Each fall the Words & Music "literary feast" brings writers, readers, editors, and agents to the Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The five day conference, which ran this year from November 28 to December 2, attracts book lovers to the many panels focused on the year's chosen theme, but also draws novice writers seeking advice from industry professionals. The Double Dealer magazine publishes interviews with attendees and submitted work online, and the Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition awards prizes in eight different categories during the festival.
All of this is the brainchild of Rosemary James and The Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society, which James cofounded with her husband Joe DeSalvo and writer Kenneth Holditch over two decades ago. Usually concerned with Southern literature, this year's theme for the conference was "Faith and the Search for Meaning in Literature" with an emphasis on the work of Walker Percy--the 1961 National Book Award Winner for his novel The Moviegoer. Author of Walker Percy: A Life, Patrick Samway delivered a lecture on Percy's late decision to begin writing books and the mixture of semiotics, metaphysics, and Catholicism in the writer's work. Percy's grandson was in attendance at the session.
Paper presentations on either faith or Percy began in the morning and by the afternoon writer’s took to the stage for discussion panels. T. Geronimo Johnson (Hold It Till It Hurts), Christine Sneed (Little Known Facts), and David Armand (Harlow) spoke about their recent works--all of which feature New Orleans or Louisiana—and read from sections that evoked the regional landscape. At another session, four other novelists considered the evil in their own work. Ron Rash, whose fourth novel Serena is being adapted into a film with Jennifer Lawrence, read a scene from the novel.
Apart from the discussions of craft and writing, there were also sessions tailored to the business side of getting published. Shari Stauch, creator of Where Writers Win, spoke about getting your voice out in the changing digital landscape, offering advice on how to structure a blog and effectively use social media. David Menache had a Q&A with his agent Brandi Bowles (Foundry Literary + Media) during which Menache explained that his The Priority List was sold as a proposal, while Menache was still writing about his trip to reunite with former high school students as he recovered from cancer.
The keynote speaker this year, rounding out the theme of “Faith and Literature” nicely, was Reza Aslan who presented a brief portrait of his recent bestseller Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Novelist and playwright John Biguenet (Broomstick) introduced Aslan with a quote on stupidity from Friedrich Schiller, referencing Aslan’s recent viral interview on Fox News that shot the book up PW’s bestseller list. His talk centered on the central theme of his book--the separation between Jesus as the Christ and Jesus as a historical man. It was a fitting conclusion to a conference that began with Percy’s thinking on a similarly difficult topic.