03/27/2008 07:11 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

There's No Crying in Literary Festivals

2008-03-27-Tennessee.pngI met Tennessee Williams' brother in a brief stint as society editor. A socialite roped me into reciting one of my poems, and Dakin performed one next. Later when I told him, "Sorry, that really sucked," he drawled, "At least your brother didn't write yours." That's the only Tennessee story I have, not nearly as good as the ones you can hear during I Remember Tennessee at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival this weekend.

Today's first class was by Tom Sancton who wrote Song for My Fathers. His seminar was on the art of writing a memoir, and his book describes growing up with the mentoring of New Orleans musicians. Tom portrays the same brilliant music community I've gotten to know with the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund, and the archival photos alone are worth purchasing his book. An audience member asked whether it's safer to write fiction than memoir, but he reminded us that you can still be sued for writing about a character based on an identifiable person. Drat.

Three years ago, New Orleans author Ellen Gilchrist told the festival's creative nonfiction class, "It's okay to write about family, it's okay to use real names, and you can be the hero of your own book." I'm forwarding any irate letters once I finish my memoir to her for rebuttal. Today's second seminar was by Grammy-nominated Tift Merritt. Her lead-in is memoir style, since I need the practice.

Two weeks ago our computer's hard drive fried 20 minutes after linking to footage of George Bush singing at the Gridiron Dinner. Everything's gone. My husband came rushing into the room with the laptop and said, "the computer just screamed."

Yes, I have a backup. No, it isn't working. So I find myself without photos, email addresses or the half novel that's been dragging around for years. Minutes after the computer expired, Braille Blues Daddy Bryan Lee called and invited Jeff to join his band out on the road. It's good timing since restored hard drives aren't free, but a huge adjustment for a couple who evacuated New Orleans together. We drove around the country for months until settling in a small town, and are probably still in the middle of some kind of PTSD since we don't even run the smallest errand alone. Once in a while I look at him in line at the bank and say, "This probably wasn't a two-person job."

He left this morning, and I was doing fine until someone asked Tift to sing at the end of her seminar. If you haven't heard her music, go buy some. Carole King meets Billie Holiday meets Carrie Bradshaw is all I can come up with under the three-person-comparison-rock-critic rule. She sang:

Love is another country and I want to go there too. I want to go there with you.

That got me teary at the back of the room. The next song was "Good Hearted Man." That was harder. And when someone asked about song structure Tift said, "When all else fails, ask the bass player." It's a true Tennessee Williams event if you laugh and cry before the first day is through.

There are three days left in the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, and classes are available for signup on site. They offer the kindness of strangers, and you can meet Rex Reed.