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Southern Hospitality: A Spring Road Trip through the Literary South

April 5, 2012 in American literature, Classic Literature, Southern Writers, Travel, Travel Writers

Painting by David BatesWith winter winding to a close, there is no better time to hop in the car, roll down the windows, and enjoy the warm breezes of spring as you venture off to places unknown.  From John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to Jack Kerouac’s iconic On the Road, literature is ripe with tales of road trips, penned by authors sharing their experiences traveling the country.  With summer fast approaching, isn’t it time to imagine your own cross country adventure?

Over the years I’ve often planned hypothetical road trips for myself, drawing zigzagging lines with a Sharpie across maps of the United States, hopeful to take my own journey one day. But of all the lines I have drawn, my favorite always takes me a southern route from the North East down through Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. I believe one reason it’s my favorite route is because the South has been so vividly portrayed in literature. From the grandiose to the grotesque, Southern writers from Flannery O’Connor to Margaret Mitchell have painted brilliant portraits of the South in their works.

While I long to witness the natural beauty the South has to offer, see the Mississippi River and experience the splendor of the Louisiana bayou, I am sure even these urges have their root in my experience of Southern literature.  So it only makes sense that on any road trip through the Southern U.S., literary travelers pay homage to the literary greats that lived and wrote there. While New Orleans is well known for its associations with literature, from Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote, the South is brimming with less well-known but equally fascinating ways to connect with literary history.

In Atlanta, Georgia, let the wind take you in the direction of the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum on Peachtree Street.  While it took Mitchell almost a decade to finish the epic Gone with the Wind, you can tour the museum in a couple of hours, viewing her living space and a selection of her letters.  Travel to Atlanta this April 20-22nd, and receive free admission to the house during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, an event that draws artists from around the world.

If you take your adventure to Savannah, visit the one-time residence of writer Flannery O’Connor.  While A Good Man is Hard to Find, the author’s childhood home, located on East Charlton Street, is not!  The house where the author resided from 1925-1938 contains some of the original furnishings.  For more O’Connor memorabilia continue on to Georgia College and State University, where there is a room dedicated to the famous alumnus that houses her writing desk and typewriter, among other artifacts including the author’s own personal library of more than 700 titles.

In Mississippi, honor William Faulkner with a visit to his Rowan Oak estate located in Oxford.  Originally built in 1844, the property is now owned by the University of Mississippi and visitors are admitted to view the space where Faulkner lived and worked for over thirty years.  The Oxford, MS Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a more extensive map of “Faulkner Country.” So download one here, and meander at your own pace through the stomping ground of this twentieth century great.

Like John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” The next stop is up to us.

 

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

February 16, 2012 in American literature, Literary Festivals, New Orleans, Southern Writers, Tennessee Williams

Self-Portrait by Tennessee Williams

While many are drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there’s another late Winter festival worth its weight in gold. After all the beads have been tossed and the confetti has been swept away, it’s time for literary travelers from around the world to take over the resplendent city.  March 21st marks the start of the five day Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.  The Festival started in 1987 to celebrate the city’s immense literary culture.

According to the press release, “The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home’ and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; a poetry slam, writing marathon and breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; and special evening events and parties.”  With so many events to choose from, five days doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to experience the festival as well as get a taste of all the city has to offer.  In order to squeeze the most into your experience there are a few easy ways to multi-task.

Since no literary trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walking tour of the multitude of literary landmarks that cover the city, make sure to get your fill with Heritage Literary Tours.  Led throughout the year by retired University of New Orleans Literature professor Dr. Kenneth Holditch, as part of the Festival he will be offering a tour that focuses on landmarks relating to Tennessee Williams in particular.

As for accommodations, there is no shortage of literary culture at the historic Hotel Monteleone, which is offering a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate for attendees of the festival. The 125 year old hotel is a literary landmark in and of itself, as it was once frequented by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Williams himself, as well as being featured in the writing of Ernest Hemingway in “The Night Before Battle.”  Suites at the hotel now bear the names of Welty, Williams, Faulkner and Hemingway.  The Hotel Monteleone also offers a Literary History Walking Tour, which spotlights the hotel’s place as a literary landmark.  Led by local historian Glenn De Villier, the tour begins and ends in the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which was a favorite of Williams’ and immortalized in the works of Williams, Hemingway and Welty.

In lieu of souvenirs, do a little shopping while experiencing further literary heritage by visiting Faulkner House Books, located at the site of Faulkner’s 1925 residence, where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay.  This new and used book store specializes in Faulkner, Williams, and Southern Literature with an emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana. Faulkner House is a national literary landmark, and for book lovers and history aficionados, not to be missed.

Williams once said, “if I can be said to have a home, it is New Orleans, which has provided me with more material than any other part of the country.” So, take a page from the literary sentinel and find inspiration in the sites and sounds of the city of New Orleans.  Whether traveling to New Orleans for the Festival, or just to experience the city’s rich culture, there is no time like the present to book your trip. 

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