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Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration

Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com

If the Big Easy's on your travel bucket list, you probably put it there after hearing about the nightlife in the French Quarter, the gorgeous homes in the Garden District, those Cafe Du Monde beignets (and the rest of the amazing cuisine there), and those spooktacular mausoleums in the graveyards.

All of these are excellent reasons to visit New Orleans.

However, most people spend quite some time in the city without ever realizing that they're in a literary gold mine. Book lovers, rejoice and start packing your suitcases--New Orleans has more than enough literary ties to keep you busy for days.

Anne Rice
Any discussion of New Orleans' relationship with literature has to include Rice, who was born and raised in the Crescent City and returned to the area after years of living in California. She settled back in New Orleans in the late 1980s after both Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat were published.
“In the spring of 1988, I returned to New Orleans, and as soon as I smelled the air, I knew I was home. It was rich, almost sweet, like the scent of jasmine and roses around our old courtyard. I walked the streets, savoring that long lost perfume.” -Louis, Interview with a Vampire 
Even though she wasn't living in New Orleans at the time she wrote the first three books in the Vampire Chronicles, the novels are infused with her memories of the French Quarter and Garden District--so much so that you can take a tour of places mentioned in those books. She went on to write another 16 books between 1988 and 2005, the period of time that Rice lived in New Orleans as an adult. She's since moved back to California, but still works to raise awareness for her hometown.


Hotel Monteleone
While it's not a person, the Hotel Monteleone has contributed to New Orleans' literary culture by providing a haven for writers. Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Anne Rice, Stephen Ambrose, and John Grisham have all stayed at the hotel. Truman Capote's mother was in residence there while she was pregnant with Capote.

William Faulkner
Very early in his career, Faulkner settled into a house on Pirate's Alley in New Orleans with William Spratling, an artist and Faulkner's roommate. Together, they created a lighthearted book of caricatures called Sherwood Anderson and Other Creoles, before Faulkner began work on Soldiers' Pay, his first novel. He completed it while still living in New Orleans, but moved home to Oxford, Mississippi, to be with his soon-to-be-wife.

Though he left the city, it didn't leave him, and Faulkner partially or wholly set many of his works, including Absalom, Absalom, and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, in New Orleans.

You can visit the house he called home: it's still standing at 624 Pirate's Alley (in the French Quarter just around the corner from Jackson Square) and is now Faulkner House Books.

Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com
Faulkner House Books

Tennessee Williams
I know you've heard of A Streetcar Named Desire. But did you know that it was an actual streetcar? For the low price of $1.25 (cash only!), you, too, can be inspired by the same clattering train that Williams was. While the Desire line is long gone, the St. Charles line uses nearly identical trains from the same era as the famed streetcar.
"America only has three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland." - Tennessee Williams
Williams lived in various boarding houses and apartments in New Orleans before he purchased a home at 1014 Dumaine Street. He lived in the second floor apartment on and off for nearly 20 years in between his visits to New Mexico, Massachusetts, Florida, and New York.
Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com
1014 Dumaine Street
Richard Ford
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author (for his novel Independence Day) called both the French Quarter and the Garden District home during his time in the city.
"Something will be there when the flood recedes. We know that. It will be those people now standing in the water, and on those rooftops - many black, many poor. Homeless. Overlooked. And it will be New Orleans - though its memory may be shortened, its self-gaze and eccentricity scoured out so that what's left is a city more like other cities, less insular, less self-regarding, but possibly more self-knowing after today. A city on firmer ground." -Richard Ford on post-Katrina New Orleans
Ford now lives in Maine, but his Southern upbringing (he was born in Mississippi) and residence in New Orleans still influences his writing. He often returns to the city for book signings and readings.

Kate Chopin
Although she was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Chopin found herself in Louisiana after she married her husband Oscar; they called New Orleans home until Oscar's poor business sense in his cotton brokerage forced them to abandon the nice home in the city for his homeplace in Natchitoches Parish, where he ran a general store and several plantations. After he died at the age of 37, Chopin tried to keep up the businesses but eventually returned to St. Louis with her children. 
“The city atmosphere certainly has improved her. Some way she doesn't seem like the same woman.” - "The Awakening"
Her novels and short stories, including "The Awakening," were pulled from people that she'd known while living in Louisiana. "The Awakening," in particular, was inspired by the true story of a woman who'd lived in the French Quarter. 
Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com
The last of the Chopins' three New Orleans homes: 1413 Louisiana Avenue
Nelson Algren
In his novel, A Walk on the Wild Side, Algren presents a New Orleans that won't exactly make you rush to the city. Still, it's a compelling--if brutal and in-your-face--portrayal of what the city was before the masses began to descend on the city in search of a supposedly authentic Southern experience and a few drinks on Bourbon Street. A word of warning: skip this one if you like turtles.

In his younger days, Algren rode the rails across the country and ended up in New Orleans, where he lived on park benches and drank coffee donated by a local mission. He linked up with two brothers, and the three of them went door-to-door selling fake certificates for hairstyling services. They're entrepreneurial spirit lasted only as long as it took to get in several fights with the unamused husbands of the women who'd purchased the counterfeit discounts. Algren left the city soon afterwards, returning to it only in his works.

John Dos Passos
A contemporary (and friend!) of Faulkner, Dos Passos came to New Orleans in search of writer Sherwood Anderson--whom he was to become close with during his time in the city.
"I love the streets of scaling, crumbling houses with broad wrought iron verandahs painted in Caribbean blues and greens." - Dos Passos describing New Orleans in a letter to his friend Rumsey Marvin 
Although Dos Passos left the city to move elsewhere, he often returned many times during his life. The city influenced him so much that it is referred to throughout his trilogy, U.S.A. 

What books have you read about New Orleans or by a New Orleans author? Have I left your favorite off the list?

This post contains affiliate links. If you use the link to purchase any of the above books, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you!


Literary New Orleans: A City of Inspiration | CosmosMariners.com