Literary New Orleans from 1880 to the Present

Greetings from Literary New Orleans.  This site is part of a spring 2013 seminar at the University of Richmond on literature and film set in New Orleans, Louisiana. Americans have long been fascinated with New Orleans. Its tropical climate, its racially and ethnically diverse population, its mixing of peoples and cultures, its distinctive architecture, cuisine, and music, and even the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have distinguished it to many as the most “foreign” city in the United States. From its origins, New Orleans has been both praised and denigrated, but almost always, it’s been thought of as America’s “exotic other.” In this course we will discuss how American writers have represented New Orleans in literature and film from the late nineteenth century to the present. We will analyze how some of the country’s most interesting writers have engaged the city–its geography, culture, and myths–as we compare the representations of New Orleans by natives, such as George Washington Cable and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, to those by newcomers, such as Kate Chopin and Tennessee Williams, and by frequent visitors, such as Eudora Welty and Robert Olen Butler. Literary critic Lewis Simpson has argued that early on “the literary imagination isolated the Vieux Carré as the only interesting setting in the city thereby reducing the whole expanding city to one of its small parts,” but recent writers such as Walker Percy, John Gregory Brown, Christine Wiltz, and Brenda Marie Osbey, and filmmakers Spike Lee and J. Leo Chiang, have put other neighborhoods on the map: Gentilly, Uptown, the Garden District, Tremé, the lower Ninth Ward, and New Orleans East. Over the course of the semester, students’ short research essay have been published as part of a collaborative interactive map of “Literary New Orleans” that we are building.

 We are grateful to many people who have helped us along the way. We could not have started this project without the expertise of Ken Warren in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology and of Scott Nesbit and Nate Ayers in the Digital Scholarship Lab at the Univeristy of Richmond. In New Orleans, we would like to thank Professor Barbara Ewell at Loyola University for her suggestions about readings, Professor Thomas Bonner at Xavier University for his suggestions on mapping, and Professor Richard Campanella for his geographical insights. We owe a special thanks to novelists John Gregory Brown, Robert Olen Butler, and Chris Wiltz. The streetcar image is courtesy of “NewOrleansOnline.com”

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