Walt Whitman. Tennessee Williams. Ernest Gaines. James Lee Burke. Over centuries, the spicy, savory, rich gumbo of culture, people, languages, foods, and traditions bubbling up in Louisiana has inspired countless writers and poets and produced one of the richest state literary heritages. With literary landmarks dotting the state, bibliophiles have myriad options to explore the Louisiana lives of the authors they love.
Louisiana's Famous Authors
James Lee Burke, New Iberia
Any modern mystery lover with a connection to Louisiana recognizes the telltale French Louisiana heritage in the name of Dave Robicheaux, the tenacious recovering alcoholic and protagonist of James Lee Burke’s beloved mystery novels. Experience the world of both Robicheaux and Burke himself with a visit to New Iberia, the setting of Burke’s novels. "New Iberia has the most beautiful Main Street in the country," says James Lee Burke of this landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. See for yourself with a walking tour that lets you meander down the three-quarter-mile district along the Bayou Teche, passing more than 50 buildings dating between 1890 and 1930.
Tennessee Williams, New Orleans
“Steeeeeeellllllllaaaaa!!!” Every year perhaps the most famous theatrical cry (after “Romeo, Romeo!”) sounds throughout the French Quarter during the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, which celebrates the playwright Tennessee Williams. Williams lived for a time in New Orleans and used it as the setting for "A Streetcar Named Desire" and other short stories. Can’t make the Festival? Check out Williams’ first Vieux Carre apartment (which he called “a poetic evocation of all the cheap rooming houses of the world,") 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.
Alcée Fortier and Br’er Rabbit, Laura Plantation, Vacherie
As a teenager on Laura Plantation, famous professor Alcée Fortier began collecting the French spoken children’s stories told by former slaves about a rabbit called Compair Lapin. In 1894, Fortier, the president of the American Folklore Society, published the stories in his book titled Louisiana Folktales. Compair Lapin (clever rabbit) went on to be known as Br’er Rabbit or the Tales of Uncle Remus in Joel Chandler Harris’s books. Like the tales, the original Laura Plantation still stands remarkably intact today. It’s a rare example of a working Creole plantation with unrestored rooms, family memorabilia, and six intact slave quarters that draw you back in time where stories like Compair Lapin bred.
Anne Rice, New Orleans
Anne Rice is one of New Orleans' most supernatural literary authors known for her metaphysical gothic fiction. Born in New Orleans, Rice became famous with her book Interview with a Vampire. Fans will recognize Anne Rice’s mid-19th-century Greek Revival home in the Garden District that became the setting for 6 different novels. Take full advantage of the beauty of the neighborhood: Check into a Garden District Bed and Breakfast nearby, or take the streetcar down from the French Quarter and taking a walking tour of the Garden District.
Arna Bontemps, Alexandria
When Arna Bontemps’ family moved out of Alexandria, Louisiana, to Los Angeles, California, they did so as part of the postbellum “Great Migration of Blacks out of the South” to seek a better life for their family. Bontemps more than fulfilled this hope and dream, going on to become a poet, scholar, librarian, curator, and contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, as well as friend to Langston Hughes. Today the Arna Bontemps African American Museum in Alexandria celebrates arts, culture, music, history, and words of Central Louisiana. The museum is alive with its exhibits, events, performance hall, and a year-round calendar of performances like an Adult and Junior Writer’s Guild to Seersucker Summer Nights and more.
Kate Chopin, Cloutierville in Natchitoches
Who hasn’t read the last pages of The Awakening with a sigh, wondering what influences shaped the author behind this groundbreaking novel? The town of Cloutierville, Chopin’s birthplace, holds some of these answers. A trip to Cloutierville reveals a town hauntingly similar to the days of 1880 when Kate Chopin walked the streets.
Ernest Gaines, Point Coupeé Parish outside Baton Rouge
Any reader of Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying has witnessed the importance food plays in the writings of this of Point Coupeé native. The kitchen is a place of love, and the food prepared is a source of strength and reflective of the culture and family. One of Gaines’ characters in the novel A Lesson Before Dying says that gumbo can be eaten at any time. Sample some of Louisiana's Cajun gumbo in Point Coupée at restaurants like Morel's Restaurant.