Literary Lovers Travel Guide
Marie-Madeleine Hachard arrived in New Orleans in the early 1700s with a group of Ursuline nuns. She wrote of her new home in the French colony and that collection of personal accounts would become one of the first books about Louisiana.
The rest, as they say, is literary history.
So many famous authors have called Louisiana home, such as Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Anne Rice and James Lee Burke. Some have gone on to win national prizes; Shirley Ann Grau and John Kennedy Toole took home Pulitzer Prizes and Ernest J. Gaines won an impressive assortment of awards. Many others, such as Mark Twain, O. Henry and Truman Capote, would repeatedly visit the state.
The list of fiction writers who lived in, worked in and visited the Bayou State is too extensive to include here. Instead, we offer a sample tour of literary Louisiana to whet your appetite.
In 1925, William Faulkner lived on the ground floor of a circa-1840 French Quarter townhouse at 624 Pirate’s Alley, where he also penned his first novel, “Soldier
s Pay. He subleased the space from artist William Spratling. Faulkner originally came to visit writer Sherwood Anderson (who lived in the Pontalba Building). The Pirate’s Alley building is now home to Faulkner House Books.
James Lee Burke
Best-selling and award-winning author James Lee Burke utilized New Iberia for his novels, including his popular Dave Robicheaux mysteries. Burke spent much of his youth in Acadiana and used downtown sites such as Victor’s Cafeteria and Clementine’s restaurant on Main Street as hangouts for Detective Robicheaux. The city offers a “James Lee Burke’s Iberia” trail, and other sites include the Iberia Parish Courthouse where Robicheaux had an office and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes next to City Hall.
Nevada Barr writes mysteries featuring protagonist Anna Pigeon, a national parks ranger. Her 16th book in the series, the 2010 “Burn,” takes place in New Orleans
“New Orleans Sketches”
These stories were written in 1925 by William Faulkner while living in New Orleans. “For the reader of Faulkner, the book is indispensable,” wrote Paul Engle in The Chicago Tribune.
Another award-winning author, Tim Gautreaux, sets his stories in Acadiana. Gautreaux was born in Morgan City and attended Nicholls State before teaching at Southeastern. “The Next Step in the Dance” takes place by Houma and won the 1999 SEBA Book Award. He won the 2009 Louisiana Writer Award by the Louisiana Center for the Book.
Like Grace King and Frances Parkinson Keyes, Lyle Saxon was a famous writer in his day. He wrote many books, one of which, “Lafitte the Pirate,” would be used for Cecil B. DeMille’s movie “The Buccaneer.” He lived at 534 Madison St., where John Steinbeck married Gwyn Conger in the courtyard in 1943. “In the 1930s he championed the French Quarter to artists and writers, talking up its cheap rent and atmosphere,” said author Frank Perez, who offers a Literary Heritage Tour of New Orleans. “They coalesced around him, an artistic salon type of thing.”
“A Confederacy of Dunces”
John Kennedy Toole never lived to see his New Orleans-based novel in print through LSU Press, nor it winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. The book centered around quirky Ignatius J. Reilly and was called a “masterwork” by the New York Times Book Review.
Sookie Stackhouse series
Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town waitress who reads other people’s thoughts, but becomes taken with a vampire whose mind is unreadable. The 13 novels by Charlaine Harris take place in Bon Temps, outside Shreveport.
“The Feast of All Saints”
Anne Rice tackles gens de couleur libres, or free people of color, in pre-Civil War New Orleans.
Frances Parkinson Keyes
Frances Parkinson Keyes wrote 40 of her 51 novels at her French Quarter home at 1113 Chartres St., including her New Orleans-set novel, “Dinner at Antoine’s.” Keyes helped restore the house and courtyard, which was once owned by Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and was built in 1826 for the grandmother of New Orleans chess champion Paul Morphy. Today, the Beauregard-Keyes House is open for tours and includes Keyes’ 1950 writing study.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald rented rooms at a boarding house at 2900 Prytania St., across from Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, and he routinely frequently the Roosevelt Hotel for Sazerac cocktails. The May 25, 1929 issue of The New Yorker featured “A Short Autobiography” of Fitzgerald in which he wrote, “1919: The Sazerac Cocktails brought up from New Orleans to Montgomery to celebrate an important occasion.”
