The Value of the Word

Billy Collins speaks at Tulane in less than a week – precisely, in 4 days – 7pm on March 16th, in McAlister Auditorium. Our final preparations are underway – distributing posters and flyers, publicizing the reading on Facebook, generally doing everything conceivable to ensure that the event is a success. As those of us involved with the production of this reading are learning, each publicity campaign presents a set of unique challenges.

When thinking of New Orleans, literature is not one of the first things to come to mind. New Orleans’ literary heritage certainly comes after thoughts about Mardi Gras, Hurricane Katrina, and crime. Yes, the town produced A Confederacy of Dunces, and Tennessee Williams resided here for a while. Certainly it is easy to imagine a Quarter Rat carrying around a Moleskine with scribbled poems and story ideas. There is a book featuring a number of these stories which came to publication, French Quarter Fiction – check it out. Yet, the city can offer more.

There is hardly any academic or commercial publishing in New Orleans. Aspiring writers are more likely to seek out New York, San Francisco, Iowa, a host of other places to launch their careers. One of the benefits we envision by bringing writers such as Clare Messud (Who will give an interview with Paula Morris today at 6pm, in the Freeman Auditorium), Billy Collins, and Joan Didion to New Orleans is the development of New Orleans as a literary place. Previous visitors include Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Louise Gluck. I daresay we are off to a good start, but there is much more we can do, and much more we can learn.

Let’s get the word out. Tell your friends. Dance in the streets. The more successful each event is, the more events there will be. There has been a lot of talk of renewal lately, in New Orleans, and on the national political stage. Think- why not renew, why not revitalize? Certainly literature is one of the most powerful tools for doing such things, something we can use to enrich our own lives and the community at large. These events are not for us who put them on, but for you, the reader. I hope to see you Monday!

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