The literary salon tradition continues with an online twist, thanks to an innovative partnership between the Tennessee Williams Festival and the Beauregard-Keyes House.
- story by Christy Lorio
Looking for an online hangout of the literary persuasion? Miss talking about books with your friends? The Tennessee Williams Festival has partnered with Beauregard-Keyes House to feature a bevy of writers with their new Salon Series.
The salon, hosted in Zoom, brings together an author and avid readers for a discussion about a selected book. Each series consists of three one-hour sessions (scheduled two weeks apart), which provides plenty of time for each author to discuss their work and answer questions. Since the series limits participants to 16, the atmosphere is fun, casual and intimate. Participants are also encouraged to pen their own work thanks to selected writing prompts.
The first salon kicked off with C. Morgan Babst, author of The Floating World, a novel that explores the topics of Hurricane Katrina, race, trauma and rebuilding, all of which are relevant topics in the time of coronavirus.
“We thought we could have really fruitful discussions about how things have and have not changed in the city since that time,” said Lily Elkins, Education & Outreach Manager at the BK House.
Future salons will feature authors whose book tours were cancelled due to the pandemic and who are eager to connect with readers. The current online format allows the salon to feature both local and non-local writers.
Elkins and Annie Irvin, Executive Director of Beauregard-Keyes House, came up with the idea for the salon while brainstorming how to provide programming for people while staying safe at home during quarantine. The salon is also a nod to BK House’s literary past; the historic house was restored by Frances Parkinson Keyes, a best-selling novelist in the 1940s and '50s.
“Annie and I have prioritized keeping the literary legacy of the house at its forefront because we are both readers and writers. Without Keye's vision and preservation effort, we wouldn't be a museum today,” Elkins said.
Along with Tracy Cunningham, Managing Director of the Tennessee Williams Festival, Elkins and Irvin have had to reimagine ways to keep the literary community connected. The salon was a natural fit. Salons were popular in the 19th century and were frequently held at venues such as the BK House. They were typically made up of intellectuals conversing about everything from current events to art, literature and politics.
“We are sticking with literature for now, but are interested in integrating music and potentially other types of artists in the future,” Elkins said. She hopes that discussions will be held primarily at the BK House once quarantine restrictions are lifted. “We look forward to hosting a musical salon soon because we have a wonderful 1850 square grand piano that deserves some play time."
Author Minrose Gwin will be featured in the upcoming salon series to discuss her latest novel, The Accidentals. The series starts on July 15 and continues on July 30 and August 12. The $20 tickets are purchased online and are limited to 16 people per series. Recorded sessions will be made available to participants who have to miss one.
The Accidentals follows the lives of two sisters whose mother has died from a botched backwoods abortion:
“The McAlister daughters have to cope with the ripple effect of this tragedy as they come of age in 1950s Mississippi and then grow up to face their own impossible choices… It’s an unforgettable, beautiful novel that is threaded throughout with the stories of mothers and daughters in pre-Roe v. Wade America.”
Gwin, who was slated to appear at the cancelled Tennessee Williams Festival this past April is looking forward to the experience.
“Literary salons call to mind famous writers of the past who hosted readers long into the nights talking about the books they loved. In these times of anxiety and trauma and isolation, I think stories and poems are more important to our collective state of mind than ever.
“And it’s going to be a special thrill to chat about The Accidentals with our community of readers. I’m grateful to the Tennessee Williams Festival and the Beauregard-Keyes House for inviting me into their virtual living room!”
Purchase tickets to the upcoming salon with author Minrose Gwinhere (limited to 16). Tickets for future salon series can be purchased through the Tennessee Williams Festival’s website.
Christy Lorio holds an MFA in creative writing from The University of New Orleans. A New Orleans area native, Christy often writes about and photographs the swamps she grew up in. She will be returning to UNO in the fall to pursue an MFA in photography. Her work has been seen in The Times-Picayune, Antigravity Magazine, New Orleans Magazine, Gambit Weekly, and a host of literary magazines.
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