Once a year the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society holds an amazing “literary feast” entitled Words and Music which honors writers, presents quality literary entertainment for readers, and offers the opportunity to enjoy music and network with professionals in the publishing industry.
The joy of this “feast” is that one has the opportunity to see the beauties of New Orleans because the events are held in various venues, all incomparable because they are centered in and around the unique French Quarter. During and after the economic downturn and the difficult times after Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society remained a beacon and source of uplift to artists of all stripes. For the last 24 years the Faulkner Society, a renowned literary and educational nonprofit, has continued its worthy mission to promote the arts in the South. The Words and Music literary festival is the Society’s opportunity to celebrate fine offerings from the national (and some instances global) arts community.
This years’ Words and Music was held on November 20-23 at the Hotel Monteleone. The festival included a welcome party, and the last day featured a black-tie gala at which the judges of the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition presented their awards. The Faulkner Society also awarded its 2014 honorees in literature, music and philanthropy, all of whom received an “A Legend In His/Her Own Time” Award.
The events which comprised the meat of the festival included workshops and master classes by authors, poets, editors, and publishers, BIG READ events, luncheon talks by memoirists, and off-site events including a concert celebrating the 250th anniversary of the death of French composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau, jazz after hours at the Napoleon House, a tea, and a “Cinema and Concert” at the extraordinary Basilica of St. Louis King of France, Jackson Square, known to tourists as the St. Louis Cathedral. Jackson Square is a hub for street artists to sell their work to tourists who saunter past enjoying a beignet and café au lait from world famous Café du Monde.
What I found particularly satisfying about Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s Words and Music, and somewhat different from other festivals of its type, was how the theme of the 2014 “literary feast” was incorporated into the events of the festival: “improvisation in words, music and life.” Improvisation is at the heart of creativity in literature and music and it is the driving force of artistry if allowed to take over once the artist has mastered the skills of his or her craft. The right combination or homeostasis between skillful mastery and the flexibility and fluidity to at times allow serendipity to take one away from traditional forms is what makes our lives art, and what breathes life into our creative works.
To solidify this to the core of the festival, the initiators and organizers asked presenters, writers, editors, publishers and society members to be open to exploring ways to release an improvisational aspect in their lives and work. Above all improvisation is about forging new directions. This theme was the thread in each category of events held over the three days. In our culture replete with too many industrial philistines who lack innovative spirit and manifest the same dull, gross and repetitive actions in their hunger to achieve greater and greater profits, improvisation, akin to innovation, is a refreshing and vital reminder. It can inspire us to move beyond the repetitive in literature and music, beyond “the known.” It can direct us away from easy compromise and bring us toward confronting a different place in our art and in ourselves.
It is apparent that The Faulkner Society has implemented a healthy dose of innovation in all of its endeavors and that is why it remains an important venue for writers and readers, with its appreciation of literature and nonfiction in what has been characterized as an age when “few people read” (Gore Vidal). Many of the programs are offered free to students and the reading public. These include outreach programs for high school and college students and literacy projects for at-risk teenagers in cooperation with other organizations, for example BIG READ projects funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. For adults there are continuing education programs for writers and readers and literary events, “My New Orleans” and “Meet the Author.” The Faulkner Society also works with other nonprofits to embellish New Orleans’ cultural resources. Last but not least are the Society’s The Double Dealer literary journal and its Student Intern Program.
In conjunction with the Faulkner Society there is Faulkner House Books, a sanctuary for fine literature, which has for 24 years been a purveyor of rare books and quality literature. It is in the building where William Faulkner (Nobel Laureate) wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay. The bookstore is a friend and open “to all writers past, present, and yet to come.” If one loves Faulkner’s work and is a romantic and/or a writer, it would be a boon to take a look-see where he created his first work in New Orleans. Likewise, Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society is a gem to investigate: the black-tie gala is a ticketed event open to the public. Whether you are near New Orleans or far, you can become a member and support The Faulkner Society, finding them at Faulkhouse@aol.com.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0679764038][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0679732241][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0940450550]