Room 220’s picks for this weekend’s Tennessee Williams Festival

Event: Mar 20, 2014

Presenters at the Tennessee Williams Festival, clockwise from top left: Bill Cotter, Victor LaValle, Roxane Gay, Kristina Robinson, John Freeman, and Kiese Laymon
Presenters at the Tennessee Williams Festival, clockwise from top left: Bill Cotter, Victor LaValle, Roxane Gay, Kristina Robinson, John Freeman, and Kiese Laymon

The Tennessee Williams Literary Festival takes place this weekend. Room 220 recommends you find yourself at these events:

(UPDATE:) The Internet Age has seen a renaissance of the novella. If you’re a fiction writer, and are free at 9 a.m. on Friday, attending Justin Torres’ masterclass on the Art of the Super-Sleek Novel is a must.

Start out on Friday night with the kickoff Literary Dance Party, featuring DJ Brice Nice, a performance by West Bank King Doogie Fontaine, and a “Surprise Interrogation Reading” with author Victor LaValle—which, we gather, involves someone LaValle knows (but doesn’t know will be in attendance?) grilling him about whatever s/he feels like. LaValle, before becoming a hip and acclaimed author, was a fat kid addicted to phone sex (as chronicled in his essay “Long Distance”) so this could be interesting. Admission is $15, which includes a drink and food. The party starts at 8 p.m. in the Queen Anne Ballroom at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St.).

The highlight Saturday will be the panel “The Great American Literary Journal,” which takes place at 4 p.m. at the Historic New Orleans Collections’ Williams Research Center (410 Chartres St.). Granta editor John Freeman—no matter that Granta is British—will talk the ins and outs of the lit periodical landscape with fellow panelists Roxane Gay (who edits for PANK and The Rumpus and publishes everywhere) and Michelle Wildgen and moderator Laura van den Berg. The panel will be preceded in the same venue by an interview with Gay conducted by Jami Attenberg. There’s also a panel earlier in the day (11:30 a.m. at Muriel’s on Jackson Square) about crime writing that features Ethan Brown and a forensic anthropologist who’s an expert on missing persons—it sounds intriguing, though I would have loved to see this panel include Joseph Scott Morgan.

Saturday night, The People Say Project is going to present a multifaceted bonanza in honor of Elmore Leonard—who, it will be emphasized, was born in New Orleans. “Elmore Leonard Is From Here” features a panoply of authors, journalists, actors, musicians, and others paying tribute to Leonard, whose prolific writing career includes the fictional works upon which the films 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, and Jackie Brown were based. Tickets are $20, which includes a drink. The event begins at 8 p.m. on Saturday in the Queen Anne Ballroom at the Monteleone.

The weather head-fake last weekend that prompted the organizers of Super Sunday to reschedule it for this upcoming Sunday might present a scheduling conflict for some, but the day’s best offerings at the festival take place before noon, providing the opportunity for a chock-full day. At 10 a.m. in the Royal Ballroom at the Monteleone, frequent Room 220 contributor Kristina Robinson will moderate the panel “Writing America,” featuring Kiese Laymon, Bill Cheng, Jami Attenberg, and Laura van den Berg. This is sure to be a wheeling-and-dealing discussion from a wide variety of viewpoints on how an author incorporates their view of their country into fiction.

If you’re going to stick around after that, I suggest hanging around with Laymon for the 11:30 panel he’s on, “The Return of the Essay,” moderated by John Freeman, also with panelists Roxane Gay and Dani Shapiro. The early afternoon has a couple of good offerings at 1 p.m., most notably a panel on literary misadventures featuring Bill Cotter and Mat Johnson. There’s also a panel at the same time about how brass band music, Mardi Gras Indians, and second lines contribute to the creation of literature and visual art in New Orleans, but really, you should just go see it for yourself (and then maybe go home and write or paint).

Visit the Tennessee Williams Festival website for full panel schedules on Saturday and Sunday and a complete list of presenter bios.

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