I met Morgan Molthrop in New Orleans when he was the Master of Ceremonies at the Faulkner Awards. He made quite an impression with his red bow tie and brilliant, bawdy patter about (of all things) Andrew Jackson. I kind of fell in love. He’s crazy. He feels deeply, is prone to excess … he’s an artist. He’s written three books about New Orleans (see details below), and he can show you, better than most, why people love, hate, despair over and long for the City of New Orleans.
He has written three books:
- ARTIST SPACES NEW ORLEANS (UL Press)
- JACKSON’S PLAYBOOK: 15 STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
- LOVE NEW ORLEANS.
HOW DOES BEING BORN AND BRED IN NEW ORLEANS IMPACT YOUR WORK?
The New Orleans I grew up in has very little to do with the New Orleans I have come to love. Uptown is stuffy, stagnant, conservative and homogeneous. But it is also home. It’s beautiful – deceptively so. I love living Uptown, but I do my work Downtown. And what I mean by Downtown is the entire Creole and Caribbean section of the city where we never even ventured as kids, the Caribbean sections off of Esplanade in Treme, the Marigny and Bywater. I work in the “lock your doors we’re going through a bad section of town” neighborhoods. Appreciating Old New Orleans is like discovering a world full of magic, mystery – and some Vodou, too. The charm of New Orleans is unrivaled. It’s a toxic charm, though. Be careful.
You seem really frenetic. What is a typical day in the life of Morgan Molthrop like?
7 AM: Coffee and a handful of anti-viral and mood stabilizing pills with something to buffer the stomach – preferably yogurt and fruit. Blogging, posting and writing until 9. On the way to the Bywater office, a stop at the coffee shop for shot two. Then I do the work of the day.
Books don’t pay the rent, but the by-product of my books has been a thriving business in cultural tourism. People hire our company, Custom New Orleans, to show them an alternative New Orleans. No boobs, beads and Bourbon Street. I speak to corporate groups, help them do theme-based team building experiences, plan cultural events and outings and do a lot of advocate work for local charities. I run the NOAC Community Outreach Program and am beginning a local podcast as an offshoot of that venture. I spend over an hour a day at the gym to keep fit. Part of that is to get my body to feel tired so that my mind falls asleep. I write in the evening before I go to bed. Frenetic?
When did you first become a writer?
My family has one of the largest private libraries in the city. Really. Every room is packed full of books. We value reading. So I got the message early that we must also value writing. And writers.
My teachers at Newman realized that I was doing a lot of confessional stuff – you know – really pushing the boundaries for a teenager. Well, I was recovering from a suicide attempt that was swept under the carpet and I had to find an outlet. Writing was it.
In New York, when I was a romantic 20-something-year-old, I wrote horrible novels that never saw the light of day. I wrote press releases every day for decades on Wall Street. And law school was writing, writing, and more writing.
In New York, I was reading Ralph Elison and Kerouac. I was working as an executive, but hanging with a very sophisticated, Bohemian West Side crowd including Oliver and Elaine Trager, who took me under their wing and squeezed the Uptown Republican stiffness out of me. They kept handing me books. We’d go to Tarkovsky movies, the Met, we’d walk the West Side dumpster diving for furniture. I lived in a $500 a month tenement on Ninth Avenue with a bathtub in the kitchen and a bathroom down the hall. We were poor but happy. Funny that I thought I was a writer then.
When I sat down to write my first real book, ARTIST SPACES, I was deliberate. There’s a reason ARTIST SPACES is good. There’s a reason JACKSON is a bit light. For ARTIST SPACES, I wanted people to hear the voices of these artists. The artists were part of my recovery from addiction.
What’s so great about New Orleans?
Nothing. And everything. She’s a cheater, a liar, a thief and a whore. But I love, the messy and selfish bitch that she is. And I can’t keep my eyes off of her. There’s just no one else like her. I’m smitten. Yeah, she’s a vain one – loves to be flattered. I do my share of that, for sure. Anyway, you can’t help loving your mother.
If you were a visitor to New Orleans for one day only, what would you do?
Much as I rag on the French Quarter, a real historical tour of the Vieux Carre is the obvious first step to understanding New Orleans. Do your research, though. A bad tour is an awful thing. Eat at Galatoire’s because it’s where Tennessee Williams had a table. And you can’t get reservations. And only locals and a few “in the know” go there. AND you have to dress up. Yes. Wear a jacket, men. It’s a social town and a blue blazer is a “must pack” for a true gentleman. If you show up in a jump suit or jeans they will turn you away. So now you see the Uptown snob in me.
How is your personality evident in your work?
If an artists’ personality is not evident in his/her work then they aren’t artists. Their work IS their personality. So my work is beautiful and flawed and aspirational and – sometimes – awful. Life’s a friggin experiment and if you don’t just go for it, you lose out. Don’t you think?
What most frightens you about writing?
Not being frightened about writing. I just go. So copy-editing gets me every time. I type fast and I hit “send.”
What are you reading next?
My family passes books around like the Kennedy men passed women around. I’m doing the Roman thing right now with a Colleen McCullough book, Fortune’s Favorite. I just passed Wolf Hall on. I have American Quadroon by my bed. I’m waiting for the next West Moss. [Editor’s Note: Aren’t we all?]
MORGAN MOLTHROP: BIOGRAPHY
Born in Uptown New Orleans, Morgan Molthrop attended the Isidore Newman School, a socially competitive and academically demanding school that set the tone for an unsustainable drive that would haunt Morgan for most of his life: the desire to achieve great things to prove that he was equal to those who seemed “higher born” in a city of false royalty.
Upon realizing he was gay in junior high, he attempted suicide. “This was the Deep South and all the messages I received were that being gay was a sickness and I was an abomination.” Surviving, but without medical or psychological help, Molthrop determined to show the world how capable he was. He worked on Wall Street as an executive for over a decade, was the first openly gay VP on Wall Street, and attended law school at night.
But he was leading a double life that included drug and alcohol abuse. In 2008 when he lost his life savings, he sold his possessions at public auction, and even helped the repo man take his Jaguar. Molthrop found himself back in New Orleans, a town that, in many ways, he had come to despise.
Molthrop fell back in love with New Orleans and struggled his way to sobriety and stability. He has written three books: ARTIST SPACES NEW ORLEANS (UL Press), JACKSON’S PLAYBOOK: 15 STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS, and most recently, LOVE NEW ORLEANS.
How to purchase Morgan’s books
ARTIST SPACES NEW ORLEANS (UL Press) is a book of Tina Freeman’s photographs of artists’ live/work spaces along with Molthrop’s interviews of 21 of the city’s top artists. The book has been nominated for an IndieForward Award and was the genesis for a major show at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
JACKSON’S PLAYBOOK: 15 STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS, a hybrid history and business book that used the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans as a way to tell the story of a New Orleans in transition and a general who would change the course of history.
LOVE NEW ORLEANS was widely acclaimed as “the perfect Valentine’s gift” in 2015. It is a book that documents the many LOVE signs that have been placed across the city.
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