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Cover Image of West With the Night by Beryl Markham published by North Point Press
Cover Image of Mercy Among the Children: A Novel by David Adams Richards published by Washington Square Press
Cover Image of Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure by Sarah Macdonald published by Broadway
 
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Book Browsing in New Orleans

abstract: Arriving at New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport during a spring thunderstorm is quite an experience... 

article:

June 05, 2004

The pilot plays dodge with impressive cloud formations and dangerous up-down drafts as he makes his way to the runway.

On the ground the temperature is hot and the humidity is close.  Miles of green swampland viewed from above expires its moist breath into an already saturated atmosphere. 

The cab ride is notable.  A large African American woman in a white taxi pulls up to the curb. The driver remains seated, talking animatedly on her cell phone, and indifferently pushes the buttons that release the trunk and un-lock rear passenger doors.  We self-load our luggage, slide into the back seat, and wait while she continues her conversation. Her New Orleans accent is a lyric reminder that we are in Creole country.

As she pulls away from the curb and we pass into the great-wide-open, the weather we witnessed from the air has arrived on the earth with a vengeance.  It's hard to tell where the swamp ends and the pavement begins.  Our driver pauses mid-conversation to ask our destination and then proceeds to floor it, simultaneously adjusting the radio, fiddling with her sun-visor, and shuffling through a stack of business cards to recover a phone number for her telephone caller.  The whole front dash appears to be her office filing system.

The downpour exceeds the ability of the windshield wipers that, in concert with the acceleration rate of the car, is making it impossible to see beyond the front windshield—she is driving 85mpr virtually blind.  We pass other cars on the freeway at an alarming rate.  As we approach each car, she lays on the horn to warn those adjacent not to swing into our lane.  Cajon gospel music blares on the radio and our driver sings unabashedly along, “I’m going to meet with Jesus!” I glance, with ironic concern towards my husband and incredulously, he indicates he has complete confidence in our driver. 

Certainly her girth, singing and navigation abilities are impressive. The fact that she has traveled this road thousands of times is a given.  We listen to her conversation about repeat flood concerns for her house in tangent with decorator plans on where to place the new television—on the porch where she can dictate her own viewing preferences, or an alcove.  She describes the fabric she picked to recover the sofa with the water stains. 

The green flat Faulknerian countryside of this magnolia state, gives way to houses, apartments, businesses and finally the city itself.  We pull up to the hotel and convention center, which are massive.  At three quarters of a mile this must be the largest convention center in the USA. 

My husband, an invited speaker, will give his talk while I browse the sights and bookshops in search of the pulse of the reading and writing community—it's a tough job but somebody has to do it.  There is a rich history of southern literature from novelist William Faulkner to playwright Tennessee Williams.  

After dropping his presentation at the speaker’s room,  we proceed to the popular French quarter.  The next cab driver, also a woman with a slightly more island accent, also listening to bible-talk radio, (I am beginning to categorize cities by what the cabbies listen to: in Montreal it’s classical; in Washington it’s C-Span; in New Orleans it’s bible) drops us off on Bourbon street.  I soon realize the entire street consists of burlesque clubs interspersed with tourist-trap gift shops perpetually selling Mardi Gras, and standup bars offering drinks called hurricanes and hand grenades, whose obvious intention is to assist tourists in patronizing the former two establishments.

The 3-story buildings with ornate ironwork balconies and hotel-over-shop configurations mix eateries with the other main modis-operandai, people watching.  At this early time of day, the streets are quiet and the balconies are vacant.  Service providers are delivering supplies and hucksters don’t bother with the smattering of tourists. Ten a.m. is too early by New Orleans standards—by 11am we’ll be fair game!

We browse several blocks, purchase a coffee and beignet at the River Walk concession and proceed to get beignet-breather’s lung from the icing sugar drenching our confection.  Take my advice and don’t inhale while biting beignet.  The muddy Mississippi is alive with traffic: tugboats with freight barges, commercial boats, and paddleboats with tourists.

There is a Tennessee Williams Festival here every March with Stella-yelling competitions and of course we see the streetcars.  Desire, Williams famous play…

“…opens with Blanche DuBois coming to New Orleans to visit her sister, the pregnant Stella, and the sister's husband Stanley Kowalski. To get to their seedy apartment, she has to take a streetcar named Desire. Thus the Desire streetcar became the most famous street railway in the world. The Desire Line was originated by the New Orleans Railway and Light Co. in 1920. The original route was from Canal and Bourbon, down Bourbon, Esplanade, Decatur, Elysian Fields, Chartres, Desire, Tonti, France, and Royal to Canal.  The last Desire streetcar ran the line on May 30, 1948, to be replaced by a Bus Line also named Desire.

