NEW IBERIA — James Lee Burke makes his home in Montana these days, but that doesn't stop visitors to his South Louisiana hometown from scouring the streets looking for the best-selling author or for Dave Robicheaux, the main character of his popular mysteries.
The small town is the setting for almost all of Burke's Robicheaux novels, which number more than 20.
Burke's character is a deputy sheriff in New Iberia, with the occasional visits to New Orleans, Lafayette and rural sections of Acadiana. Burke has him dropping by New Iberia's landmarks, such as Shadows-on-the-Teche Plantation, as well as the courthouse, library and numerous bars and restaurants.
Because of the popularity of Burke's novels, the fictional Robicheaux has become a tourist attraction.
“There’s not a week goes by when someone doesn't come by or emails because of the James Lee Burke series,” said Fran Thibodeaux, executive director of the Iberia Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s what we hear from his fans. They want to see the places he writes about.”
Tabasco is the No. 1 draw to the region, followed by Burke sites, Thibodeaux said, which is why the parish established the “James Lee Burke’s Iberia” trail, a brochure that lists the many places Burke writes about in his novels.
And every spring there’s a literary festival held in Burke’s honor.
The "Books Along the Teche Literary Festival: Celebrating New Iberia, Dave Robicheaux’s Hometown and Great Southern Writers" will be held Friday through Sunday in downtown New Iberia.
And, while Burke won't be there, a feature of the festival is a bus tour of the places where Robicheaux lived, worked and played. “Dave’s Haunts and Jaunts Tour,” which will be offered Friday and Saturday, will include sites along Main Street and downtown New Iberia and a few in the immediate surrounding area.
Visitors can expect to see Clementine restaurant in downtown New Iberia, the Iberia Parish Courthouse where Robicheaux had an office in the novel “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead,” and the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes next to City Hall and the Iberia Parish Library.
The fun begins at Victor’s Cafeteria on Main Street, a favorite Robicheaux haunt, where Howard Kingston, owner of the city’s Books Along the Teche bookstore, will greet tour participants. Kingston is one of the festival’s organizers and a longtime friend of Burke. His bookstore on Main Street — also part of the tour — sells Burke’s novels, including signed first editions.
For those who want to view Robicheaux sites from the water, there’s T-Boy’s Bayou Adventure Tour on Sunday, sponsored by The Teche Project.
In addition to the site tours, the festival will honor Louisiana author Ernest J. Gaines as the “Great Southern Writer for 2018.” Gaines will read from and discuss his work, plus answer audience questions at Saturday’s Great Southern Writer Symposium at the city’s Sliman Theater. There also will be bourée lessons and a tournament on Saturday, a reader’s theater performance, film screenings and more.
“It’s a different kind of festival, and it’s a different kind of literary festival but that’s what makes it unique,” Thibodeaux said.
Born in Texas but raised in New Iberia, Burke's latest Robicheaux is simply titled “Robicheaux.” He has twice been awarded an Edgar Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year, and his first book, “The Lost Get-Back Boogie,” which was rejected 111 times over nine years before LSU Press published the mystery, was later nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He has written more than 30 novels total and two collections of short stories.
Burke also has been a recipient of a Bread Loaf and Guggenheim fellowships and an NEA grant and three of his novels — “In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead,” “Heaven’s Prisoners” and “Two For Texas” — have been made into movies.
For information on The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, visit booksalongthetecheliteraryfestival.com.
The Books Along the Teche Literary Festival
WHEN: Friday through Sunday
WHERE: New Iberia
EVENTS: Food demonstrations, authors book fair, reader’s theater and the Dave’s Haunts & Jaunts Tours on Friday and Saturday.
- A “Jazz It Up” reception will opens the festival Friday evening and the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra will close it with a Sunday afternoon concert.
- The Grand Theatre New Iberia will screen “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” based on Ernest Gaines’ novel, and James Lee Burke’s “In the Electric Mist,” starring Tommy Lee Jones, and “Heaven’s Prisoners,” starring Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheaux.
- The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Academic Symposium will present Saturday at the Main Library several author panelists, including one with Mary Ann Wilson, the UL-Lafayette James D. Wilson endowed professor of Southern Studies, who will discuss “Ode to a Lost World: James Lee Burke’s ‘Tin Roof Blowdown.’” Wilson will be joined by local writer and photographer James Edmunds and UL professor Sally Donlon.
- Acadiana storytellers Sherry T. Broussard and Tom Coleman will weave tales Friday at the Main Library and a “Young Writers Panel Discussion” will be Saturday at the Sliman Theater.
- Participants may learn bourée, a Cajun card game, Saturday morning, then participate in a tournament Saturday afternoon.
- A “Boogie on Down” party will take place Saturday night at Bouligny Plaza.
For a list of events, visit booksalongthetecheliteraryfestival.com/events.