The annual Words & Music festival typically draws on local culture and current literary topics, often with visiting international writers. This year’s event is virtual and runs Nov. 19-22. The lineup features many current and former local authors with notable recent books, such as Sarah Broom and Maurice Carlos Ruffin. There also are workshops and seminars on writing, editing and more.
Formerly organized by the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society, Words & Music is now run by One Book One New Orleans, which each year chooses a book and encourages locals to engage in public discourse around it. In 2020, One Book selected “New Orleans Griot: The Tom Dent Reader,” edited by Kalamu ya Salaam. Dent was a prolific writer, activist and former director of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. Besides poetry and essays, he also was interested in drama and active with Free Southern Theater. His 1968 one-act play “Ritual Murder” explored the killing of a young Black man by an acquaintance, arguing that society too often ignored the deaths of Black men. There’s a panel discussion about Dent’s work at 10 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, followed by a workshop about his poetry led by Skye Jackson. No Dream Deferred theater company presents a reading of “Ritual Murder” at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Sarah Broom won the 2019 National Book Award for “The Yellow House,” based on her life growing up in New Orleans East. She participates in a panel about contemporary approaches to memoir writing at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20. It’s moderated by Robert Fieseler, author of the 2018 book “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation,” which won the Louisiana Literary Award earlier this year.
Maurice Carlos Ruffin also grew up in New Orleans East. His 2019 novel “We Cast a Shadow” was a finalist for numerous awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award. He’s currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Mississippi. He moderates a panel on justice and inclusiveness in magazines with Eliza Borne, editor of the Oxford American, Lovey Cooper, managing editor of Scalawag, and Josina Guess, managing editor of Bitter Southerner. The discussion is at 10:15 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21.
The festival’s keynote reading is shared by a couple. Jarvis DeBerry is a longtime columnist for The Times-Picayune, and “I Feel to Believe” is a collection of his work. Kelly Harris-DeBerry recently released the poetry collection “Freedom Knows My Name.” They’ll read from their work and be interviewed by former Gambit and Times-Picayune reporter Megan Braden-Perry at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.
“What are the characteristics of a place that creates writers?” asks author Sarah M. Broom. “Why are there not a thousand books by black New O…
The festival also includes books for young readers. There’s a panel on “A Long Way from the Strawberry Patch: The Life of Leah Chase,” a fictional take on Chase’s life for young adult age groups. Edgar “Dooky” Chase IV will participate. It’s at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.
Tyehimba Jess won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for “Olio.” He headlines a reading at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20. It also includes Texas poet Lupe Mendez, Detroit poet Justin Rogers, New Orleanian and Tulane professor Karisma Price and Jane “SpokenWord” Grenier.
Several panel discussions address music, and there are performances by Robin Barnes and Helen Gillet. Tulane archivist and WWOZ host Melissa Weber, aka DJ Soul Sister, moderates the panel “Writing Music,” with Tony Bolden, who has written about funk, Kyle DeCoste, who co-wrote a book about brass bands, and Joel Dinerstein, who’s written about jazz. David G. Spellman released the photo book “When Not Performing: New Orleans Musicians.” He leads a discussion with John Boutte, Don Vappie, John Rankin and Hellen Gillet at 2:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19.
Visit wordsandmusic.org for details and links.