Get inspired for your next trip by reading some emblematic books set in New Orleans. Discover authors that have shown light on this unique city through their stories.
New Orleans, affectionately known as the Big Easy, is a city that resonates with a unique blend of history, culture, and a flair for the mystical. Renowned for its pivotal role in the evolution of jazz, its mouth-watering Creole and Cajun cuisines, and the legendary Mardi Gras celebrations, New Orleans is a city where music, food, and festivity permeate the air. The city’s rich literary heritage adds another layer to its allure, with numerous books set in this vibrant locale capturing its essence. Strolling through the French Quarter’s narrow streets, with their fusion of French, Spanish, Creole, and American architecture, visitors can almost hear the echoes of characters from Anne Rice’s gothic novels or the boisterous laugh of Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces.”
The city’s relationship with the supernatural and the mystical is perhaps most famously explored in the works of Anne Rice and the vivid reimagining of voodoo culture. This enigmatic side of New Orleans can be experienced firsthand in the historic cemeteries, like St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the final resting place of the legendary voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Ghost tours and voodoo shops in the French Quarter offer a glimpse into the city’s fascination with the otherworldly, a theme that has deeply influenced its literary narratives. Even the Mississippi River, which snakes alongside the city, has its own stories to tell, reminiscent of Mark Twain’s tales, adding to the city’s storied landscape.
Literature in New Orleans is not just about the past; it’s a living part of the city. Contemporary writers continue to draw inspiration from its dynamic culture, complex history, and unique spirit. Literary festivals and independent bookstores thrive, celebrating both the city’s rich literary tradition and its contemporary contributions. The famed Garden District, with its antebellum mansions and lush gardens, provides a quieter but equally enchanting backdrop, often featured in novels as a symbol of Southern elegance and historical depth. For book lovers, New Orleans offers not just a journey through its lively streets and mysterious alleys but also a journey through the pages of stories that capture the heart of this unforgettable city.
10 books to explore New Orleans
“A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is set in New Orleans and follows the adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, a slothful, eccentric, and highly educated man living with his mother. Ignatius’ worldview and his various escapades through the city’s streets create a vivid portrayal of New Orleans. The story is a rich tapestry of satire and comedy, capturing the unique spirit of the city.
“Interview with the Vampire” by Anne Rice
A gothic novel that reimagines vampire lore through the story of Louis, a Louisiana plantation owner who becomes a vampire. Set largely in 18th-century New Orleans, the narrative weaves through the city’s opulent and decadent past, capturing its haunting allure and providing a gothic backdrop for this tale of immortality, morality, and desire.
“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin
Set in the late 19th century in and around New Orleans, this novel follows Edna Pontellier, a woman who struggles with her roles as a wife and mother, seeking an independent identity outside of societal norms. The book, controversial at the time for its treatment of female sexuality and marital infidelity, beautifully captures the Creole culture of the area.
“Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers
A non-fiction work that follows Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American owner of a painting and contracting firm in New Orleans, during and after Hurricane Katrina. The book offers a stark, eye-opening narrative about the impact of the hurricane, the subsequent flooding, and the failures of governmental response.
“The Feast of All Saints” by Anne Rice
Set in 19th-century New Orleans, this novel focuses on the gens de couleur libres, or free people of color. It delves into the lives, loves, and struggles of this unique class caught between the world of white privilege and black oppression, capturing a pivotal period in the city’s history.
“Voodoo Dreams: A Novel of Marie Laveau” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
A historical novel that reimagines the life of the famed New Orleans voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. The story blends fact and fiction, offering a vivid portrayal of 19th-century New Orleans and a deeper look into the mysterious world of voodoo.
“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys
Set in the 1950s, this novel follows Josie Moraine, a young woman striving to escape the confines of her life as the daughter of a prostitute in the French Quarter. The narrative paints a rich picture of the seedy underbelly of New Orleans and the struggle for self-discovery and escape.
“The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld” by Christine Wiltz
This biography tells the true story of Norma Wallace, a legendary figure in New Orleans who ran a brothel for decades until the 1960s. The book dives into the city’s history of vice and corruption, as well as the changing social and political landscape.
“Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans” by Dan Baum
This non-fiction book tracks the lives of nine real New Orleanians from different backgrounds over the span of forty years, leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. It offers a kaleidoscopic view of the city, capturing its complexities and resilience.
“French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia” edited by Joshua Clark
This collection of short stories by various authors provides a panoramic view of the French Quarter, capturing its historic charm, its bohemian vibe, and its ever-present sense of mystery and adventure. The stories vary in tone and style, offering a multifaceted portrait of one of New Orleans’ most famous neighborhoods.
Each of these books provides a unique glimpse into the many facets of New Orleans, from its historical depths to its cultural richness, and from its societal complexities to its enduring allure.