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Since 2003, New Orleans has been home to the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, a three-day conference of panels, workshops, and readings focusing on GLBT literature. Founder and executive director Paul J. Willis has admirably expanded the Festival’s mission to include competitions and award-recognition to new and established GLBT writers. This year marked the culmination of the Festival’s first short story competition, which drew more than 100 entries. Several of the finalists and winners of this competition, along with the work of many regular Saints and Sinners participants such as Jeff Mann, Jess Wells, and Rob Byrnes, have been collected in the anthology Saints and Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival, now available through Queer Mojo press, and it is a remarkable snapshot of strength and necessity of queer fiction.
Inevitably, several stories are set in New Orleans, but all are terrific, and each reflects the mystiques and complexities that are unique to the Big Easy. In “Finders Keepers,” Aaron Hamburger writes of an aging gay rabbi ex-porn star who shows up for a convention of fans as a way to earn some extra cash, only to find himself headed into trouble at a gay bar in the French Quarter. James Nolan, a New Orleans writer and one of the competition’s finalists, offers the flip side of this set up in his pithy, “Latins on the Loose,” about a local man’s attempt to break free of sleeping with tourists. Greg Herren’s “Mr. Lonely” is a heartbreaking tale of alienation, about a man who begins a relationship with the photograph of a porn star after his boyfriend leaves him for a younger man. And Jewelle Gomez returns to New Orleans and her “Gilda” character with a new adventure of her cult vampire titled “Storyville 1910.”
Several stories revolve around the haunting moments of a character’s past. Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s deft “The End of Jesus” recounts a twelve year-old girl’s act of homophobia which resonates throughout her life. In “Dancing Pink Roses” by Danny Bracco, a contest runner-up, a stay-at home farmer confronts a buried secret when his wife replaces their years-old striped bed sheets with a new floral design. And in Peter Dubé’s finely crafted “Blazon,” the narrator carries his fiery metaphor of desire (or unsatisfied desire) through a succession of combustible relationships.
It should also come as no surprise that an anthology titled “Saints and Sinners” and with the logo of the famous St. Louis Cathedral on its cover to have many of its stories constructed around religious themes and characters. In “Jesus is My BFF,” contest runner-up James Driggers unleashes a clever tale wrapped around a sober-and-saved-again relative which features a gothic ending worthy of Flannery O’Connor. In Steve Scott’s “The Kid,” another contest finalist, a relative mentions that a young boy’s stunted growth is from his “inability to converse with God” and the “evils of caffeine.” And “Ondine,” the winning story by Wayne Lee Gay, is about the repressed yearnings of a trio of disparate characters: a teenage pianist from a conservative Christian family, her married music teacher, and his sultry Mexican gardener ready for whatever comes his way.
Reviewed by Jameson Currier