Tennessee Williams Festival Celebrates 25 Years Of UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop

NEW ORLEANS—The University of New Orleans’ Creative Writing Workshop takes center-stage during the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival in New Orleans, from March 22-26, in celebration of the graduate program’s 25th anniversary.

         On Friday, March 24, alumni and faculty from the Master in Fine Arts writing program will staff a full day of panels devoted to highlighting the work and experiences of those who have gone through the acclaimed writing program in the quarter-century since its founding.

         Featured writers participating in some of the five panels at the Hotel Monteleone’s Cabildo Room, 214 Royal St., will include award-winning novelists Skip Horack, Nick Mainieri and Amanda Boyden; celebrated poets Jericho Brown, Gina Ferrara, Clare Harmon, Bill Lavender and John Warner Smith; and nonfiction writers Juyanne James and Brenda Quant.

         Tracy Ferrington Cunningham, director of communications and marketing for the Tennessee Williams Festival, said it seemed natural to highlight the talent that has sprung out of the Creative Writing Workshop over the years. Since its inception in 1991, the UNO Master of Fine Arts program has attracted hundreds of talented young writers who find themselves both shaped by and shaping the city’s lively literary scene.

         The festival, which brings together more than 130 authors, actors and musicians March 22-26, has long drawn on Creative Writing Workshop students to staff its internships. In many ways, Cunningham said, festival organizers have had a front row seat as they’ve seen talented UNO interns go on to become published authors whose work and experience have led them to become panelists themselves.

         “The Creative Writing Workshop at UNO is our local connection to the brightest and best of the writing world right here in New Orleans,” Cunningham said.

         Panel topics will include an exploration of prose writing moderated by award-winning novelist and Creative Writing Workshop Director M.O. Walsh and a showcase of some of the most celebrated poetry to emerge from UNO’s diverse MFA program, moderated by distinguished scholar and poet John Gery, research professor of English.

         A panel on the mentor-student relationship draws together beloved professors with students at various stages of their career. Creative Writing Workshop co-founders Rick Barton and Gery discuss the journey of mentoring their accomplished students, Joseph Boyden and Jericho Brown. Professor and workshop co-founder Joanna Leake appears with former student-turned-faculty-colleague Barb Johnson. And award-winning professor Randy Bates discusses mentorship with recent graduate Coleen Muir.

         Another session explores the lasting impact New Orleans has had on the lives and work of those who study at UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop. Panelists include Kia Groom (Australia), Trisha Renzende (Trinidad), Bill Loehfelm (New York), Tad Bartlett (Alabama) and native New Orleanian Maurice Ruffin.

         And yet another panel explores some of the ways the MFA experience has led alumni into other, sometimes surprising careers.

         Cunningham said she is excited to see the festival highlight the exciting ways UNO’s Creative Writing Workshop at UNO has enhanced and enriched the writers and writing in New Orleans. Last fall, UNO Press released "Monday Nights: Stories from the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans,"  an anthology of short fiction written entirely by graduates of the MFA program.

         “This has added a really nice celebratory thing to this festival, focusing on all of these writers who we have watched as their careers have developed,” she said. “The CWW produces these wonderful writers—not all of them are writing about New Orleans, but they’re definitely bringing something to the local literary scene.”

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