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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 2, 2014 - Volume 43 Issue 01
Two literary festivals - one weekend
Arts & Entertainment
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Two literary festivals - one weekend

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS/
NEW ORLEANS
LITERARY FESTIVAL
www.TennesseeWilliams.net March 25-29

SAINTS AND SINNERS
LITERARY FESTIVAL
www.sasfest.org
March 27-29

HOTEL MONTELEONE
NEW ORLEANS


People from all over the globe come to New Orleans for a variety of reasons. There are conventions and events giving way to the sultry Southern nights of romantic visionaries. The allure of jazz and voodoo cast a spell over unsuspecting visitors causing them to leave discretionary tactics at home while exploring the artistic graveyards or venturing down the infamous Bourbon Street. And then there are the powerful points of brightness cast by the glittering 'literati' of two writing events: The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. Both events draw large crowds of literary interests and a wide range of members of the field from the novice attendee to the established writer, publisher, agent or editor. Many of the people come to attend panels or lectures from their favorite authors, actors, and directors while some of them prefer the Master Classes and the theatrical events. There are also those who come for the specific reasons of atmosphere and the seductive powers of the Big Easy.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS/NEW ORLEANS LITERARY FESTIVAL
The Tennessee Williams Festival is currently going on its 29th year celebrating the talents of one of America's most acclaimed writers. But it is not just about the eponymous playwright; there are a large variety of different interests that are presented geared to attract the literate in all forms. The mission as clearly stated by Executive Director Paul J. Willis is 'to serve the community through educational, theatrical, literary, and musical programs.' And it does not disappoint. 'With [the] Tennessee Williams [Festival],' says Martha Miller, author of six published books, 'I was interested in the workshops and talent they had. Alec Baldwin did Night of the Iguana, and Sue Grafton did a workshop that helped me a lot.' This year's theatrical production is Suddenly, Last Summer starring Brenda Currin, one of the stars of the original film In Cold Blood. Some of this year's incredible list of participants includes: Amy Dickinson (NPR commentator), John Lahr (The New Yorker's drama critic and author of a new biography on Tennessee Williams), John Patrick Shanley (Pulitzer Prize winning playwright/screenwriter/director - Moonstruck, Doubt), Martin Sherman (author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated play, Bent), and John Waters (writer, artist, director) among many others. The festival is 'a chance to learn and daydream about mainstream publishing,' continues Miller, who has attended this particular festival on two separate occasions.

Both festivals offer a variety of ways for the beginning writer (and those established) to achieve further recognition. The Tennessee Williams offers three different annual contests, each one with a Grand Prize of $1,500. The Poetry Contest (going on its 5th year) has a special guest judge, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Vijay Seshadri reading over the entries. The 7th Annual Fiction Contest is for the aspiring novelist. As expected, the biggest draw is the 29th Annual One Act Play Contest judged by the University of New Orleans' Creative Writing Workshop and the Department of Film, Theatre, and Communication Arts. 'I attended in 2010,' says Jerry Rabushka, author of the novel Star Bryan and numerous play titles. 'I won the playwriting contest and came to see the play [performed].' Rabushka travels from St. Louis for the event because, 'you realize that you're not alone. There are others working on the same kind of thing you are.'

There's even a 'Stanley' and 'Stella' shouting contest! In celebration of Williams' quintessential play, A Streetcar Named Desire, crowds gather outside one of the French Quarter's celebrated balconies, imitating one of the most iconic scenes from the stage or screen. (2013 video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zx-lBXU4xo - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Zx-lBXU4xo)

And there are the extra benefits of attending a city richly steeped in culture and history. The food is world famous from Oysters Rockefeller, to Bananas Foster, and Turtle Soup. New Orleans, especially The French Quarter, boasts being the most haunted city in America, where you can't throw a set of Mardi Gras beads without hitting an establishment claiming a haunted history. 'There's the sexy atmosphere and ambience which allows some off-festival encounters.' Says Felice Picano, author and editor of more than 36 books. 'Let's not forget the food. I've yet to have a mediocre meal in NOLA.'

