These writers and their partners had a flair for memorable gift-giving, from presents that pulled at the heartstrings to gifts that stirred up drama on and off the page.

Scarlett Fever: Margaret Mitchell

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Margaret Mitchell received a life-altering gift from her husband while she was housebound recovering from a car accident. He presented her with a secondhand typewriter, a sheaf of paper, and the declaration, “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a great new career.” That typewriter, which Mitchell used to craft her masterpiece, Gone with the Wind, is on view at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library.

Pay It Forward: O. Henry

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When struggling scribe O. Henry saved up money for his wife to attend the Chicago World’s Fair, she instead used the funds to spruce up their sparse home with muslin curtains and a pair of wicker chairs. This selfless act helped inspire his most famous short story, “The Gift of the Magi.” The chairs are on display at the Queen Anne-style cottage the couple shared, now the O. Henry Museum in Austin.

Poetry in Motion: John Keats

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“I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days—three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain,” proclaimed romantic poet John Keats to his fiancée, Fanny Brawne. The two met while living in adjoining abodes in London, but before they exchanged vows Keats died of tuberculosis. On display at the Keats House museum is the garnet engagement ring the poet gave to Fanny. Brokenhearted, she never married and wore the ring for the next four decades until her own passing.

Shakespearean Drama

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When the Bard passed away, he ignited a four-hundred-year controversy by leaving his “second-best” bed to his wife, Anne. Contrary to appearances, the bequest was probably a romantic gesture rather than a slight. Tudor custom dictated the best bed be reserved for guests while the second-best would have been the one on which their children were conceived. What is believed to be the second-best bed is on display at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The Gambler: Ernest Hemingway

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While living in Paris, struggling writer Hemingway hit up friends for cash to buy his wife, Hadley, a colorful gift: Joan Miró’s oil painting The Farm. A roll of the dice between Hemingway and an acquaintance decided who had dibs on buying the coveted canvas, which he victoriously toted home to Hadley in a taxi. Today The Farm is on view in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

 

[Photos: Mitchell Typewriter, O. Henry Museum and Hathaway Cottage © NovelDestinations; Keats House © Keats House/City of London; The Farm © National Gallery of Art]

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East Coast…Storied Getaway 

Library card-carrying bibliophiles looking for a getaway might want to consider Baron’s Cove hotel in Sag Harbor, New York, the seaside town where John Steinbeck spent the last years of his life. In honor of the writer’s 115th birthday on February 27, guests who present a library card will receive a special rate of $115/night in February and March. Book a stay for Sunday, February 26, and the next night is free. Plus the birthday perks don’t stop there. Toast your literary adventures with two complimentary Jack Rose cocktails, Steinbeck’s preferred libation. And you’re welcome to bring along a canine companion, just like Steinbeck did on the 1960 road trip he recounts in Travels with Charley when his French poodle pal rode shotgun.

West Coast…Cake and Kids’ Festivities

Meanwhile, in Salinas, California, the town where the Nobel Prize-winning author grew up, the National Steinbeck Center is hosting its annual birthday festivities. On Saturday, February 25, the always-fabulous and interesting museum has a variety of children’s activities planned throughout the day. A candle-topped birthday cake will be served at noon.

 

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Robert Burns Single Malt / Isle of Arran Distillers

Oh thou, my Muse! Guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
   In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp and wink,
   To sing thy name.
—Robert Burns, “Scotch Drink”

Haggis, neeps, and tatties are on the menu. Whisky, too, of course.

Lovers of Scottish culture the world over gather annually to celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, on January 25, 1759.  The first recorded Burns Night Supper honoring the poet (famed for poems such as “Tam O’ Shanter” and “Ode to Haggis”) took place in 1801 in his birthplace village of Alloway, and the evening’s line-up of toasts, poems, and bagpipe ditties has varied little ever since.

Revelers dine on a traditional meal of haggis (sheep organ meats blended with oatmeal and spices), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes), washed down with copious drams of whisky. (Non-meat eaters can serve vegetarian haggis.) Festivities are capped off with the joining of hands and the singing of the bard’s great song of parting, “Auld Lang Syne.”

