Most authors are so impacted by their surroundings that their families, homes, towns and the natural environment creep into their works. To visit an author’s home is to step into their world, to understand the power of this place in their writing.
Many cities throughout the country have major attractions and events that honor their native sons and daughters. Literature lovers can get to know their favorite writers and walk in their footsteps just by visiting these authors' home-museums and favorite haunts.
Here are 10 cities and towns where visitors can get a taste of their favorite writers' worlds:
City: Amherst, Mass.
Writer: Emily Dickinson
Why: The poet spent most of her life at her family homestead, where she gathered inspiration from her relatives, visitors and the natural world that surrounded the Main Street house. The Emily Dickinson Museum includes The Homestead and the next-door Evergreens, where Emily’s brother, Austin lived with his family. The museum offers displays, tours and special events honoring Emily.
City: Lowell, Mass.
Writer: Jack Kerouac
Why: Known as the “father of the beat generation” Kerouac used the city of Lowell as a backdrop for many of his books, including his auto-biographical novel The Town and The City. Many of the businesses, churches and haunts described in Kerouac’s works are still standing, and a walking tour of these provides fans with a deeper understanding of both his world and his words. A festival in Kerouac’s honor is held each autumn.
City: Concord, Mass.
Writers: Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau
Why: One person touring Alcott’s home commented that “A visit to Orchard House is like a walk through Little Women!” Indeed, Orchard House is where Alcott wrote and set her famous novel – and not much has changed in the past 146 years. Today, guided tours of Orchard House, which include the family’s original belongings, offer visitors an intimate view of the Alcotts, who became characters in her stories.
Also in Concord is Walden Pond, where writer Henry David Thoreau lived in the 1840s. He detailed his experiences in Walden, which is credited with helping inspire awareness and respect for the natural world. Walden Pond is considered the birthplace of the conservation movement, and today park interpreters offer educational programs and tours of a replica of Thoreau’s one-room cabin.
City: Jackson, Miss.
Writer: Eudora Welty
Why: Stepping into Welty’s Jackson home, one gets a sense of the importance of the written word in the Welty family from the thousands of books that line shelves throughout the house. The Tudor Revival-Style house is where Welty lived nearly her entire life, and where she wrote many novels and dozens of essays. The Eudora Welty House is open for tours and hosts special literary events.
City: Oxford, Miss.
Writer: William Faulkner
Why: Faulkner, who lived and wrote at Rowan Oak in Oxford, captured his surroundings, the people and their colloquialisms in his works. Faulkner spent much of his life in Mississippi and set most of his novels in the South, several in fictitious Yoknapatawpha County. Tours of Rowan Oak are available and a Faulkner conference is held every July at the University of Mississippi.
City: Monroeville, Ala.
Writer: Harper Lee, Truman Capote
Why: Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most widely read novels of all time, and readers eager to walk in the shoes of Scout and Jem can visit the Monroe County Museum. Photos and memorabilia provide glimpses into the role Lee’s hometown played in her fiction. The museum’s documentary film provides a virtual visit with Monroeville residents who share how Mockingbird has changed the town since the 1930s, and how they honor this legacy.
Also in the Monroe County Museum is an exhibit titled “Truman Capote, A Childhood in Monroeville.” Photos, postcards and letters paint a fascinating portrait of the young Capote and reveal how his early years in Monroe County are reflected in some of his writing, such as A Christmas Memory. And yes, the Lee and Capote were childhood friends and neighbors.
City: Asheville, N.C.
Writer: Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Why: After writing so realistically about his relatives and neighbors in his hometown of Asheville in Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe indeed did not return home for several years, until the hubbub had ceased over his airing local residents’ flaws. Old Kentucky Home, the boardinghouse run by his mother and also his childhood home, was immortalized into the novel as “Dixieland.” Today, the town celebrates Wolfe through tours of Old Kentucky Home.
Another notable literary figure had a much different experience in Asheville. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent two tumultuous summers in the 1930s at the Grove Park Inn while his wife, Zelda was being treated at a nearby psychiatric facility. Fitzgerald, who needed to rest from a case of tuberculosis, rented two rooms in the Blue Ridge Mountain retreat. Visitors to the century-old inn can stay in these rooms, and see replicas of the dark wooden arts and crafts furniture and draperies present during Fitzgerald’s stay.
City: Charlottesville, Va.
Writer: Edgar Allan Poe
Why: Readers who wonder what the author of The Raven was like as a young man can take a peek into Poe's former dorm room at the University of Virginia. The author and poet’s dorm room, Number 13 on the West Range, has been restored to its 1820s period, when Poe was a member of the second class to enroll at UVA. A recording tells about his time in Charlottesville.
City: Key West, Fla.
Writer: Ernest Hemingway
Why: Hemingway spent his first three weeks in Key West finishing his novel, A Farewell to Arms. He based characters in subsequent novels on the people he met here, and many Key Westerners appear in To Have and Have Not. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum offers tours of his house and gardens, and glimpses of the six-toed, or polydactyl, cats that are said to be descendants of Hemingway’s own beloved felines.
City: Salinas, Calif.
Writer: John Steinbeck
Why: Many of Steinbeck’s novels were set in the hills and seaside villages near his hometown of Salinas. The National Steinbeck Center is located here and offers visitors experiences in literature, history, art and agriculture, as well as special events. This year, on the 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath, the center is organizing a multistate National Steinbeck Festival to collect the experiences of modern Americans.