Words: savoring Saints & Sinners: Gerard Cabrera on the LGBTQ literary festival

  • by Michele Karlsberg
  • Sunday April 28, 2024
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Author Gerard Cabrera
Author Gerard Cabrera

At the 2024 Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, writer Gerard Cabrera had the opportunity to immerse himself in a vibrant and diverse community of writers and readers. The festival, which celebrates LGBTQ literature and culture, brought together writers, publishers, literary agents, publicists, booksellers, journalists from around the country to discuss their work, share their experiences, and connect with fellow lovers of queer literature.

The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival was a truly enriching experience for Gerard. It is a reminder of the importance of LGBTQ voices in literature and the power of storytelling to build connections and foster understanding. I couldn't attend this year, but Gerard Cabrera did and I am grateful for his recap.

Attendees will always leave the festival feeling inspired and motivated to continue writing and sharing their own stories with the world. The friendships are long lasting and always supportive. I can't wait to attend next year and continue celebrating and supporting LGBTQ literature. Here is Cabrera's write-up of the events.

Writer Elisabeth Nonas (right) accepts Firebrand Books publisher Nancy K. Bereano's induction into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame. Jewelle Gomez (left) presented the award. (photo: Ride Hamilton)  

Gerard Cabrera: When I left New York City for the 21st Saints & Sinners Literary Festival, it was dark and cold and I wore my heavy raincoat, the one that makes me look like a 1950s flasher or a secret agent. I decided I'd shed it in New Orleans, where it was bound to be sunnier and warmer, right? Well, it was still raining when I got there, and not much warmer.

After I checked into the Hotel Monteleone, and looked out onto Royal Street from my room while I was getting ready for my first outing of the weekend — for a po-boy sandwich, naturally — I thought to myself, Oh, well. Rain is messy, but a sign of renewal. It's a sort of paradox, like the title for the festival.

And our community is full of paradoxes, which is why Saints & Sinners is such an important coming together for the writers, presenters and audience members And it did not disappoint. With dozens of panels, readings and special events, there was something for everyone in our rich tapestry of community. Here is a taste of the sacred and the profane of my Saints & Sinners weekend.

Gerard Cabrera, Steven Reigns, Andrew Holleran, Casey Hamilton, Tom Cardamone and Charles Rice-Gonzalez on the 'Writing About, With, and Through HIV & AIDS' panel. (photo: Ride Hamilton)  

Good yarns
Friday morning began with what has become a tradition, breakfast out with my friends from Rattling Good Yarns Press, the publisher of my novel, "Homo Novus." We had the same server from the year before, and she remembered us, which is not a surprise given the star power in our little group: Ian Henzel, St. Sukie DeLaCroix led the early morning reunion.

Also present were Gregg Shapiro, Rick Karlin, Jerry Wheeler and a new addition, Elisabeth Nonas, whose fourth novel, "Grace Period," was just published, and whose wife Nancy K. Bereano, founder of Firebrand Books, was scheduled to be inducted into the Saints & Sinners Hall of Fame at the end of the conference.

The conference day of workshops began. I had the opportunity to participate in Trebor Healey's Writer's Craft session, 'Short Stories, Novellas, Novels.' To a full room, Trebor led us in a conversation about the differences between these forms and how to match them to our ideas for stories. My idea about George Santos having breakfast at Daisy Dukes Restaurant in the French Quarter turned out to be best for guess which form? You will have to wait for it. The workshop was great.

A packed closing event at the 2024 Saints & Sinners Literary Festival (photo: Ride Hamilton)  

Out & about
A field trip was in order. With Tom Cardamone, Leo Lai, and Sven Davisson, publisher of Rebel Satori Press, we rode in style to the New Orleans Museum of Art. After a delicious lunch, including my first green vegetable, we toured the museum exhibits, and meandered back to the French Quarter, but not without a stop at my favorite bar, Crossings, where it seems to be Mardi Gras every day.

The afternoon's literary highlight was the discussion between Michael Cunningham and Justin Torres, facilitated by Maureen Corrigan of National Public Radio. Later on in the weekend, I sat in to listen to her conversation with Colm Toibin, whose novel "Long Island," a follow up to his novel, "Brooklyn," is coming out in May. Both writers were inspirational and I came away feeling motivated to get back to my own writing work.

But not until after the opening reception, which took place at BK House, with live entertainment and a chance to catch up with so many good writers and friends amid the glamour, glitter and swirl of so many literati it made my head spin and I needed another po-boy sandwich to restore my bearings again.

Saturday I sat rapt as I listened to readings by so many great writers and poets, such as Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, Gary Zebrun, Cynthia Carr, Brad Gooch, and SJ Sindu. At one poetry panel, I heard Jubi Arriola-Headley, Chen Chen, Erin Hoover, Stephanie Burt, and Ed Madden, wonderfully facilitated by Brad Richard.

Lived experiences
I always find poetry readings very stimulating and generative for my own writing. Working in the legal system, I see how official language is always a few steps behind lived experience. This is why I found the poets panel and the panel about non-binary writers so compelling. Each panelist — Ching-In Chen, Wes Jamison, Miah Jeffra, C.A. Munn — and fiction contest winner Charlie J. Stephens spoke about their own writerly experiences in such a generous way I felt quite moved by the work we all do to improve social conditions through language activism.

Dinner was Chinese food with a new poet friend, Daniel Meltz, whose book, "It Wasn't Easy to Reach You," is out in in February 2025.

On Sunday, the last day of the conference, I was ready to facilitate my own panels. The first panel was about AIDS writing. The panel is sponsored by the Bruce J. Heim Foundation. Bruce J. Heim died of AIDS in the early days of the pandemic, and his sister was present to remember him and to remind us all to never forget the fight against bigotry, especially in the current political climate.

AIDS is such a vast topic that it can be overwhelming. But despite that it was only possible to touch on a few points in an hour, this group of panelists, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Casey Hamilton, Andrew Holleran, and Steven Reigns provided a much-needed intergenerational perspective and engaged each other and the audience so much that we ran out of time.

A selection of books on sale at the 2024 Saints & Sinners Literary Festival (photo: Tubby & Coo's Mid-City Book Shop)  

Publishing tips
The second panel I facilitated was about BIPOC writers and publishing. This lively discussion with Jewelle Gomez, Charles Rice-Gonzalez, Daniel WK Lee, Justin Torres, and David Santos Donaldson got another roomful together to talk about their own histories and experiences with both big publishers and independent presses.

After sharing our personal and political motivations, we traded tips and war stories, talking about "niche marketing" constraints, how mentorship works, the roles of prizes, grants and writing residencies, and the effects of the shifting economic landscape. The audience appreciated the panelist's candor and it was a very useful conversation.

The festival closed out with the traditional readings from the fiction, poetry, and emerging writer awards, and the induction into the Hall of Fame of Nancy K. Bereano, David Bergman, Lawrence Henry Gobble, Jay Murphy, and Justin Torres. What a great whirlwind of a weekend, despite the rain. I boarded my plane the next morning, and can't wait until next year.

The next Saints & Sinners Literary Festival is March 28-30, 2025

Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity and marketing for the LGBTQ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 35 years of successful campaigns. www.michelekarlsberg.com

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