Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Virtual Writing Marathon

I was thrilled to co-host a virtual writing marathon session for the Writing Retreat weekend of the 2021 Tennessee Williams and New Orleans Literary Festival on March 20. This event was made possible through he excellent work of the National Writing Project’s #WriteAcrossAmerica Virtual Writing Marathon, which helped show us what could be possible when the writing marathon technique is carefully implemented in a Zoom session.

This marathon used another StoryMap, this time with a literary focus for the stops, with quotes, prompts and photos from Richard Louth, Director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project and founder of the New Orleans Writing Marathon. Many thanks to him and to Tracy Cunningham, Managing Director of TWFest, for giving me the opportunity to work with them and lead a sold out session full of wonderful writers. Thanks, too, to our awesome volunteer group leaders. Our participants raved at the end about how the virtual marathon allowed us to built instant, deep writing communities in the breakout rooms. I look forward to more virtual marathons (and in-person marathons) in the future!

Opening round: “I’m a Writer” (722 Toulouse, Tennessee Williams’ apartment)

“I had already learned to make a religion of endurance and a secret of my desperation.”

— Tennessee Williams, from “Angel in the Alcove.”

It’s spring break, and I feel like my religion of endurance has grown stale and overbearing.  I have a little sign in my office window that says, like Dory in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming.”  I even have two light up fake aquariums going there, too, to brighten up our ghostly pandemic hallways. But, I’m starting to weary of the endurance game.  I want to speak back to my own sign: I’m done swimming.  I’m going to sink, maybe.  Or get out of the ocean. Or something. 

My desperation is no secret. The one good thing about teaching in a pandemic is that I know every teacher no matter the grade or the content or the level is on their last nerve.  This is all exhausting in ways we never knew things could be.  

Round 1: “The Kindness of Strangers” (Harry’s Corner, 900 Chartres)

“Whoever you are… I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” 

— Blanche du Bois, A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams

Oh my goodness, I am dreaming of Harry’s.  Honestly, I can just feel the table wobbling beneath me.  I reach for my drink so that it doesn’t spill. It’s Myers and Coke, my go-to when in New Orleans.  It smells like the Domino Sugar factory I once passed on a steamboat ride down the Mississippi. The jukebox is one of my favorites in the French Quarter.  No matter which songs I play here, they always seem perfect, a fitting soundtrack for whatever is happening.  I usually play “The End of the Line,” or a Roy Orbison tune, because George Dorrill (one of my favorite marathon muses, may he rest in peace) used to play those when we would bring marathon groups here.  But, then, I always play some Van Morrison.  “Sweet Thing” makes me cry every time.

Round 2: “Awakenings” (Corner of Chartres and Esplanade)

“Every step which she took toward relieving herself from obligations added to her strength and expansion as an  individual.”

–Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Thinking about Edna Pontellier, the protagonist of The Awakening and her final walk into the ocean makes me realize that I need to stop using ocean metaphors to evoke depression and exhaustion.  That’s just not fair to the ocean. And, I realize, I miss the ocean almost as much as I miss New Orleans. Jeff shared his screen and showed us a photo that inspired his writing, at Coop’s– just next door to the writing marathon central at Molly’s on Decatur, and, wow, I am right there in my mind.  Oh, to have that crawfish and tasso pasta dish for dinner tonight!. I would eat it straight out of the styrofoam container in the hotel mini fridge, with the floppy plastic fork getting stuck in the cold, congealed butter sauce. Yes, I would. 

Round 3: “The Search” (Mississippi River, access at St. Peter)

“The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk into the everydayness of his own life.”

–Binx Bolling, in The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy

To go down to the river in New Orleans is another go-to on a writing marathon for me.  Since I am apparently swirling in water imagery tonight, I headed down there on the StoryMap and read a great quote that seemed just right. There is magic on a marathon, a good marathon, and I am feeling it right now.  Suddenly, things just seem to fit.  Everything seems perfect.  The song you are hearing is just the song you need to hear.  The references to Rampart Street all line up, and  suddenly your feet have brought you there. Someone you were just thinking about comes around the corner, or yells to you from a balcony as you are walking by.  The color of the sunset fades exactly into the same vivid pink as the Peychaud’s bitters dripping into your cocktail glass. 

The writing marathon shows us the connections that are all around us, the invisible network of the universe that undergirds everything, except that we’re too distracted most of the time to see it.  When we take time to write together, like this–when we take the time to notice it all– everything just lines up.

View from George Dorrill’s favorite table at Molly’s on the Market

3 comments

  1. What a great post! I love Tennesse Williams and reading all of the quotes from such wonderful literature (I love each one of those books and plays) made me want to get back to New Orleans myself. I have only been as a teen, and that was a long time ago. It is funny, New Orleans is one of those places that when it appears in literature, it feels like it is its own character. I understand why you love it so much. My favorite part of your post was when you discussed the synergy of perfection, how all things seem to fall into perfect place: “There is magic on a marathon, a good marathon, and I am feeling it right now. Suddenly, things just seem to fit. Everything seems perfect. The song you are hearing is just the song you need to hear. The references to Rampart Street all line up, and suddenly your feet have brought you there. Someone you were just thinking about comes around the corner, or yells to you from a balcony as you are walking by. The color of the sunset fades exactly into the same vivid pink as the Peychaud’s bitters dripping into your cocktail glass.”

  2. I have always wanted to visit New Orleans and I love reading about your writing adventures there! I’m so thankful to have learned about writing marathons and the city through the virtual marathon over the summer and your tales from class.

    I was also very appreciative of these lines, “My desperation is no secret. The one good thing about teaching in a pandemic is that I know every teacher no matter the grade or the content or the level is on their last nerve.” Oh how true this is! As hard as this has been though, I just recently learned that we have a student teacher at the VA. I am so curious about this. I am so thankful my student teaching experience was “normal” even though my first year was far from the norm. And, of course, my second year has been the one where we have all tried teaching in a pandemic. It’s been hard, but I cannot fathom student teaching during this time.

    Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s