Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival

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Tennessee Williams / New Orleans Literary Festival
Tennessee Williams Festival.JPG
Dates annually during the fourth weekend of March
Location(s) French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana
Years active 1986 – present

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival is an annual five-day literary festival in the city of New Orleans. The festival is dedicated to the Pulitzer prize-winning American playwright Tennessee Williams. Every year, it features several events related to the long career of that writer, as well as writing workshops, panel discussions, literary readings, stage performances, a book fair, music, writing contests, and other events related to American literature, poetry, drama, opera, film, photography, art, history, culture, and cooking. The signature event is the Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest that closes the festival.[1]

The festival in New Orleans is not related to the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi,[2] which is held annually in October in the childhood hometown of Tennessee Williams.


Tennessee Williams was not native to New Orleans, but he lived in New Orleans's French Quarter at several points in his adult life. Two of his major plays, A Streetcar Named Desire and Vieux Carré, and several short stories were set in the historic French Quarter.

Williams died in 1983. Shortly thereafter, the city of New Orleans experienced an economic recession.[3] Among the proposals to attract tourists back to the French Quarter and revitalize the local economy was the creation of a literary festival dedicated to Williams.

The first Tennessee Williams Festival was a two-day event held in 1986, drawing an estimated 500 attendees. However, the event would quickly grow, and now attracts over 10,000 attendees every year. In March 2006, the festival was also the first major festival to be held in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as the French Quarter was not flooded during the disaster.

Principal sponsors of the festival include the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and the University of New Orleans.


The five-day Festival is held on the weekend nearest March 26, the birthday of Tennessee Williams. This is usually the fourth week of March. Festival events are held at several sites around the French Quarter.

Half of these events are either speakers or discussion panels, featuring experts from literature, theater, film, the arts, history, culture, and other topics. In addition to these panels, there are master classes for aspiring writers, including advice from published writers, literary agents, and editors in the publishing industry. The Festival also hosts food tasting and musical performances by local musicians.

Past speakers have included Pulitzer-prinze winning and best selling authors Edward Albee, Robert Olen Butler, Richard Ford, Michael Cunningham, Phillip Caputo, Rick Bragg, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Taylor Brach. Other speakers have included writers Anne Rice, Cokie Roberts, Michael Cunningham, John Waters, Nora Roberts, Stephen E. Ambrose, Douglas Brinkley, James Carville, Thomas Sancton, Jr., Andrei Codrescu, Sue Grafton, Margaret Atwood, Larry Brown, Margaret Walker, Fannie Flagg, Allen Gilchrist, Kaye Gibbons, Dorothy Allison, Barry Gifford, Rex Reed, as well as actors Patricia Clarkson, Stephanie Zimbalist, Alec Baldwin, Ben Berry (Griessmeyer), John Goodman, Tab Hunter, Dixie Carter, Gerald McRaney, Elizabeth Ashley, Anne Jackson, Eli Wallach, and Kim Hunter. Tennessee Williams brother, Dakin Williams, was a frequent guest at the Festival until his death in 2008.[4]

Another major feature of the Festival is its theatrical productions, including productions of full-length plays and one-act plays by Tennessee Williams himself, as well as other writers. In 1992, the Festival began hosting a one-act play contest. The winning plays are premiered at the Festival, and have become one of the Festival's most anticipated events. The Festival also sponsors poetry and short fiction contests.[5]

The Festival highlights other contemporary Southern artists, such as the New Orleans novelist John Kennedy Toole and other writers from New Orleans. However, Tennessee Williams remains the focus of the Festival. His previously unpublished writings are often made public at the Festival, including premiere performances of newly discovered works. A scholars conference is held every, and an academic journal, The Tennessee Williams Annual Review, is associated with this conference. Since the first festival in 1986, there has been a guided walking tour to 722 Toulouse St. and other French Quarter residences where Williams once lived.

And since 1996, the Festival has ended with the popular Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest, a tribute to the third scene from A Streetcar Named Desire.[6] The contest is open to the public and held on the last day of the Festival, usually Sunday afternoon, in two parts. The preliminary contest is held in Jackson Square, and anyone from the audience is eligible to compete. Winners of the preliminaries are invited to take part in a second shouting contest at the nearby Le Petit Theatre, where the finalists compete for prizes and trophies.


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