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Literary New Orleans

Adapted from Tulane University ENLS 4030

We will explore the extraordinary ways New Orleans has figured in the literary imagination of the United States through novels, short stories, music, memoirs, histories, plays, literary journalism, and song. This course will enable students to construct a cultural geography of the city, both broadly hemispherical and pointedly local. The course will be divided into six interrelated sections: we'll begin with the colonial era and the rise of the creole at the edges of empire along with the impact of the Haitian Revolution on the city; we will then examine the site of the slave market and how New Orleans became a kind of staging area in the formation of race, as invoked in William Faulkner's masterpiece Absalom, Absalom. In the third unit, we'll consider the way late 19th- and early 20th-century writers began to define the city as a unique and distinct environment (e.g. George Cable, Lafcadio Hearn, Kate Chopin, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong). In the fourth unit, we'll explore classics of New Orleans literature in depth: Tennessee Williams's Streetcar Named Desire, Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, and Michael Ondaatje's Coming Through Slaughter, among others. The fifth unit is "Politricks" and we will read Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men and Robert Stone's A Hall of Mirrors, then watch Oliver Stone's JFK to consider what "knowledge" means in a city defined by such endlessly complex power struggles. In the final unit, “Music and Memory,” we’ll read memoirs by the city’s legendary musicians to consider the way the city encodes the horrors and triumphs of its past in ways that enable them to circulate around the world.

Course PDF

T.R. Johnson

Associate Professor of English

Ph.D., Rhetoric and Composition, The University of Louisville. Louisville, Kentucky. January, 1997.
Major Emphases: Composition Theory and Pedagogy, History of Rhetoric
Minor Emphases: American Literature, Cultural Studies.

M. A., English, The University of Virginia. Charlottesville, Virginia. May, 1988.
B. A., English, Northwestern University. Evanston, Illinois. May, 1986.

Course Chapters

  • About This Chapter

    The French called it the ‘wet grave’ and soon gave up on making it a profitable and stable commercial center, but…

  • About This Chapter

    After the Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans became the capital of what was then the southwest, and the natural hub for the…

  • About This Chapter

    In the aftermath of the Civil War, as the United States began to reconstitute itself in anew, a number of eloquent…

  • About This Chapter

    A number of the canonical literary classics of New Orleans as well as the newer works that are held in highest…

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    This third phase of the course explores the most central characters and plots of the region's extraordinarily complex, colorful, and checkered…

  • About This Chapter

    In the final unit of the course, we’ll revisit some scholarship on the situation of African Americans in the decades just…