Authors: William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams
Destination: New Orleans
William Faulkner did not stick around New Orleans very long, but he certainly made an impression while he was there, Mardi Gras every day! He received encouragement from playwright Sherwood Anderson, and wrote short stories and his first novel Soldier’s Pay. When we go to the city today, we can be grateful that his rooming house, the narrow, three-story house at 624 Pirates Alley behind the Cathedral has been preserved and turned into a wonderful bookstore. Faulkner House books is also the center of the Faulkner Society that sponsors many events include Words and Music, a fall celebration of literature and music.
Used and new books fill two small rooms where William Faulkner lived for half a year in the mid- l920’s. He wrote home about the cathedral garden outside his front door, but probably not about firing a b-b gun at the nuns coming down the alley. Faulkner invented his own life as well as literary characters. He told his friends that because of a wound suffered in the war, he had to drink vast quantities of alcohol to dull the pain. The ‘vast quantities’ part was true.
Faulkner, however, truly belongs to Mississippi. It is Tennessee Williams who absorbed and best portrayed New Orleans. Amazed by the openess of New Orleans that visitors see at Mardi Gras, he role-played himself for a change.
“No one has ‘conferences’ here. They have to be ‘festivals,’” says Kenneth Holditch, my guide on a walking tour of the French Quarter. Holditch was one of the founders of the Tennessee Williams Festival, which brings panels, master classes and performances to several thousand attendees in New Orleans each March.
Holditch wrote about Tennessee William’s favorite table at Galatoire’s restaurant, in Galatoire’s Biography of a Bistro. Williams also is associated with the Court of Two Sisters where he waited table and the Napoleon House bar (now also a cafe) which he favored. Williams lived in several places off and on between the late 1930’s and the l950’s. In 1946, in an attic room of 632 St. Peter, he wrote Streetcar Named Desire. Kenneth Holditch and Richard Freeman Leavitt, quote Williams in their Tennessee Williams and the South.
On St. Peter Street he heard that ‘rattletrap streetcar named Desire’ that ran through the Quarter, ‘up one old narrow street and down another’ and the one named Cemeteries running along Canal Street six blocks away. ‘It seemed to me an ideal metaphor for the human condition,’ he wrote.
And Tennessee Williams certainly captures the spirit of New Orleans as well as any writer ever has. My bookshelves are crammed with Tennessee Williams plays and it was a thrill to walk through “his” New Orleans. Tomorrow more writers who thrive in New Orleans, including Anne Rice.
For more on New Orleans at A Traveler’s Library, see
New Orleans as Seen by Faulkner