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  • Cited by 2
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
August 2019
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Book description

New Orleans is an indispensable element of America's national identity. As one of the most fabled cities in the world, it figures in countless novels, short stories, poems, plays, and films, as well as in popular lore and song. This book provides detailed discussions of all of the most significant writing that this city has ever inspired - from its origins in a flood-prone swamp to the rise of a creole culture at the edges of the European empires; from its emergence as a cosmopolitan, hemispheric crossroads and a primary hub of the slave trade to the days when, in its red light district, the children and grandchildren of the enslaved conjured a new kind of music that became America's greatest gift to the world; from the mid-twentieth-century masterpieces by William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Walker Percy to the realms of folklore, hip hop, vampire fiction, and the Asian and Latin American archives.


'Anyone giving serious consideration to the writing of New Orleans must have this book. T. R. Johnson has brought together between these covers a stunning collection of essays that never fail to delight and occasionally shock. This book expertly captures the varied essence of the great city: its fatalism, its history, it magic.'

Maurice Carlos Ruffin - author of We Cast a Shadow

'Johnson has performed a Herculean service, giving us a book that plumbs the hidden depths of a literary legacy alternately as dark and as hilarious as only honest writing about New Orleans can be. Sure, the music, the food, the architecture; but also, Johnson shows us, the literature of New Orleans is like that of no other place.'

Dan Baum - author of Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans

'A profound and lyrical book about the literary history of the Big Easy.'

Bernice L. McFadden - author of The Book of Harlan

'World history, American history, music history - all unthinkable without New Orleans, the city that was 'day and night a show'. Now T. R. Johnson and a state-of-the-scholarship crew of contributors offer a panorama of new perspectives on this unique city’s always-vivid literature. If you think you know New Orleans, read on, and prepare to be amazed, challenged, entertained, and horrified. If you teach New Orleans culture, this book is an indispensable tool.'

Ned Sublette - author of The World that Made New Orleans

'Fatalism has stalked New Orleans almost from the moment convicts and enslaved Africans dragged it from the mud. Plague-stricken, flood prone, and more Caribbean than American concerning matters that make survival worthwhile, the town has attracted an outsize quota of top-flight writers who have memorialized it in a literature of lasting significance. In assembling an eclectic array of scholarly talent on the subject seldom found between the covers of the same book, T. R. Johnson has put us all in his debt.'

Lawrence N. Powell - author of Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans

'It’s not possible to write in New Orleans without writing about New Orleans. The city saturates the imagination, casting an irresistible and enervating spell. New Orleans writers must contrive to sink and swim at the same time. T. R. Johnson’s collection of essays, as eclectic as the figures on a local Voodoo altar, invites the reader to discover how far back the peculiar strains of fatalism and irony that color the world view of the New Orleanian really go. No other American city has consistently offered a literature that is at once so appealing and so alien to the rest of the country. New Orleans: The Literary History is a welcome guide to that fabulous reality found only on the printed page.'

Valerie Martin - author of Property

'What T. R. Johnson has assembled in New Orleans: The Literary History is a tremendous contribution to the city’s self-understanding - and to everyone’s understanding of the city’s impact on broader literary histories. With an embracing, inclusive agility, the book excavates layers of culture and language to deliver a comprehensive, international vision of three hundred years’ worth of writing, from the published letters of an Ursuline nun in the 1730s to the sissy bounce music of Big Freedia today. Taken together, these scholars present an argument for how New Orleans’s literary history has shaped our sense of the pleasures of cities in general and also of the urban imagination itself as a dynamic, shifting thing, with poetry, fiction, memoir and drama intertwining throughout New Orleans’s history like the forces that create its legendary climate of heat, humidity, and storm.'

Ed Skoog - author of Run the Red Lights

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