Louis Edwards
New Orleans Author Finds New Way to Write About An Old City

audio Listen to a profile of Louis Edwards by NPR's Debbie Elliott.

Aug. 9, 2001 New Orleans has inspired a number of writers, including William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, John Kennedy Toole, Anne Rice and Walker Percy. Measuring up to this rich literary tradition is no easy talk, but Louis Edwards is giving it a shot, NPR's Debbie Elliott reports on Morning Edition.

Louis Edwards
Louis Edwards
Photo: Debbie Elliott, NPR

"He's got that awareness of himself as part of a tradition," says Susan Larson, the book editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

That awareness dates back to high school, when one of the first things Edwards wrote was a parody of Williams' The Glass Menagerie. And it's no coincidence that the character Aimee DuBois in his second novel -- N: A Romantic Mystery -- shares a last name with Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire.

N begins like those old black-and-white crime thrillers you see on late-night TV: "That's what time it was -- the mythical three a.m., the hour of love, the hour of death, and yes, my telephone was ringing. I must admit, too, that, as my procrastination here may suggest, I was afraid to answer the telephone. You see, my life, over the past month, had taken on a strange new quality."

Louis Edwards and NPR's Debbie Elliott
Louis Edwards and NPR's Debbie Elliott talk near Cabrini Park, one of the settings of the author's novel, N.
Photo: Melissa Gray, NPR

When she finally does pick up the phone, journalist Aimee DuBois hears two piercing gunshots. And she realizes just how deep she's involved in what she thought was an anonymous crime.

The book is full of ambiguity -- just like its title. N stands for many things -- an initial on a pendant, or the noir style in which the story is told.

The book captures the lazy rhythm of the French Quarter, and reveals the parts that tourists don't necessarily see, like central city -- a mostly African-American neighborhood anchored by three large housing projects, where kids ride around on bikes, and men collect in little circles, sipping cold beverages from brown paper bags.

From N: "The sound frightened me, and I tripped on the sidewalk. My cheek pressed against the concrete. I heard another shot: POW! The shots had come from behind me. The dark alley, that dead end. I got up, slowly turned around, and I faced it. The most hopeless thing in the world: a dead-end street. I heard the sound of footsteps, running out of the darkness. He was coming out, whoever he was, this person, this murderer, toward me, into the light... It was Strip. He was holding his gun."

Edwards explains that while he's writing in the style of noir, he wanted to "explore deeper all the meanings of that word. So I needed to get deeper into the blackness of things all kinds of things including people...I needed to come here because it's really authentically black, I mean it's really real. You feel it as you stand here."

A house in the lower French Quarter
Edwards imagines his main character, Aimee DuBois, lives in this house in the lower French Quarter.
Photo: Melissa Gray, NPR

Edwards doesn't want to be labeled -- either as an African-American writer, or as someone who only writes about the South. But he understands the importance of where he comes from.

Edwards says his first novel, Ten Seconds, was a self-conscious examination of what he calls his southerness. Now Edwards says he's ready to break free from his explorations of home. His third book is set in New York, and is about Oscar Wilde's travels in the United States, as told by his black valet.

Other Resources

Read an excerpt from Louis Edwards' first novel, Ten Seconds.