Books About New Orleans

Every place has writers that reflect its culture. Literary place-making, I call it. If you want to know more about a place, you need to hear its stories. There are so many books to choose from, but here are just a few that celebrate New Orleans culture by writers who live, breathe, and love this city.

From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate Press, 1998) edited by Kalamu ya Salaam. This anthology captures the diverse voices of New Orleans, celebrating the multi-ethnic tapestry of the city. Established and emerging writers of all ages are included in this extensive collection of poetry.

Monday Nights: Stories From the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans (University of New Orleans Press, 2016) edited by Fredrick Barton and Joanna Leake. The University of New Orleans MFA program in creative writing has produced some fantastic writers. The writers in this anthology took part in a Monday night workshop that has lasted over twenty-five years, where they met to share and discuss their work. Included are stories by graduates of the program, such as Rebecca Antoine, Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and Che Yeun, as well as faculty members, such as Fredrick Barton, Amanda Boyden, and M. O. Walsh.

N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature (Lavender Ink, 2013) edited by Nancy Dixon. This book highlights the literature of New Orleans over the past two hundred years including prominent writers like Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams, but also historic writers like the poets of Les Cenelles, French Creoles of color who published the first anthology of African American literature in 1845. The book was made possible by grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans (LSU Press, 2013) by Susan Larson. For years, Susan Larson was the book editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and now hosts WWNO’s public radio program The Reading Life. Susan shares her wealth of knowledge for local bookstores, historic landmarks, current literary festivals, and more.

Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2011) by Freddi Williams Evans. This book explores the history of the Sunday gatherings of enslaved Africans at Congo Square beginning in the eighteenth century. Included are stories and descriptions of the songs, dances, and musical instruments of these gatherings. Congo Square is often considered the birth place of American music and continues to be a prominent venue for music festivals and community gatherings.

Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Writers for Families Together

This past September, the Writers for Migrant Justice campaign readings focused on raising funds for detained and formerly detained migrants on a national level. Here in Houston, we want to continue this effort on a local level. On October 3 the Houston Writers Coalition organized a second reading, Writers for Families Together. The goal was to raise money for two local organizations—Familias Immigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha (FIEL) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)—which both aid immigrant families facing human rights violations at the Texas–Mexico border.

There were over seventy people in attendance at the reading, which was held at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Museum District. It was a blessed evening as we got to hear from over thirty writers—including poet and teacher Natasha Carrizosa, translator and former Houston poet laureate Robin Davidson, slam poet Loyce Gayo, novelist Daniel Peña, and myself—reading in English and Spanish. It was a truly beautiful night and we hope to continue efforts to support and aid immigrant families in our community.

The flyer for the Writers for Families Together Houston reading.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

Indie Bookstores in New Orleans

Who says bookstores are losing popularity? In New Orleans, independent bookstores continue to thrive, bringing in local and national writers for literary events and avid readers. Here are some of my favorite places to buy local.

The Community Book Center is, currently, the only Black-owned bookstore in New Orleans. Mama Jen and Mama Vera are the beloved owners. Known as the social hub of the Seventh Ward, be prepared to debate about the latest local and national issues while perusing and buying books. They keep it real here.

Blue Cypress Books is located on happening Oak Street. I always enjoy their window displays because I discover books I previously didn’t know existed. They buy, sell, and trade quality secondhand books, offer a large selection of children’s books, and host monthly book club meetings. It is definitely worth a stop inside.

Octavia Books is located uptown on Octavia Street. If you’re going for an author reading, get there early for a seat. For sure their calendar of events will have a writer you want to hear read. Octavia Books also cosponsors The Reading Life, a locally-produced literary radio show with host Susan Larson on WWNO Public Radio.

The Garden District Book Shop is located around the corner from the famous Commander’s Palace restaurant. Purchase a book and hang out in the beautiful atrium area of the historic “Rink” in the beautiful Garden District, or catch a reading with an author in the shop.

A recent author event at Octavia Books.
 
Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.

