Interview of Anne Rice by Kenneth Holditch.
- Three Williams’ one-acts: A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, and This Property Is Condemned, performed by the United Theatre Artists of Covington, Louisiana.
- Sister and Miss Lexie actress Brenda Currin’s critically acclaimed off-Broadway tribute to the works of Eudora Welty.
- Performance by noted stage actress and Williams’ friend Ruth Ford, with excerpts from plays, prose, poetry, and personal reminiscences.
- Gifted and Talented Program from St. Charles Parish School System presents a Williams-inspired performance in which students portray characters from his plays.
- Performance of works by Williams by his longtime friends Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, with daughter Katherine.
- Lecture by New Yorker theatre critic John Lahr on “Tennessee Williams and the Kingdom of Self.”
- Film producer Harry Rasky presents and discusses his documentary Tennessee Williams’ South.
- Ray Stricklyn returns in Confessions of a Nightingale. Festival presents Williams’ one-act play The Lady of Larkspur Lotion and a portrayal of some of Williams’ most famous female characters comprise Williams’ Women.
- Le Petit’s production of The Rose Tattoo.
- Ray Stricklyn performs Confessions of a Nightingale, his highly acclaimed one-man show on Williams’ life. Le Petit presents Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
- Plaque dedication on French Quarter building where Williams completed A Streetcar Named Desire; Co-sponsored by the Louisiana Landmarks Society and the Festival.
- First literary panel: “New Orleans as a Home for Writers,” featuring Rick Barton, Sheila Bosworth, Christopher Blake, Everette Maddox, and Chris Wiltz. Moderated by Ralph Adamo.
- Jazz mass memorial to Williams held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
- Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Award goes to writer Bill Myers.
- First Festival poster by New Orleans artist George Dureau.