Cover of French Quarter Fiction.
Joshua Clark, Light of New Orleans Publishing
Light of New Orleans Publishing
Read an excerpt from 'French Quarter Fiction'
'Gregory's Fate,' by John Biguenet, is featured in 'French Quarter Fiction'
The French Quarter, that savory slice of New Orleans, is as full of tales as it is of bars and tourists.
Now a new anthology — French Quarter Fiction — collects short stories that focus on the Louisiana landmark through the eyes of three dozen writers.
NPR's Linda Wertheimer chats with editor Joshua Clark and contributor John Biguenet about the book, which promises in its subtitle to tell "The Newest Stories of America's Oldest Bohemia."
Clark sought out work from writers he knew had an affinity for New Orleans, including the late Tennessee Williams. He also combed through 750 manuscripts sent by hopefuls who answered a variety of ads. The piece by Williams has not been published before, Clark says.
A few critical premises shaped the collection.
"The stories had to be anchored in the French Quarter, spiritually and physically," Clark says. And he wanted to represent a wide variety of genres. But he also "wanted to avoid the cliches so often associated with New Orleans." He ticks off several: voodoo, the swamps, jazz, Bourbon Street.
But drink — that pervasive pastime in the Crescent City — is a recurrent theme. The story collection is even divided into sections named after some of the city's more famous cocktails.
"Is the Quarter really a community of writers as it's described in the forward to this collection?" Wertheimer asks. "You could argue that it's basically a place with 200 bars, a lot of takeout margarita stands and a place where tourists go to get drunk and stupid."
The city's spiritual side surfaces along with the spirits. After all, the Quarter is home to St. Louis Cathedral, one of America's oldest places of worship.
"The secular and the sacred are shoulder to shoulder in the city," Biguenet says. "In the French Quarter we have our most sacred place, the cathedral, surrounded by some of our very best bars. And no one seems to have any problem with the close associations."
Clark, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and Biguenet, a professor at Loyola University and a New Orleans native, maintain that the city's character sets it apart from the rest of the nation.
"It's really an American anomaly," Clark says. "It's not part of the Deep South and it's very influenced by the Mediterranean and the Caribbean."
"One of the elements of living in New Orleans is always to have a sense of being other than anybody else," Biguenet says. "I think harbored her in New Orleans is the sense that we were New Orleaneans before we were Americans."