Detroit State of Mind

This week I took a moment to speak with Rose Gorman, the inaugural Tuxedo Project resident fellow, about the literary landscape of Detroit compared to her experience in New York, where she received her MA in creative writing at Binghamton University. Gorman has lived in Detroit for two years and quickly become an active organizer of book clubs and fundraising events, and is a coordinator for the Michigan Louder Than a Bomb festival.

Gorman has a ton of experience with event programming and, as the former program manager of the New York Writers Coalition, received funding for the Fort Greene Summer Literary Festival through the Reading & Workshops program. When asked about the differences between the literary events and resources in Detroit versus New York, she found it difficult to put into words. “New York is a larger place, and coming from there, Detroit has a small-town feel,” says Gorman. “It can be easier to collaborate with different kinds of artists here, while in New York everyone is already engrossed in so much of the culture that it’s harder to find time to collaborate. Everyone is hustling.”

I identified with Gorman’s experiences with Detroit feeling like a small city. There is an unspoken effort to connect to a larger group of like-minded creatives here. The beauty of Detroit is in the richness of our creative community. We welcome new writers to the city and it’s important that we continue to share experiences, resources, and knowledge with each other.

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

Lawndale Art Center

Name of Reading Series: 
Gulf Coast Reading

The Lawndale Art Center is located within the Houston Museum District and the Midtown Cultural Arts and Entertainment District, and hosts art exhibits, musical performances, and literary discussions and readings including the Gulf Coast reading series. The series presents readings from University of Houston Creative Writing Program graduate students and contributors to Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. The monthly series supports the journal’s mission to spotlight the work of both esteemed and emerging writers with voices as diverse as the Gulf itself.

Accept Queries?: 
no
Writers Paid?: 
no
Readers can sell their books: 
no
Type of Venue: 
Lawndale Art Center

Valeria Luiselli, 2019 MacArthur Fellow

Caption: 

“My work often deals with dislocation, belonging, migration, of course, and I tend to create characters that are unnamed and not quite easy to place.” Valeria Luiselli, a 2019 MacArthur “Genius” fellowship recipient, talks about how she combines fiction and nonfiction to challenge conventional notions of authorship, and the ways in which the lives of others are documented.

Submissions Open for Lambda Literary Awards

The 32nd Annual Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”) are currently open for submissions. The Lammys honor books in more than twenty genres ranging from literary fiction and poetry to speculative fiction, comics, and memoir, and are judged “principally on literary merit and content relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer lives.” 

Submit three hard copies of a book and, if available, a .PDF version of the text, by November 15. Books put forward for consideration in this Lammys cycle must be published between January 1 and December 31, 2019, and may be nominated in no more than one category. Submissions may be made by authors as well as publishers or publicists. All authors, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are welcome to have their work considered, except in the case of the awards that mark specific stages of an individual LGBTQ writer’s career. The fee is $55 per book; for publishers entering eleven or more books, the fee is $45 per book. Visit the website for complete guidelines. 

Finalists will be announced in March 2020. Winners will be revealed at the Lambda Literary Awards gala ceremony on June 8, 2020 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Tickets for the gala will go on sale in spring 2020.

Mixing It Up

I have been speaking to numerous venue owners in Detroit about what it means to host a series in the city. Open mics allow for a variety of artists to take the stage while I have seen other shows and reading series offer a workshop afterwards. These are the shows that introduced me to the world of poetry. It’s been enlightening to explore all the different literary series offered in Detroit and to see how they impact audiences.

Recently I had a conversation with Dan Wickett, a local poet and event organizer, about hosting the Brain Candy series. The series showcases one poet, one prose writer, a musician, and a visual artist performing together at the local comic bookstore Green Brain Comics. When asked about how he chooses the artists and curates events, Wickett says that his hope is for audiences to find something unexpected to enjoy. “I’m exposing different art forms to those that show up to see a painter or a musician,” he says. “I’m also hoping to develop a community of artists that helps each other, supports each other’s events, and that finds hints of their own work in those around them.”

Brain Candy is presented by Green Brain Comics and the Emerging Writers Network, and has shows every third Monday of the month. For more information on events in your area, and to post your own, visit the Literary Events Calendar.

A reading for the Green Book Comics Brain Candy series.
 
Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

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