Robert Penn Warren
A Kentucky native, Robert Penn Warren studied and taught at several universities, including LSU. It was in Baton Rouge that Warren co-founded “The Southern Review” literary journal. His Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “All the King’s Men,” was loosely based on Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long and was adapted into movies.
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss of Alexandria changed the course of the historical romance genre when she published “The Flame and the Flower” in 1972, a novel featuring a strong heroine and sex scenes. The book sold more than 2 million copies in its first four years.
Kimberly Willis Holt writes young adult and chapter books, including the National Book Award-winning “My Louisiana Sky” that was made into a film.
Rebecca Wells hails from a cotton farm in Rapides Parish and sets her books in central Louisiana, including the New York Times best-sellers “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Little Altars Everywhere.” The LSU graduate is also an established playwright and actress.
John Kennedy Toole
An unusual statue on Canal Street pays homage to a character from John Kennedy Toole’s prize-winning “A Confederacy of Dunces.” His quirky protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly, stands sentinel in front of what used to be D.H. Holmes department store, also mentioned in the book. Toole graduated from Tulane in 1958, and in 1959 served as an assistant professor of English at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now ULL) and lived on Convent Street in Lafayette. He taught at Dominican College in New Orleans from 1963-1968 and lived in an apartment at 390 Audubon St. and at 7632 Hampson St.
The “Leaves of Grass” author came to New Orleans in 1848 to work as a newspaper correspondent. He and his brother lived at the Fremont Hotel across from the St. Charles Hotel, and on Washington Avenue in the Garden District for a time. “He was greatly influenced by Louisiana,” said author Frank Perez, who offers a Literary Heritage Tour of New Orleans.
Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps
A native of Alexandria, Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps was an African-American poet and short story writer. His birth home serves as a museum in Alexandria, part of the state’s African American Trail.
William Joyce of Shreveport has written and illustrated dozens of children’s books, many of which became bestsellers and were adapted into television shows and films. His repertoire includes “Santa Calls,” “The Guardians” series and “Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo.” He won an Oscar for his heartfelt short film, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” Emmys for “Rolie Polie Olie” on the Disney Channel and was the 2008 Louisiana Writer of the Year.
George Washington Cable
George Washington Cable was born in 1844 in an Annunciation Square home in New Orleans. He fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. After returning home, he lived in the Garden District at 632 Dumaine, then 1313 Eighth St. “Today Cable is primarily remembered for his books ‘Old Creole Days’ and ‘The Grandissimes,’ both of which were received by ‘old’ New Orleans society as critical statements on the racial status quo as well as their mores and speech,” writes Susan Larson, who wrote the book, “The Booklovers Guide to New Orleans.”
Walker Percy’s debut novel, set in New Orleans, won the National Book Award in 1961.
Kate Chopin’s novel set in New Orleans and Grand Isle follows a woman and her unorthodox views on society, considered by some as one of the earliest feminist novels.
“All the King’s Men”
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this Robert Penn Warren novel describes the career of politician Willie Stark, a back-country lawyer who is corrupted by a lust for power.
“A Lesson Before Dying”
One of many acclaimed novels by Ernest J. Gaines, “A Lesson Before Dying” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and was made into a HBO film.
Baton Rouge-New Roads
Dr. Ernest J. Gaines
Dr. Ernest J. Gaines hails from Riverlake Plantation in Oscar, spending his childhood in Cherie Quarters, the plantation’s former slave cabins. Gaines achieved both critical and popular acclaim in 1971 with his novel “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” which won nine Emmy Awards as a film adaptation. Three more novels were made into films and his works have been translated into 19 languages. Visitors may learn more about the acclaimed writer at the Ernest J. Gaines Center at the Edith Garland Dupré Library on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.
Truman Capote used to brag that he was born at the Hotel Monteleone. His mother, Lillie Mae Faulk, was living there when pregnant with Capote but the author came into the world at Touro Infirmary. (The writer did spend time at the hotel and bar.) He resided at 711 Royal St. for a time, writing “Other Voices, Other Rooms” while there.
