The vibrant, rich culture and history of the Bayou State has inspired countless numbers of famous Louisiana authors and even more stories. Some of America’s, even the world’s best work came from the South. Tennessee Williams. Mark Twain. Walt Whitman. Ernest Gaines. Kate Chopin. Anne Rice. Literary lovers from all over can appreciate the folklore and storytelling that the bayous, foodways, and the motley crew of ethnicities, cultures, and belief systems inspire. Louisianatravel.com recently published a compilation of all the most famous Louisiana literary legends and we took our favorites from that list to dive deeper into their works, inspiration, and backgrounds.
1. Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams is considered among the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama. Some of his most famous works include The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). His works were greatly influenced by his struggle with depression and tumultuous personal life. Well into his 60s, Williams still struggled but as he slid deeper in depression, his work began to suffer as well. Much of Williams’ most acclaimed work was written early in his career and has been adapted for the cinema. His mother once said of Williams’ writing: “Tom would go to his room with black coffee and cigarettes and I would hear the typewriter clicking away at night in the silent house. Some mornings when I walked in to wake him for work, I would find him sprawled fully dressed across the bed, too tired to remove his clothes.” Williams also wrote short stories, poetry, essays and a volume of memoirs. In 1979, four years before his death, Williams was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. Every year the French Quarter hosts the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. Williams lived for a time in New Orleans and used it as the setting for “A Streetcar Named Desire” and other short stories. Fans can also check out Williams’ first Vieux Carre apartment at 722 Toulouse Street, now home of the Historic New Orleans Collection. Next hop a streetcar, you can temporarily name “Desire,” down Saint Charles and view the cemeteries and sights of fading Southern grandeur that inspired Williams’ work.
2. Ann Rice
Anne Rice is one of the most well known contemporary Louisiana authors. She was born and raised in New Orleans and holds a Master of Arts Degree in English and Creative Writing. Even though Anne has spent more of her life in California than in New Orleans, she has said numerous times that New Orleans is her true home and inspiration for her famous novels. Interview with the Vampire, her 1st novel, was set in The French Quarter. Interview with the Vampire was made into a motion picture in 1994, directed by Neil Jordan, and starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas. Her antebellum house in the Garden District was the fictional home of her imaginary Mayfair Witches. Ann is the author of over 30 novels, including The Witching Hour, Servant of the Bones, Merrick, Blackwood Farm, Blood Canticle, Violin, and Cry to Heaven.
3. Ernest Gaines
Ernest James Gaines (born January 15, 1933) is an African-American author whose works have been taught in college classrooms and translated into many languages, including French, Spanish, German, Russian and Chinese. Gaines was among the fifth generation of his sharecropper family to be born on a plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. This became the setting and premise for many of his later works. He was the eldest of 12 children, raised by his aunt, who was crippled and had to crawl to get around the house. Although born generations after the end of slavery, Gaines grew up impoverished, living in old slave quarters on a plantation. When the children were not picking cotton in the fields, a visiting teacher came for five to six months of the year to provide basic education. Schooling for African-American children did not continue beyond the eighth grade during this time in Pointe Coupee Parish. His first novel was written at age 17, while babysitting his youngest brother, Michael. According to one account, he wrapped it in brown paper, tied it with string, and sent it to a New York publisher, who rejected it. Gaines burned the manuscript, but later rewrote it to become his first published novel, Catherine Carmier. Four of his works have been made into television movies. His 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying (1993) was nominated for Pulitzer Prize, was rewarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction (1993), and was inducted into Oprah’s Book Club (1997). Gaines currently resides on the land where he grew up with his wife.
At the University of Louisiana at Lafayette resides The Ernest J. Gaines Center which is an international center for scholarship on Ernest Gaines and his work. The center honors the work of Gaines and provides a space for scholars to work with the his papers and manuscripts. Gaines’s generous donation of his early papers and manuscripts (through 1983) and some artifacts to Edith Garland Dupré Library provided the foundation for the center’s collection. The center also anticipates acquiring the remainder of Gaines’s papers.
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