New Orleans: Love, Literature and Lore

Article excerpt

Byline: Kathy Rodeghier Daily Herald Travel Editor

What makes a good story? Interesting characters, romantic encounters, a plot full of intrigue, a setting rich in legends and lore.

No wonder New Orleans provided the muse for so many literary greats.

An attitude of laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) gave the City That Care Forgot a host of eccentrics and nonconformists.

Its history of Spanish and French rule, mixed with black, Cajun and Creole culture, nurtures tales ripe in conflict and illicit affairs.

French Quarter townhouses with hidden courtyards and ornate iron balconies, Garden District mansions shrouded in live oaks and secrecy and the brightly painted Creole cottages and simple shotgun houses of the middle class and under class provide a backdrop rich in description.

And any place that worships great food and drink as much as this city certainly produces tales of excess and decadence.

Anne Rice's vampire novels unfolded from her home in the Garden District until she moved to the suburbs last year. Lillian Hellman, Kate Chopin and F. Scott Fitzgerald all lived in New Orleans at one time or another, as did Mark Twain, who wrote about it in "Life on the Mississippi."

Tennessee Williams called several different addresses in the French Quarter home. While occupying an upstairs apartment at 632 St. Peter St. the rattling of a nearby streetcar interrupted his daydreams. "A Streetcar Named Desire" was born. Other works, including "Vieux Carre," "The Rose Tattoo" and "Summer and Smoke," all flowed from his pen while he resided in New Orleans.

William Faulkner wrote his first novel in the Quarter. While living at 624 Pirate's Alley, next to St. Louis Cathedral, he wrote "Soldiers' Pay" and "Mosquitos" and became friends with novelist Sherwood Anderson, who had rooms nearby in the Pontalba apartments on Jackson Square.

The building where Faulkner lived now houses Faulkner House Books, specializing in the works of Southern writers. The Tennessee Williams Festival, held each March, has its headquarters here. Along with literary walking tours, readings, plays and lectures, this festival includes some rather-off-the-wall competitions, such as the Stella Yelling Contest.

Faulkner's work is recognized during Words and Music: A Literary Feast in New Orleans, which draws both published and aspiring writers, agents and editors to New Orleans in November.

The host hotel for both events, the Monteleone, enjoys Literary Landmark status, one of just three hotels in the United States to receive the designation from the Friends of Libraries USA. Guests have included authors Eudora Welty, Winston Grooms ("Forrest Gump") and Richard Ford, who set a passage of his "A Piece of My Heart" at the Monteleone.

Williams mentioned the hotel in "The Rose Tattoo." The playwright stayed at the Monteleone with his grandfather for two weeks in 1951. When they checked out they discovered the owner had taken care of their bill in tribute to Williams' talent and the recognition he had brought to New Orleans.

Faulkner stayed at the hotel when he received the French Legion of Honor Award and Truman Capote used to joke that he was born at the Monteleone. Actually, his mother, Lillie Mae, rented a suite there to wait for his arrival. When the time came she took a cab to the hospital.

Hotel Monteleone also enjoys a reputation for romance. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward stayed there during the early days of their courtship and marriage, often reserving the entire 15th floor. Former Louisiana Gov. Earl Long met his wife Blanche when she was a cigar girl at the hotel, and he openly courted stripper Blaze Starr there.

Walk a few blocks from the hotel to Bourbon Street and you can see the Sho Bar, now a T-shirt and daiquiri shop, that housed a strip joint where the well-endowed Blaze performed on a red velvet sofa rigged to burst into flames. …