Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival
A.K. A. TWNOLF
By Phil LaMancusa
Phil here: This year the 24th annual TWNOLF, march 24-28 is right on track to whack your stockings from your feet, a plethora of knowledge imparted with euphemisms abounding and entertainment without parallel. Being over a year in preparation a splendid time is guaranteed for all; Tennessee Williams, whose birth anniversary celebration will be included in this auspicious event, will top the bill. Twenty-five panel discussions and eight master classes will be available for your edification, education and enlightenment. Master thespians will entertain and astound to the amazement and delight of all attendees and audiences. Prerequisite mint juleps as well as contemporary and classic literary works will be provided for purchase and enjoyment. Commiseration over the great writer’s untimely demise and celebration of his prolific career, amongst those who aspire to erudition is encouraged.
That being said: try to put a finger on Tennessee and you’ve missed him completely. He considered success as a catastrophe and his fantasies as documentaries. His characters were nothing if not passionate, opinionated, outspoken, dangerous and charming. Nothing like the folks that we see in our lives, for the most part; people of our acquaintance simply do not have the stamina, freedom of expression or fortitude of a Tennessee Williams character. In comparison we are muted, and those that attend the event usually want to know why we just don’t measure up; in our writings and, very possible, in our lives.
Tennessee Williams to me is the peephole into the door of outrageous characters and unimaginable plot twists so common in Southern literature. From a Northern perspective, upon discovering Tennessee and his brethren I was amazed, confounded, flummoxed, overjoyed and thoroughly smitten.
Debbie puts it into a more Southern perspective and she points out that the fact of having been born and raised in Southern Alabama had little if any influence upon her being southern. If anything, she rejected her southern zip code. She did not notice whatever Southern sway her hometown may have had upon her until years later. She explains that “It’s like I was potted in the rich soil of the south and then moved away from my indigenous beginnings. I never physically left but my disconnect with this region placed me light years away – constantly in conflict with my root base. But that began to change with the reading of what has now come to be called books of Southern literature….by Southern writers”.
“Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides spoke to me and put into words the love/hate I had felt towards the South. I had held more biased and preconceived negative notions about the South than any tight ass from afar might have. Somehow Conroy’s characters showed me that one can love an imperfect culture, that I need not distance myself from the beauty to avoid the evils. And evil does abound through ignorance and racism”.
And on and on through Faulkner, O’Conner, Nordan, Hiaasen, Welty, Percy, Hellman and Harper Lee. And on and on. Flagg, Bragg, Grafton, Albee, Gibbons and on and on and on again. The ramblings and imaging’s that have taken root like wild flowers in writers and aspiring writers brain pans, who come together at festivals and conferences to explore the tickings of the clocks, the workings of the gears, the firing of the synapses that cause one person to put to pen and paper the views from the inside of their image nations.
For those of us who are addicted to the written word, for those of us who had flashlights under the covers finishing a book after bed time, for us who need to know something more about language and possibility; festivals like this are our bread and bone.
Each year as we write about TWNOLF subconsciously we’re plotting our own attendance and how much of this experience we can cram into our lives. It’s always too fast, too short and over way too soon. For the line up of luminaries and schedules of events go to tennesseewilliams.net the program is now available and the box office is open. See you there.