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Writing As Performance

A Q&A with Tom Piazza

The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival starts this Wednesday night (3.30). On Thursday (3.31), the festival will roll out with a set of Master Classes, which feature prominent writers discussing different aspects of their craft. Celebrated New Orleans writer Tom Piazza will be hosting a class called “Improvising Order: Process and Freedom in Writing” at 1p.m. on Thursday at The Historic New Orleans Collection (533 Royal Street.)


Piazza has published ten books, including Why New Orleans Matters and the novel City of Refuge. He recently published a collection of his essays and articles titled Devil Sent the Rain. Piazza answered some of some questions about Tennessee Williams Festival as well as the Master Class he is hosting. 


Chris Romaguera: Why did you decide on the theme of “Improvising Order: Process and Freedom in Writing” for teaching your class? What do you hope to accomplish in the class?

Tom Piazza: I think of writing as a kind of performance. When I write I need to surprise myself, otherwise I lose interest. I don't enjoy planning something out in detail and then dutifully executing it. I always have some kind of plan, but the fun comes in subverting it. I like to paint myself into corners and then try to get out. I get impatient with stories that seem too carefully plotted, or that resolve too neatly. So my class will be a discussion of that approach to writing.


CR: What do you like about Tennessee Williams Festival?

TP: I love that the Tennessee Williams Festival manages to bring so many good writers to town. It enlivens the community, especially the literary community. As everybody knows, writers usually work alone, so I think most of us are grateful when the circus comes to town and we can get together, share ideas, and have some fun. 


CR: What do you like about writing in New Orleans?

TP: New Orleans is stimulating without being anxiety-producing. There's a sense of community without the negative aspects of social-climbing or competition that you find in, say, New York. People are valued for being who they are, not for what they can do for you, or at least that's the case among the writers and other artists I know. 


CR: You have written everything from novels to essays to screenplays. How do you tackle writing in different formats?

TP: Each genre taps into some different aspect of your mind or personality, or some different faculty you might have. They overlap to a degree, but it is refreshing to be able to switch back and forth. Things you can say in one form you might not be able to say in a different one. But when it comes down to it I think I'm really a novelist by nature. That's the form I love working in the most.


Tickets to individual Master Classes cost $25, or you can attend all the Master Classes with the Master Class Series registration of $175.

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