Restaurants, pubs, hotels, and dining halls all over Scotland host Burns Night Suppers. The occasion is also widely celebrated in the U.S. and Canada, so check to see if the wordsmith is being feted in your town.

Robert Burns App

If you’d like to host your own gathering, Scotland.org has a Burns’ Supper Guide with tips on food, drink, attire, and entertainment. The guide is included on a free Robert Burns App along with a biography, visual timeline of the bard’s life, and more than 500 poems and love songs.

The National Park Service plays a part in helping to preserve literary history, from Longfellow’s pedigreed abode in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Eugene O’Neill’s imaginative Tao House near Danville, California. A perk for bibliophiles visiting these storied sites: there is no admission fee.

 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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The abolitionist, orator, and presidential advisor wrote his final autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, in the library at Cedar Hill, his home in Washington, D.C. (Look for the Victorian Renaissance carved oak armchair originally made for the U.S. House of Representatives, sitting next to his roll top desk.) The house is less than a hundred miles from where Douglass had been born into slavery on a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Open year-round. Note: There is a $1.50 fee to reserve advance tickets online. www.nps.gov/frdo

 

TAO HOUSE AT THE EUGENE O’NEILL NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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Itinerant playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in more than 35 places before settling outside Danville, California, in a residence he and his wife had built from the ground up. Dubbed Tao House, it’s furnished with Chinese antiques like the couple’s teak bed, formerly an opium couch, and incorporates architectural features that reflect principles of Taoism. O’Neill was greatly inspired here, penning Long Day’s Journey Into Night and other critically acclaimed plays. Open year-round. www.nps.gov/euon

 

LONGFELLOW HOUSE—WASHINGTON’S HEADQUARTERS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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Plenty of famous figures have crossed the threshold at this yellow-hued house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Before it was home to 19th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was General George Washington’s headquarters during the Siege of Boston in 1775–76. Charles Dickens once came to call here on Longfellow, along with scores of other writers, artists, and politicians. The house and its contents remain largely unchanged since the poet’s day. Open late May through October. www.nps.gov/long

 

EDGAR ALLAN POE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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This minimalist house-museum—Poe’s last residence during a six-year stint living in Philadelphia—contains no furnishings but plenty of atmosphere. Bare walls, peeling paint, and creaking floors provide the perfect backdrop to contem­plate Poe’s spine-chilling tales. Tours conclude with a descent into the shadowy basement (above) that inspired the setting for the eerie short story “The Black Cat.” Open year-round. www.nps.gov/edal

 

Honorable Mention

CARL SANDBURG HOME NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE / CONNEMARA FARM

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Carl Sandburg moved from the shores of Lake Michigan to a secluded, sprawling farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina, seeking solitude, space for his large family (not to mention a 15,000-volume book collection), and greener pastures and longer grazing seasons for his wife’s goat-breeding operation—which is still going strong today. Note: There is no charge to access the grounds, which include a series of hiking trails, or to visit the Connemara Farms Goat Dairy. Admission to the house, shown by guided tour, is $5.00. www.nps.gov/carl

Photo credits: Tao House and Poe Basement, National Park Service; Douglass Library, Longfellow House and Connemara Farm, NovelDestinations.com

pg-225-jane-austen-house-museum-chawtonIt’s always a great time for bibliophiles to explore England, which is the preeminent destination for literary travel. (More on that another time.) But because of all the milestone events taking place in 2017, VisitEngland has declared it the Year of Literary Heroes.

To mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing, head to the place where she spent the majority of her days. Beginning in March, “Jane Austen 200 – A Life in Hampshire” encompasses a variety of events, including special exhibits, talks, and activities at the Jane Austen’s House Museum (her last residence, see photo) in Chawton. Also on the agenda is Regency Week with music, dance, and more, and Big Picnics taking place across the area.

Harry Potter fans have plenty to celebrate, too. It’s hard to believe, but J.K. Rowling’s first book featuring the young wizard, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published twenty years ago in June. Among the festivities is a Harry Potter Film Concert Series, a live orchestral screening of the film version taking place at Royal Albert Hall in London and other cities throughout the country. In the fall, the British Library will be launching a new Harry Potter-themed exhibit, the first one it has mounted for a single series of books by a living author.