I find Faulknerhouse Books, a full service bookstore established in 1990 offering a collection of not only books by and about the namesake, but also Tennessee Williams, Walker Piercy, modern first editions, Southern Americana with emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana related titles.

“Faulkner House is a national literary landmark. The 27-year-old future Nobel Laureate William Faulkner rented rooms on the ground floor in 1925, the same space that houses the bookstore today. Faulkner arrived in New Orleans as an unsung poet and by the time he left for France a year later, he was well on his way to becoming America's most famous novelist. Mentored by his neighbor Sherwood Anderson, who convinced him to shift his focus from poetry to prose, he had written and published his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, within a year of arriving. To support himself, he wrote a series of poetic sketches about New Orleans, which later were collected in New Orleans Sketches. While living on Pirate's Alley, Faulkner and Spratling produced a book satirizing their friends, Sherwood Anderson And Other Famous Creoles . New Orleans also provided inspiration for the future novels Mosquitoes, The Wild Palms, Absalom! Absalom! and Pylon .”

William Faulkner:

Tennesse Williams : mendacity has always been my favorite Williams expression.  It just seems to sum things up nicely; plot and characters.

The Mississippi Writers Website:

Check out this extensive biographical and commercial web resource with photos, bios and lists of works on noted Southern authors: from DonnaTartt, who certainly captivates, to Eudora Welty.

Margarett Walker Alexander : Prophets For a New Day, October Journey, Jubilee, For My People recognized as an expert on the Harlem Renaissance, a black cultural revolution of the 1920's. In 1949 she moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where she taught English at Jackson State University, for more than thirty years.

Truman Capote: this website visually and textually gives the essence of Capote through pictures and excerpts of the author’s work. In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Grass Harp, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Capote's work blazed the trail for the creative non fiction genre. 

Contemporary New Orleans Writers:

James Lee Burke : Technically a Texas-Louisiana gulf coast writer, Burke has been awarded an Edgar twice for Best Crime novel of the year. The Lost Get-Back Boogie was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Two of his books: Heaven's Prisoners and Two For Texas have been made into films. In the Moon of Red Ponies, June 2204

Kate Chopin: moved to New Orleans from St. Louis when she married Oscar Chopin, a Creole cotton broker. He died just twelve years later and she moved back to St. Louis and published her first collection of short stories bringing her literary acclaim; Bayou Folk. dealt with post Civil War racism, male/female relationships.  In  The Awakening, Kate's most famous work, her protagonist Edna Pontellierdeals explores female oppression, women's emmotional and sexual needs.

John Grisham: The son of a cotton farmer who moved to Mississippi and was educated in the law before turning to write his first novel, A Time to Kill (regarded by Grisham as his best work) presents in a single courtroom scene the essence of the conflict between custom and conscience on the issue of race.A Time to Kill received little national attention, having been prejudged by most as a regional novel. The Firm, a legal thriller, possessed the qualities necessary to make it a commercial success. Published in 1991, The Firm spent forty-seven weeks on the New York Times' Best-Seller List and was eventually translated into twenty-nine languages. Grisham's most recent book is The Last Juror

Walker Percy: The Moviegoer is Binx Bolling, a young New Orleans stockbroker who surveys the world with the detached gaze of a Bourbon Street dandy even as he yearns for a spiritual redemption. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy and Walker Percy, has the complexity of Dickens with Ignatious J. Reilly cracking everyone up as a modern-day Quixote—it has all the usual New Orleans scenery with strippers and nightclub owners, and earned a Pulitzer Prize .

Anne Rice lives and works in New Orleans. Her work combines natural and supernatural worlds with history, philosophy and religion compelling her characters stories to which she is known for the Vampire chronicles series.  The latest edition is Blood Canticle, Randomhouse/knopf (2004) that tells the story of Lestat’s quest for redemption.

 

Non Fiction:

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, by Catherine Clinton "is a superb account of the American 'Black Moses', Harriet Tubman and her famous role as an engineer of the Underground Railroad."

The Amistad Research Center (Tulane University) provides online access to original archival documents preserved at . The digital timeline describes the events of the historical Amistad Event, the subsequent founding of America's largest missionary society and details the development of its visionary commitment to solve America's social problems: e.g. slavery; the plight of the ex-slaves; the treatment of Native Americans; equal protection for all; assimilation of the immigrant populations and meeting the needs of peoples in foreign lands.

 

New Orleans Festivals:

 

The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans

Susan Larson has been book editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper since 1988, and she is author of The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans, Louisiana State University Press (1999) Who better knows the literary scene than she?  A delight to read and chalk full of information,  you should definitely pick up a copy as pre-reading material before your next trip.

 

 

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