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New Orleans is most well-known for its extraordinary music scene and partying atmosphere, but what’s lesser known is that it’s also a literary town. The city has been home to a plethora of authors, both past and present, and it has been the setting of countless works of fiction and non-fiction. If books are your thing, make sure you check out these literary sights on your next trip to the Big Easy.
139 Chartres Street
Backspace’s tagline is, “Located at the intersection of drinking and writing,” and it delivers on its promise. Open seven days a week in the French Quarter, this bar and restaurant offers up a host of cocktails famous throughout literary history—including a Hemingway-invented combination of champagne and absinthe called Death in the Afternoon—and a book-themed menu boasting the preface (appetizers), signed editions (signature courses), footnotes (sides), and an epilogue (dessert). The space features brick fireplaces, cozy leather armchairs and stacked books to browse while sipping a Jazz Age cocktail. Backspace also offers book signings, author events, and a celebration of Tennessee Williams’ birthday.
214 Royal Street
Providing luxury accommodations in the French Quarter since 1886, the Monteleone Hotel has hosted an impressive list of authors, including Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, and Stephen Ambrose. Since 1949, the hotel’s Carousel Bar, a liquor-infused merry-go-round, has gently spun patrons at the rate of one complete revolution every 15 minutes. The famous Carousel has been featured in the works of Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, and Rebecca Wells, and is the birthplace of at least two cocktails, The Goody and Vieux Carre, though perhaps it is best known for its Sazerac.
201 Royal Street
A French Quarter staple since 1979, Mr. B’s is known for its regional fare and casual atmosphere. Local author Anne Rice reportedly frequents this spot for specialties like Gumbo Ya Ya, Creole Bread Pudding, and wood-grilled local fish.
209 Bourbon Street
The menu and dining experience offered up by the fifth generation of the Galatoire family is much unchanged from that offered by its founder Jean Galatoire in 1905. Tennessee Williams declared this to be his favorite restaurant in the city and frequently dined here. It specializes in a blend of French-Creole cuisine and dishes that include trout almondine, seafood okra gumbo, and shrimp remoulade.
713 Saint Louis Street
Antoine’s has been a New Orleans tradition since 1840. It boasts 14 separate dining rooms and is the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller. Each of the dining rooms has a name with a unique history, such as the Mystery Room, so named during Prohibition, when customers could pass through a secret door in the women’s restroom and emerge with a booze-laced cup of coffee, and the 1840 Room, fashioned after the style of that time. Frances Parkinson Keyes set her aptly named novel “Dinner at Antoine’s” here.
624 Pirate’s Alley
Housed in a narrow townhome on Pirate’s Alley, just off Jackson Square, this tiny gem of a bookshop features literature, rare editions, and a section dedicated to its namesake. William Faulkner lived here in 1925 and penned his debut novel “Soldier’s Pay” while in residence. Lovingly restored by owner Rosemary James and Joe DeSalvo, the shop has been a haven for bibliophiles and Faulkner fans alike for nearly 30 years. The shop regularly hosts concerts and readings for the benefit of the broader New Orleans literary community. The best part? Visitors concerned about squeezing their newly-purchased tomes into their suitcases need not worry, because the shop will gladly ship books home. When those brown paper-wrapped packages arrive, it’s like discovering the books all over again.
A quintessential, balconied structure overlooking Jackson Square, these townhomes-turned apartments have seen their share of writers pass through their doors. In the 1920s, they hosted a literary salon graced by the likes of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Gertrude Stein, and Carl Sandberg. It was here that literary journal Double Dealer first published Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, and, for a while, Sherwood Anderson and his family lived in one of the upper apartments.
2727 Prytania Street
Housed in a building that has, in past incarnations, been home to a livery, a mortuary, a gas station, and a roller skating rink, the Garden District Book Shop carries a large selection of works by local authors. Titles range from fiction and non-fiction to children’s books, gardening guides, signed first editions, and more. Garden District hosts multiple author and literary events every week and is dedicated to work about New Orleans and from authors who call the city home.
1113 Chartres Street
Frances Parkinson Keyes happened upon this house while researching her novel “Crescent Carnival.” She lived here from 1945-1970 and during that time, wrote many of her most well-known novels and paid rent by restoring the house to its original grandeur. Today, the Keyes Foundation operates the house and garden as a museum.
Each year, the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival pays homage to great Southern writing with a multi-day festival featuring literary panels, master classes, theatrical performances, and even a Stella-Stanley shouting contest, a la A Streetcar Named Desire. For more information, visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.
The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival is a three-day celebration of the LGBT literary community. Held each spring, the festival offers panels, master classes, craft classes, and meet and greets. They even offer discounted ticket rates for students and festival-goers’ partners. Visit www.sasfest.org for details.
Happy Birthday Mr. Faulkner is held every September in honor of William Faulkner’s birthday and is a chance for Faulkner-ites and local authors to gather in honor of the foundation’s namesake author and all things literary. To learn more, visit www.faulknersociety.org.
Edible Book Day, held annually at the New Orleans Museum of Art invites individuals and community groups to bake cakes inspired by books and the literary form. Check out www.noma.org for delicious-looking photos and more.
And finally, a list of some of the most important, post-Katrina work written about New Orleans. Any literary tour of the city would be incomplete without an examination of the city’s people and resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
If you’ve made it through this list and are still looking for literary events, New Orleans has readings and book signings nearly every day of the year. Check out the links below for a listing of regular meet-ups, book club gatherings, author events, and more. Happy reading!
Nolalit- a monthly reading group dedicated to local literature.
Samantha Facciolo is a freelance writer who has contributed to The Rumpus, TimeOut New York, The Culture-ist, Living Well magazine and others. She writes mostly on themes related to culture and cuisine, travel and wellness, education and people affecting social change. She teaching writing to English language learners through Teachers & Writers Collaborative and contributes frequently to the Library Journal Review. Samantha comes from a long line of chefs and bakers and is always happy to explore new food, especially in the name of a good story. @seesamwrite