Roy Blount Jr.'s voice may be familiar to local fans of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me, the current events quiz show on NPR, but they may or may not recognize him walking around the French Quarter or Marigny near his home. Anyone who has read his 2016 book Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations would know he's got a feel for the city, its culture and, especially, its tastes.
In the collection of essays, Blount spiritedly cuts through the anxiety generated by lovers and haters of kale, irony-steeped biscuit shops in urban environments and the revival of pimiento cheese. He revels in the simple pleasures of food, and a long essay supposedly about music looks at Fats Waller's recording career by looking at his many songs about food. Along the way he offers lists of food names for bands matching genre and cuisine. Country goth: Death on a Cracker. New Orleans klezmer: Oyoyoyster. Creole Vietnamese: Pho Ya Ya.
The wordplay in Save Room for Pie reflects the advice he offers aspiring writers.
"Use your words," Blount says, sitting outside Buffa's Bar and Restaurant (which he praises for its red beans in Save Room). "They're inherently sort of comical, odd little sounds. The whole enterprise is comical."
It's some of the advice he shares in the master class he leads March 23 at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival. The festival includes classes about writing, panel discussions on literary topics, productions of Tennessee Williams dramas, parties and the concluding Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest in Jackson Square.
Blount also sits on a panel about Southern storytellers and hospitality. Blount grew up in Georgia, and has lived across the region, including a summer working at The Times-Picayune after college. He's a current columnist for Garden & Gun magazine and is contributing entries on manatees, hot sauce and Mark Twain to its forthcoming encyclopedia of the South (he'd like to add entries for chicken gizzards and crawfish). Blount has written more than 20 books and covered subjects ranging from the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers (About Three Bricks Shy of a Load) to the Marx Brothers' movie Duck Soup to being bitten by a piranha while swimming in the Amazon .
Blount is joined on the panel by fellow writers Rick Bragg (who also teaches a master class), Julia Reed and chef Jennifer Hill Booker. The Times-Picayune reporter John Pope moderates the event at 1 p.m. Friday.
Also appearing at the festival are TV host Dick Cavett, actor Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart), who starred in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Lawrence Olivier, novelist Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone), Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina), Robert Olen Butler and playwright John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Moonstruck). Local authors include Richard Campanella on a panel about New Orleans' Chinatowns, Katy Simpson Smith (Free Men), Michael Tisserand (Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White), Ethan Brown (Murder in the Bayou: Who Killed the Jefferson Davis Parish Eight) and historians Kim Vaz-Deville (The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition) and Alecia Long, who has a forthcoming book about Clay Shaw, whose name was dragged into many John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
The festival also includes a tribute reading to Williams, a writing marathon and walking tours. In Save Room for Pie, Blount launches several essays with observations from the streets of New Orleans, a neverending inspiration and source of amusement.
"New Orleans is a place unto itself," he says at Buffa's (after Jessica Lange rode by on a bicycle and waved). "I saw a man carrying a tuba and walking a large dog. I gave him an incredulous look. He looked at me and said, 'You get used to it.'"