“There are certain cities and certain areas of certain cities where the official language is dreams. Venice is one. And Paris. North Beach in San Francisco. Wencelaus Square in Prague. And New Orleans, the city that dreams stories.”
—Andrei Codrescu, “Se Habla Dreams,” from New Orleans, Mon Amour (2006)
“Se habla dreams” (Spanglish for “dreams are spoken here”) is Codrescu’s concise way of summing up what many writers have discovered and readers have experienced over the last two-hundred years: NOLA dreams stories, and it also bleeds them. As tangibly real as any place can be—ask anyone who has lived there—the Crescent City is at the same time an imaginative creation of the stories it has dreamed and the performances that act them out. Typically implausible, the truth about NOLA can often best be told by masquerades, while even just remembering the food can make you gain weight. But bad dreams are also spoken here, and over two centuries New Orleans has made certain truths about America more cruelly visible than any other city has done, despite the lively competition.
Literature and Performance in New Orleans will take up some of the representative works of imaginative literature and cultural performance that have generated the idea of “New Orleans” in the minds of readers and audiences world-wide. Drawing on readings from major American authors and first-hand accounts of spiritual and secular performances, the seminar will explore the sources of creative inspiration that artists find in NOLA, including its cultural mystique, its colonial history, its troubled assimilation into Anglo-North America, its tortured racial politics, its natural and built environment, its spirit-world practices, its raucous festive life, its eccentric characters, its food, its music, its queer vibe, its predisposition to catastrophe, and its capacity for re-invention and survival.