Among the other milestones being celebrated during the Year of Literary Heroes are the 75th anniversary of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five children’s adventure novels; the 100th anniversary of wartime poet Edward Thomas’ death; the 125th anniversary of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s passing; and the 125th anniversary of master sleuth Sherlock Holmes’ debut.

Click here for more information about the Year of Literary Heroes. And start planning those itineraries.

Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Mr. Fezziwig, Bob Cratchit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and the other colorful characters in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol were created during a six-week flurry of activity in late 1843. Here are a few ways, on both sides of the Atlantic, to celebrate the page-turner that has since become the quintessential holiday classic.

DickensLeechPML30615OGLE THE ORIGINAL

Dickens gifted the manuscript of A Christmas Carol to his solicitor, after having it bound in red Moroccan leather. The literary treasure was acquired by financier Pierpont Morgan in the 1800s, and in what is now an annual tradition, it’s put on display during the holiday season. Stop by the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City to see the spectacular volume, along with a first edition A Christmas Carol open to the title page and an engraved, hand-colored frontispiece of Mr. Fezziwig’s ball (see photo). The exhibit runs through January 8, 2017. A digital version of the hand-written manuscript can be perused online.

WHAT THE DICKENS?

Finish your holiday shopping while listening to a marathon reading of A Christmas Carol given by Téa Obreht, Elissa Schappell, and other writers and performers. On December 10, Housing Works Bookstore Café in New York City is hosting its seventh annual “What the Dickens?” event. The reading kicks off at 1 p.m. and ends about 4:30 p.m.

ALL-DAY FILM FEST

Get into the holiday spirit by watching one, two, or even all five screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore on December 22. The film fest beings at 10:30 a.m. with the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim and ends with a 5:30 p.m. viewings of the comedy Scrooged starring Bill Murray. In between are three other showings, including the Spanish-language animated film Cuento de Navidad.

WATCH THE DRAMA UNFOLD

A Christmas Carol is being staged at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., until December 31. Showgoers can catch a performance of the spirited tale and also extend some generosity to those in need. This year the theatre has partnered with Food & Friends, an organization that delivers meals and groceries to those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses. At curtain calls during the production’s run, cast members are collecting monetary donations. Tiny Tim would be proud.

charles-dickens-museum-londonVISIT DICKENS’ ABODE

The Charles Dickens Museum in London goes all out with holiday festivities, including a Christmas Eve event that includes feasting on mince pies. Stop by throughout the month to see the house decked in greenery and decorations as it would have been during the writer’s day, learn about Victorian Christmas traditions, listen to readings of A Christmas Carol, and more. Visit DickensMuseum.com for details on times and ticket prices.

[photos: © Morgan Library and Museum, Charles Dickens Museum]

writers-walk-sydney-copy-copyAlong a harbor-side walkway in Sydney, Australia, in the shadow of the city’s iconic Opera House, some pedestrians paused to ponder what was written on bronze plaques embedded in the ground. But most people didn’t break stride, stepping on or over them without noticing what was beneath their feet. Just as I was walking by one plaque, a curious couple paused for a closer look. I stopped, too, and the name Robert Louis Stevenson jumped out.

The tribute is part of the Writers Walk, a series of 60 plaques leading around Sydney’s Circular Quay. Australian authors are commemorated, as well as other wordsmiths, like Stevenson, who visited or lived in the city. Each plaque features a brief biography and an excerpt of the author’s writing.

Stevenson sailed into Sydney on numerous occasions between 1890 and 1893. He spent the last years of his life in the South Pacific, eventually settling near Apia, Samoa. The abode he built on the island is now the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. When the adventurous scribe passed away in 1894 from a cerebral hemorrhage at age 44, Samoan natives he had befriended carried his body to a hilltop grave overlooking the sea.

Read about other unexpected literary connections:
https://noveldestinations.com/2011/01/01/unexpected-literary-connection-dorothy-l-sayers/
https://noveldestinations.com/2011/03/22/unexpected-literary-connection-charles-dickens/

Salem 06 043Spirits of the Gables
The House of the Seven Gables, the abode that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel of the same name, hosts the annual “Spirits of the Gables,” with characters from the story haunting the hallways of the atmospheric seaside mansion. The Nathaniel Hawthorne House, located steps away in the House of the Seven Gables complex, holds a re-enactment of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 — highlighting the part played by the writer’s great-great grandfather, whose zealousness during the proceedings earned him the moniker “The Hanging Judge.” When: October 7-31 on various days Click here for more information on the events.

