If you are an LGBTQ person, and have ever dreamt of being a writer, then there are two opportunities coming your way! The annual Tennessee Williams Festival and the annual Saints & Sinners Festival are about to start up in New Orleans. Both draw a large number of authors, performers, agents, publicists and all things related to the publishing world. Attending one – or both – is an invaluable tool for anyone wanting to break into, or continue networking, in the literary field of LGBTQ writing. With a collection of performances, classes, master classes, workshops and lectures to attend, both events are not to be missed. Both festivals have contests for short stories, plays and other works that are open to all and are yearly celebrated.
Tennessee Williams Festival
March 21 – 25, 2018
Saints & Sinners Festival
March 23-25, 2018
The Tennessee Williams Festival (“One of the top ten literary festivals in the nation” – USA Today) has been going on for over 20 years and continues to be organized with Mr. Paul J Willis at its helm. Celebrating one of America’s greatest playwrights the festival brings together a bevy of talents all gathering to discuss, promote, and rejoice at the creative genius that is “Tennessee”. Set in New Orleans (both Mr. Williams’ home as well as the setting for many of his plays) the festival started in honor of Tom “Tennessee” Williams’ birth, and offers many different options for the ardent fan and the novice alike. Starting on Wednesday, March 21 (and lasting through March 25, 2018) the festival launches with a series of plays by Mr. Williams.
Events will be happening all through the weekend and there is a plethora to choose from attending. Wednesday night launches the official openings with “The Women of Williams”. Hosted by Pulitzer finalist Lisa D’Amour and Kim Vaz-Deville, the lecture will have several women of theatre/television/film discussing the intricate details of the women in Williams’ work. Blanche Dubois, Stella Kowalski, Amanda, and several other characters have become staples in the American theatre. For those not familiar with the work of Mr. Williams there is even a “Tennessee Williams 101” special event serving as a primer for the weekend of works.
Of course, there is no celebration without performances of the some of his marvelous works. The festival produces a wide range of classic (and new adaptations) of some of his greatest plays. A Streetcar Named Desire, perhaps one of his three best-known shows) will be performed. “The Unsatisfactory Supper” (a one-act precursor to the masterpiece “Baby Doll”) will feature stage and film stars, Beth Bartley, Brenda Currin and David Hoover, and is directed by festival director, Paul Willis. “Vieux Carre” (one of Williams’ last shows written) will be offered as well as “And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens”. There will even be a new production of “One Arm”, a short story by Tennessee Williams that is adapted for the stage by Moises Kaufman (“The Laramie Project”) – who will also be in attendance for the weekend festival.
The festival is not limited to the works of Tennessee (although there are usually some connections). A Friday class is hosted by Jaffe Cohen, who wrote the television smash hit, “Feud: Bette and Joan”. In the class “Writing For TV and Film”, Mr. Cohen will discuss how he and his writing partner, Michael Zam, wrote a short, humorous screenplay called “Best Actress” as a lark, until it eventually was bought by Ryan Murphy and turned into an eight hour television series. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford will host a Master Class on “What Makes a Good Writer”, discussing his thirteen points for making a writer better.
A one-man performance of “Dear Mr. Williams” will be offered as well. This is a staging of Tennessee’s letters, essays, and stories all related to New Orleans. Native Benjamin Batt (Mad Men, Jeffrey) will combine his own love letters to NOLA in this production that shares the love the two men possess for such a magical city. Joel Vig (“Mr. Pinky” from the original stage production of “Hairspray”, the musical) will be performing his one-man show “Truman Talks Tennessee” in which an aging Truman Capote recalls his friendships and rivalries with one of America’s greatest playwrights.
And of course, there is the annual “Stella and Stanley” shouting contest. More than 20 people stand up and are given ’15 seconds of fame’ to present their own take on the infamous scene from “Streetcar”. While some do it for laughs, others do it with strict dedication. Men and women are both encouraged participating and scream (hence the addition of “Stanley” to the contest) to coax their ‘beloved’ down from the balcony in Jackson Square. Many of the previous years include hopefuls performing in Sign Language, with helium balloons, and even an original take on doing the scene with a Yiddish accent. Several of the past years have been recorded and released on YouTube.com.
The Saints & Sinners Festival (March 23- 25, 2018) celebrates their 15th Year this year. While considered the ‘younger sibling’ of the TW Festival, S&S celebrates a wider range of writing and publishing in the LGBTQ world. Offering many classes on a wide range of subjects, S&S brings together a bounty of well-known (and shining up and coming) authors. While the two festivals are now overlapping at the same hosting hotel The Monteleone (one of the two literary landmark hotels in the United States), the festivals compliment each other on their presentations.
Classes for Saints & Sinners cover a much wider range of subjects. Attendance can be had for “Queer Fiction As Social Commentary”, a class on discussing the role of queer fiction in the social worlds. Participants on the panel include Matthew Griffin (“Hide”), Gar McVey-Russell (Sin Against the Race), and the Lavender Quill alumni, Felice Picano (Like People in History). “Inside the Writer’s Studio” will be a live interview of groundbreaking, award-winning author’s Greg Herren (Murder in the Rue Dauphine) and Jewelle Gomez (The Gilda Stories). “Out of This World” will be a discussion of speculative fiction in the alternative worlds of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and is hosted by the New Orleans bookstore, Tubby & Coos. “Get Inspired, Stay Inspired” is a class dedicated to helping the author continue momentum for any project they start. Lavender Quill alumni Andrew Holleran (Dancer From the Dance) will be joined by Award winning author Justin Torress and others, to discuss pros and cons of writing groups, role models and techniques for sustaining an author’s work. Sandy Lowe will be hosting the popular, “Pitch Your Novel to an Agent” panel (representing Bold Strokes Books), where the author can sit down and pitch their work to largest LGBTQ publishing house in the United States, and one of the top three in the world.
Two attendees, who are also among the inductees of the 2018 Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame) are the accomplished playwrights Moises Kauffman and Martin Sherman. Both authors have written plays that exquisitely represent very dark passages in LGBTQ history. Kauffman’s plays include “Gross Indecency; the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”, and the powerful “The Laramie Project”, the latter being based on the interviews surrounding Matthew Shepherd’s death. Martin Sherman wrote the book for the Peter Allen bio-musical “The Boy From Oz”, as well as the haunting, and disturbing play “Bent” about homosexuals in the concentration camp Dachau in 1936.
Other speakers included are: Louis Flint Ceci (Dream Spinner Press), Christian Baines (“Puppet Boy”), actress Brenda Currin (‘Nancy Clutter’ from “In Cold Blood”), J.R. Greenwell (“Teased Hair and the Quest for Tiaras”), Michele Karlsberg (a publicist, producer, publisher and literary executor), Jeff Mann (“Rebels”), J.M. Redmann (the “Micky Knight” mystery series), and Radclyffe (eight-time Lambda Literary Award finalist in romance, mystery and erotic, and President/founder of Bold Strokes Books) among many incredible and award-winning authors.
The hosting hotel is the literary landmark, The Monteleone (https://hotelmonteleone.com/). One of the two literary landmark hotels in the United States (the other being The Algonquin in New York), the Monteleone has hosted a long line of famous, American writers. Tennessee Williams wrote The Rose Tattoo while holed up in one of the hotel’s rooms. Truman Capote often bragged about being born while his mother was staying at the hotel. Other guests include William Faulkner and Ernest Hemmingway. The hotel is proud of its infamous “Carousel Bar” and is located in the center of The French Quarter. The hotel signage can be seen from any point in the area making it a beacon for those late night journeys home.