SAINTS AND SINNERS LITERARY FESTIVAL
The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival is the LGBT love child of the Tennessee Williams Festival. Very diversely mixed of all members within and without the GLBT community. 'It began,' says Picano, editor of the Valentine's Day release anthology Best Gay Romance 2015, 'as an offshoot of the Tennessee Williams Festival and was raising money for the local NO/AIDS Center. It's one of the two GLBT book conferences in the country!' Also offering a variety of panels, lectures and master classes, the younger sibling is celebrating its 12th year. Definitely more geared towards the LGBT writing community, it is none-the-less open to anyone wanting to participate. Hosting the 6th Annual Short Fiction Contest (this year's esteemed judge is acclaimed author Andrew Holleran, Dancer from the Dance), where the select finalists are published in a festival-sponsored anthology (also available to those not attending). The two second-place winners are awarded $100 and the grand cash prize is $500. Amie Evans (board member of Saints and Sinners) has helped put together the anthology New Fiction from the Festival, with the help of Paul J. Willis (executive director of Tennessee Williams Festival), for the last five volumes.

'The festival is not just for writers and publishers,' says William Holden, author of six books who has been attending the two festivals for 13 years. 'It's for everyone who has ever opened a book and been transported to another time or place. It's for readers to meet authors, [for authors] to find out what's being published and to understand the publishing arena.' Whether you are a beginning novice or an experienced, published author makes absolutely no difference. 'The first time or two [attending] it was a bit intimidating,' says author, poet, technical writer Luis Flint Ceci. 'I knew no one, and there were authors I had read and admired everywhere!' And the list of respected attending authors is impressive. Some of the speakers at the Saints and Sinners include well-recognized names like Felice Picano (Like People in History) Greg Herren (author of the Scotty Bradley and Chanse MacLeod mystery series), Radclyffe (author of dozens of Lesbian fiction and president of Bold Strokes Books, one of the largest GLBT publishing houses in the U.S.), as well as other established authors such as award-winning novelist Jim Grimsley and Chelsea Station Magazine editor, Jameson Currier. Having some of the LGBT community's authors, editors and publishers accessible for talking, networking and signatures is one of the biggest draws to these festivals. 'I'm hoping to spend time networking and learning from others,' says Russ Gregory, first time attendee and author of The Honey Agency series. 'I really want to meet Greg Herren, Jeffry Ricker, Eric Andrews-Katz, and Ken O'Neil (among others). I'm also looking forward to hearing Radclyffe speak again.'

Like its parent Tennesee Williams Festival, Saints and Sinners offers master classes and panels as well as many other opportunities. As Dale Chase, author of five printed books and eight ebooks, says: 'I was well experienced before attending, yet I gained a great deal and mostly found a home in the gay literary world. I met the publisher of my first book there, and pitched it over dinner. That was huge for me. Since then I've taken something every year from the festival: knowledge, a connection or a raring good time.' The classes range from previous classes taught by Jess Wells (Lambda Literary Award winning author of The Mandrake Broom) on writing science fiction, or Edmund White's (award winning author of A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty) lessons on utilizing the craft of memory and the skills of observation when putting lives on paper. Other previous panels include: 'The Devil You Don't Know' (panel members included Nathan Burgoine and Christopher Rice) or 'Do Reviews Matter?' (panel members included Andrew Holleran, Carol Anshaw). No matter what your interest is in any literary field, you are sure to find something to strike your interest. 'Jeff Mann's workshop last year on a sense of place is a good example of what works best for me,' says Louis Flint Ceci. There was even a panel called 'Inside the Writer's Studio' where two authors (Felice Picano and Andrew Holleran) of the original Violet Quill Group were interviewed on their insights about writing, reviews, publicity and all manners of the literary world. And then, of course, the ever-popular opportunity to schedule an appointment to pitch your own novel for publication to one of the attending publishing house representatives.

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Two literary festivals - one weekend
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