Westbound Train: A Celebration of Willa Cather in Music and Food
Along with entertainment that includes a staged reading of one of Willa Cather’s lesser-known works, the comedic West-bound Train, attendees will eat well at this evening event. On the menu are farm-to-table hors d’oeuvres paired with wines and a signature cocktail prepared by an award-winning local chef. The literary soiree is sponsored by the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud, Nebraska. When: Friday, October 7. (Reserve tickets by September 30).

Edith Wharton Literary Roundtable
What is the connection between Gilded Age novelist Edith Wharton and a notorious murderer? Find out during a Literary Roundtable, a seasonal weekly series that explores different aspects of Wharton’s works and themes. Upcoming discussions are A Connoisseur Abroad: The Travel Writings of Edith Wharton (October 13), A Taste for the Macabre: Edith Wharton and Lizzie Borden (October 20), and “An Agony of Terror”: The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (October 27). Where: The Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts.

Reading of The War of the Worlds
When H.G. Wells’ tale about Mars inhabitants invading Earth was first performed as a radio play in 1938, it caused widespread panic among listeners who believed the broadcast was relaying actual events. A dramatic rendition of the story is taking place at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, with professional actors and a sound effect specialist staging a show made for radio right in front the audience. When: Friday-Sunday, October 28-30.

The Great Jack o’ Lantern Blaze
Thousands of hand-carved, illuminated pumpkins are ablaze on the grounds of Cortland Manor during one of the many events that take place this month in Washington Irving territory. The author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” lived in New York State’s Hudson Valley in a wisteria-draped cottage, Sunnyside, on the banks of the Hudson River. When: September 30-November 13 (some dates already sold out).

LA Central Library Rotunda

Some of the eye-catching decor at the Central Library in downtown L.A.

“Los Angeles still comes to mind for most as a place of palm tree-lined streets, movie stars, and perhaps, a cultural wasteland,” writes Katie Orphan in the LitHub.com article “A Literary Long Weekend in Los Angeles: A Bookish Visit to the Land of Bukowski and Didion.” If you do fancy an L.A. getaway, you’ll find that the city is a bibliophile’s delight.

Follow along with Katie, who works in town at The Last Bookstore, as she points readers in the right direction. Among her suggestions: Marvel at the opulent Central Library building in downtown, pull up a bar stool at the King Eddy Saloon, where Charles Bukowski once drank, and find the location of Philip Marlowe’s apartment in Raymond Chandler’s detective tales. Just be sure to leave room in your suitcase to pile in the purchases you’ll no doubt make after exploring the offerings at a host of terrific independent bookstores.

 

Tap into the creative spirits of two famous wordsmiths. Writers looking for a novel space in which to turn out poetry and prose can tote along a laptop, or put pencil to paper (no pens permitted), in Mark Twain’s library and Emily Dickinson’s bedroom.

twain-houseAt the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn., participants have three uninterrupted hours to craft tales and brainstorm plot ideas. With ornate, dark wood accents, teeming bookshelves, velvet furnishings, and teal-and-gold-colored walls, the library is one of the most elegant rooms in the house. In front of the fireplace, which is adorned with a mantelpiece from a Scottish castle, Twain once entertained family and friends by reciting poetry and reading aloud excerpts from his new works. Cost: $50. Limited spaces available in September. Reservations required.

Emily Dickinson MuseumThe Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Mass., is inviting writers, artists, and composers to spend time in the room where the poet turned out much of her verse. “Sweet hours have perished here; This is a mighty room,” Dickinson penned about the sacred space. She spent all but 15 of her 55 years living at her family’s abode, a 200-year-old brick manse, where she wrote poetry in secret and sewed the pages together in hand-bound volumes. Pricing ranges from $75-200. Reservations required.

 

Photos: © Mark Twain House and Museum, © Emily Dickinson Museum