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New ventures join old favorites for the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival's 16th year, beginning this Wednesday, March 20. In addition to a roster of plays, master classes and writers panels -- and the annual Stella and Stanley Shouting Contest -- the festival is debuting activities such as a poetry slam, dubbed by festival organizers as "the ultimate literary competition."

The following represents just a few highlights from the festival's five days. Other Tennessee Williams events are listed in this week's Hot Seven, theater listings and "Food News." For information about tickets and registration for events, and for a complete calendar, call the festival at 581-1144 or visit www.tennesseewilliams.net.

A series of master classes will be led by literary figures from around the country, featuring give-and-take sessions and book signings. All master classes are held at The Historic New Orleans Collection (533 Royal St., 523-4662) unless otherwise noted:

· At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, local cartoonist/writer Bunny Matthews presents "Vic 'n Nat'ly and Me -- The Life and Times of a New Orleans Original."

· At 11 a.m. Thursday, The Washington Post Book World editor and An American Chica author Marie Arana discusses the personal memoir.

· At 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and New Orleans resident Rick Bragg discusses his recent experiences in Pakistan in "Report from the Front."

· At 9 a.m. Friday, author and former CBS correspondent Jonathan Coleman introduces the skills needed in "Writing Literary Nonfiction."

· At 1:30 p.m. Friday, Southern humorist and Oxford American columnist Roy Blount Jr. searches for "exactly the right word" in his program "Getting Physical With Language."

· At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, legendary lyricist, composer, producer, pianist and singer Allen Toussaint will discuss his multi-faceted career in an interview with Gambit Weekly editor Michael Tisserand. (House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 529-2583)

The festival's annual series of literary panels also covers a diverse range of topics:

· At 10 a.m. Friday, John Kennedy Toole's most famous character is the subject of "Ignatius Redux," led by Rene Nevils and Deborah George Hardy, authors of the recent biography Ignatius Rising. (Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter St., 522-9958)

· At 10 a.m. Saturday, moderator Allen Ballard will lead panelists Julianna Baggott, Rick Bragg and others in "Writing the Family," examining the legacy of using one's family as fodder for art. (Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., 522-9958)

· Also at 10 a.m. Saturday, Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story, a magazine of short story writing and winner of the 2001 National Magazine Award for Fiction, will be covered by editor Adrienne Brodeur and several contributing writers. (Omni Royal Orleans Hotel Grand Ballroom, 621 St. Louis St., 529-5333)

· At 4 p.m. Saturday, "On the Road With Jack Kerouac" panelists Doug Brinkley and John Sinclair will be among those examining the beat writer. (Omni Royal Orleans Hotel Grand Ballroom, 621 St. Louis St., 529-5333)

· At 10 a.m. Sunday, "Lives in Exile, In Transit, In Discovery: Contemporary Latin American Writers" will feature Loida Maritza Perez, Emanuel Xavier and other writers discussing their poetry, fiction and nonfiction. (Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter St., 522-9958)

· At 11:30 a.m. Sunday, John Barry, John Ed Bradley and David Maraniss will examine "Aspects of Power: Politics and Sports." (Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter St., 522-9958)

· At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, panelists on "The Collected Letters of Tennessee Williams: A Conversation with the Editors and Publisher" will discuss the man behind the missives. (Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter St., 522-9958)

A number of special events round out the festival. At 2 p.m. Friday in Le Petit Theatre's Children's Corner (616 St. Peter St., 522-9958), Charles Kerbs directs The Traveling Companion, a one-act play written late in Williams' life. At 7 p.m. Friday, the "First Annual Festival Poetry Slam: The Purpose of Poetry/The Poetry of Purpose" will heat up at O'Flaherty's Irish Channel Pub (508 Toulouse St., 529-1317). At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, "the grande dame of Southern letters," Eudora Welty, will be honored in a personal tribute by writer Don Lee Keith (Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, 616 St. Peter St., 522-9958). Also at 11:30 a.m., Fraser Macnaught's documentary film profiling Williams, Le Diable le Blue, will be screened at The Cabildo in Jackson Square.

Once again, a series of festival-sponsored walking tours will wind through the French Quarter and surrounding areas. Sites include cemeteries, famous bars, Tennessee Williams' homes and hangouts, and the haunts of jazz pioneers.

Finally, follow the shouts of "STELLAAAAAAA!!!!" to the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, with preliminaries held at 4:30 p.m. in Jackson Square, and final judging taking place at 5:30 p.m. at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré. -- Compiled by Frank Etheridge