Romance pioneer Jennifer Blake, whose books have sold millions throughout the world, was born near Goldonna as Patricia Maxwell. She began with mystery suspense under her real name but her first romance as Blake, 1977’s “Love’s Wild Desire,” became an international best-eller. She served as Writer-in-Residence for the Northeastern Louisiana University and is a charter and honorary member of Romance Writers of America.
Grace King became livid at George Washington Cable for his criticism of Creole society. A magazine editor suggested she write her own stories so she established a literary salon at her home at 1749 Coliseum St. It was here she hosted Julia Ward Howe, Joaquin Miller, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner.
Beat writer William Burroughs, author of “Naked Lunch,” “Junkie” and the script for the film “Blade Runner,” was published by the city’s Loujon Press, along with Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller and Allen Ginsberg. He lived in Algiers briefly at 509 Wagner St. between 1948-1949. “Burroughs came to New Orleans after being arrested in Texas for public indecency and drunk driving, but New Orleans was full of temptation,” writes Susan Larson in “The Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans.” “He cruised Lee Circle and Exchange Alley, notorious drug hangouts at the time, and eventually he was arrested for drug possession; he fled to Mexico rather than stand trial in New Orleans and face a two-year stint in Angola.”
Walker Percy moved to Covington later in life, but he lived in New Orleans for a time at 1450 Calhoun St. and at 1820 Milan St. His first novel, “The Moviegoer,” set in the Crescent City, won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.
Another award-winning Northshore author is Ellen Gilchrist, National Book Award winner for “Victory Over Japan.”
Charlaine Harris hails from Mississippi but she set her paranormal mystery series featuring mind-reading waitress Sookie Stackhouse in Bon Temps, Louisiana, a small town outside Shreveport. The series was adapted into several seasons of “True Blood” on HBO and many scenes, including the pilot, were shot in Mansfield and Shreveport.
Many visitors come to New Orleans in search of vampires immortalized in Anne Rice’s bestselling novels. Vampires aside, Rice lived at 1237 First St. in the Garden District, a Greek Revival and Italianate house built in 1857 that she used as the setting for “The Witching Hour.” Rice also owned St. Elizabeth’s Children’s Home at 1314 Napoleon, built as an orphanage in the 1830s by the Daughters of Charity.
Kate Chopin moved to New Orleans with her husband, Oscar, in 1870, living on Jackson Avenue, then at Pitt and Constantinople and finally at 1413-15 Louisiana Avenue. Oscar Chopin worked as a cotton broker but went bankrupt, said Emily Toth, author of “Unveiling Kate Chopin.”
“They had to move to his family land in Cloutierville,” Toth said.
When Oscar died in 1882, Kate Chopin had an affair with married man and moved to St. Louis in 1884 to flee the scandal, but also to care for her ailing mother and to place her children in better schools, Toth explained. Readers of her classic, “The Awakening,” might relate her indiscretion in Cloutierville with her novel’s character, a woman who also has an affair.
The plantation where Chopin lived was long used as a museum dedicated to the writer, but unfortunately burned down in 2008.
Where the Writers Imbibed
William Faulkner once included his Four Roses bourbon as a vital element to writing.
“My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey,” the famous American author penned.
So it’s no wonder many New Orleans bars can count famous literary figures as customers.
The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone welcomed numerous writers, such as Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Anne Rice, John Grisham and Rebecca Wells. Williams also enjoyed the New Orleans-born Ramos Gin Fizz at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel and Café Lafitte in Exile, one of the oldest gay bars in the country. Mark Twain is believed to have frequented the Old Absinthe House, among other writers.
Other bars attracting the literati include the Napoleon House, Finn McCool’s in Mid-City, Maple Leaf Bar and the Roosevelt Hotel, where Fitzgerald loved to sip Sazeracs.
Frances Parkinson Keyes was a prolific magazine writer and author, living at the historic Beauregard House in the French Quarter, once the residence of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and chess champion Paul Morphy. She began writing Louisiana novels, and was most known for her “Dinner at Antoine’s,” which became a national bestseller in 1948. Keyes used the famous New Orleans French-Creole restaurant in many of her novels.