Authoring a Revival; Festivals Take New Orleans Back to Its Literary Roots

Article excerpt

Byline: Corinna Lothar, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW ORLEANS - Bawdy and the beast forever haunt New Orleans, but there is a difference between Bourbon Street, gaudier and more

vulgar than ever, and rue Royal one block away, with its elegant antique shops and restaurants intact and thriving once more. Now, New Orleans, climbing out of its post-Katrina funk, offers learning and literature to lure back tourists.

The vulgarity of Bourbon Street quickly gives way to lovely houses and hidden leafy courtyards, museums like the old New Orleans Mint exhibiting a collection of 19th-century money-making equipment and, until January, a breathtaking display of gold from ancient times. Its restaurants include Galatoire's, the place to be seen for Friday lunch, and Brennan's, the place for Sunday brunch.

Mardi Gras is on the way, but this year the Big Easy celebrated literature, with the Tennessee Williams Festival in the spring and the William Faulkner Festival just concluded. The Quarter - the Vieux Carre - is "the cloistered heart of the city," rescued from decay by writers in the 1920s, where William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson and others worked, or tried to. Some of their earlier stories were published by a French Quarter magazine, long gone, called the Double Dealer.

Words and Music, the official name of the Faulkner festival, was originally celebrated around his birthday, Sept. 25, but moved to November to avoid hurricanes, which this year never arrived. Faulkner, like Tennessee Williams, finally left, saying he couldn't write anything in New Orleans. The city, where culture collides with voluptuous and easy gratification, is sometimes too seductive for serious work.

This year, the Williams festival was subtitled "A Cultural Collision Which Works," and included sessions on "Writing With a World View," "Pan American Voices," "Narratives for the Silver Screen," "Turning Terrible Reality Into Gripping Fiction and the Fallout for Every-Day People," "Every-Day Lives From the Culture of War and Terrorism" and, of course, "Finding the Right Agent."

The conference always includes something about Faulkner's work. This year, it was an entertaining master class for readers: "How to Read Faulkner and Love It: The Sly Humor of William Faulkner."

Music sometimes comes in the form of concerts in the cathedral, sometimes in jazz band entertainment for the post-meeting social events. …