Written by The Austin Review Staff
New Orleans is more than just oysters, Sazaracs, and jazz. It is a city built on legend, history, and the art of storytelling. Some say the city is haunted. Walking through the French Quarter and Garden District, a sense of timelessness certainly haunted me. I could feel the stories told, and yet to be told, oozing from the cobblestoned streets and Mississippi River air. As Tennessee Williams put it:
“Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour--but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands--and who knows what to do with it?”
I now see why this bohemian city attracts so many of the greats. Around every tight corner I expected to find writers Ernest Hemingway, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Scott F. Fitzgerald, Tennessee Williams, Rebecca Wells, Anne Rice, Euroda Welty, and more. And not just the famous, but every local I spoke to had a story to tell, whether of the dead buried underneath the streets or of the time Bill Murray and Jessica Lange smoked cigarettes and sang from their mansion balcony.
Just as the city loves stories, the city loves books. Amidst the bourbon bars and cafes, quaint independent bookstores are scattered throughout, like the old prints and books store, Librairie Bookshop. When purchasing an early edition of Catcher in The Rye for sixty-five cents, the storekeeper told me he’d been working there for over thirty-five years. I remarked: “Wow, you must really love books.” He gave me a sly smile and replied: “It wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t love books.” I also found Crescent City Books and the Garden District Book Shop to be lovely. Yet, I spent most of an afternoon stepping back in time at the historical Faulkner House Books. This small space now lined with wall-length bookshelves used to be the home of Faulkner himself. It was here that he wrote his first novel, Soldier’s Pay.
Walking on I came across the tribute statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the lead character of John Kennedy Toole’s Confederacy of Dunces. The statue stood in front of where D. H. Holmes Department Store used to be, the very place the character has a commotion-causing fit in the beginning of the novel.
Before long the city brought me to the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar. While sitting at the slowly-revolving bar, I found myself pondering the world from various angles, like so many great writers before. In fact, Truman Capote was practically born in this place, as it was here his mother went into labor. True to his roots, Capote spent much of his life holding “high court” at Carousel Bar.
In the dim light of the evening, I took a leisurely stroll down Frenchmen Street. I saw a professional woman sitting behind a typewriter on the walkway. I inquired about what she was doing, only to discover she writes customized “smut” for $20 a piece. She was booked up at the time, so I was unable to make a purchase.
There is no place like New Orleans, and there is nothing like being surrounded by a world that celebrates stories.
True to form, the city offers an annual literary festival, known as the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. The 28th annual festival will be held in March 2014.