New Orleans is known for its party atmosphere, but underneath the Mardi Gras glitter is a rich literary history. If you know where to look the French Quarter and the Garden District are chock full of hotspots that will make the trip memorable for any writer, reader, or literary buff.
1. Faulkner House and William Faulkner
Next to the stunning St. Louis Cathedral and nestled halfway down Pirate’s Alley you’ll find Faulkner House. Faulkner House is an independent bookstore stationed in the very spot where William Faulkner wrote his first novel, “Soldiers’’ Pay.” When Faulkner arrived in New Orleans he wanted to make a career as a poet, but turned to fiction at the behest of his friend and fellow novelist Sherwood Anderson.
As an independent bookstore it’s a haven for a bibliophile. Faulkner House specializes in Southern Americana literature, with a spectacular Faulkner and Tennessee Williams collection, and also has signed author copies and first editions. Faulkner House is beautifully preserved in the style of the ‘20s and ‘30s, and the built-in floor to ceiling bookcases make the best use of the space in an elegant fashion. Make sure you take a peak in the back of the poetry section to see the marble and sconces that dot the private living quarters of the owner.
For the serious writer or literary buff, Faulkner House is also home to the Faulkner Society. This year their Words and Music Festival will be happening from November 9 – November 13, 2011, and gives visiting writers and wannabe writers alike a chance to take master classes, meet with agents and editors, and get inspired over coffee in The Big Easy. For the upcoming schedule, to register, or to get inspired to write, visit their site at http://www.wordsandmusic.org.
Faulkner House is located at 624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, and you can find more information about them at their website.
Books to read: Soldiers’ Pay, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying
2. Hotel Monteleone – Eudora Welty and Truman Capote
The Hotel Monteleone is one of the most stunning hotels in the French Quarter. The entryway is decorated with marble, fresh flowers in the center of the circular seating, and a grandfather clock that would not be out of place in the home of a Rockefeller. The Monteleone has played host to several literary greats, including Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, and Sherwood Anderson, as well as recent greats Anne Rice and John Grisham.
The Hotel Monteleone is a five-star hotel and comes with a five-star price, but if you can’t afford it, don’t despair. Just bring your moleskin notebook and favorite pen and have a drink in the Carousel Bar. The Carousel Bar, as the name implies, is built on the foundation of a carousel, making any seat here the best seat in the house.
Truman Capote boasted that he was born in the Carousel Bar, but his mother, who was living at the hotel at the time, made it to the hospital just before his arrival. It was here the Hemingway wet his whistle while working as a war correspondent, and the hotel was memorialized in his short story “Night Before Battle.”
Not to be outdone by the fellas, Eudora Welty also commemorated the Hotel Monteleone in her short story “The Purple Hat.” The Monteleone now hosts annual Eudora Welty birthday parties in April with lunches and screenings of “The Purple Hat.”
To book your stay in New Orleans, visit their website.
Books to read: Breakfast at Tiffany’s or The Grass Harp, by Truman Capote; A Worn Path or The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty.
3. The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
Tennessee Williams and New Orleans go together like beignets and café au lait. New Orleans left an indelible impression on the young author after he fled New York and his unhappy family life. The generally accepted story is that a grueling work schedule led to his nervous breakdown, but a less savory tale says that he fled to New Orleans after gambling away the money he earned writing for the Works Progress Administration on booze and prostitutes. Whatever the reason, the city became a character in almost all of his novels and plays, including A Streetcar Named Desire.
For the ultimate New Orleans writer’s experience attend the next Tennessee Williams Festival from March 21-25, 2012. Although admission to the festival can be a bit pricey ($395 for the early-bird deal) the delectable Southern cuisine and master classes make it worth every penny. For more information, check out their website.
Books and plays to read: A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.
4. Lafayette Cemetery #1 and Anne Rice
There are several above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans, but the one to see is Lafayette Cemetery #1. Take a tour instead of trying to explore the cemetery on your own as these spots are known for pickpockets and swindlers. The guides also make the tour worthwhile as they will take you to the most famous literary graves without you spending hours wandering up and down. The cemetery is closed to tours on Sundays, so schedule your tour for any other day of the week unless you want to have the tour explained from outside the gates.
For the true literary buffs and Anne Rice fans look for the Jefferson Fire Company No. 22 society tomb – right across from that tomb is the location of the fictitious Mayfair tomb in Rice’s The Witching Hour. Then wander the Garden District – there are tours there that will show you the homes of the rich and famous writers who live there (including the aforementioned Rice) but the architecture alone is worth the trip. You can reach the Garden District by taking the still-working wooden trolley from the French Quarter. Not only is the trolley cheaper than a cab but you’ll get to see sites in New Orleans the way the locals do.
Books to read: Interview with the Vampire or The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. Her descriptions of New Orleans will make you want to pack up and move immediately.
Jessica M. Broughton is a travel writer and fiction author living in Pasadena, CA. She is prepping for her first of many globetrotting adventures. You can find her at her website (http://www.grrlwriter.com) and follow her on Twitter @grrlwriter.
Bottom photo by csuspect