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“I hide myself within my flower,
That wearing on your breast,
You, unsuspecting, wear me too—
And angels know the rest.”

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.”

Celebrate spring with the Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk, an annual tradition honoring the anniversary of the poet’s death on May 15, 1886. Excerpts from Dickinson’s works and personal letters are read at various landmarks around Amherst, Massachusetts, beginning at the Dickinson family homestead and ending at her grave site. This year fans anywhere in the world can participate in the Poetry Walk via Zoom at noon on Friday, May 15. The event is free and open to all, with registration required on the Emily Dickinson Museum website by noon on May 14.

During her 55 years, Emily Dickinson, who lived the majority of her life in Amherst, penned some 1,800 poems, only a few of which she chose to publish. Much of her verse was penned in secret, recorded in small, handmade booklets discovered after her death. Dickinson’s verse ranges in subject matter from nature and spirituality to art and medicine, and at least a third of her poems feature floral references.

For literary travelers thinking about post-pandemic destinations, the Emily Dickinson Museum encompasses two of the family’s homes, shown by guided tour, along with gorgeous grounds where the green-thumbed poet once gardened in her signature white dress (a replica of which is on display in her bedroom). Visitors can take a scenic stroll with an accompanying audio tour that integrates Dickinson’s poetry with the landscape that inspired her.

From the scenic setting that inspired Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” to the cozy study in the house (pictured above) where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow conjured “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Song of Hiawatha,” here are ten places for poetry enthusiasts to add to their travel wish lists. Even though their doors are currently closed, some of these museums can be toured virtually while others are offering fun and innovative online programming. Check websites and follow their social media accounts for news and announcements.

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts
During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson penned some 1,800 poems spanning a wide range of subjects, from spirituality and nature to art and medicine. Only a few of her poems were published during her lifetime, while others she shared with family and friends. Much of Dickinson’s verse was penned in secret, recorded in small, handmade booklets discovered after her death. The museum encompasses two Dickinson family homes, along with gorgeous grounds where the green-thumbed poet once gardened in her signature white dress (a replica of which is on display in her bedroom).

Robert Frost Farm, Derry, New Hampshire
“To a large extent, the terrain of my poetry is the Derry land­scape,” Robert Frost told a friend. “There was something about the experience at Derry which stayed in my mind, and was tapped for poetry in the years that came after.” In a white clapboard farmhouse, a gift to the newly wed Frost from his grandfather at the turn of the 19th century, he penned verse late at night in the kitchen cozied up to a wood stove. A signposted nature trail on the property highlights notable sites like the stone-wall boundaries evoked in “Mending Wall” and the stream Frost immortalized in “Hyla Brook.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

Romantic poet William Wordsworth was born 250 years ago today, on April 7, 1770, in England’s lovely Lake District, a region he immortalized in verse.

For literary wanderers who have the Lake District on their bucket list for future travels, there are three Wordsworth landmarks to visit in this strikingly scenic region. A terrific book to read before venturing there is HOME AT GRASMERE, which combines excerpts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal with a selection of her brother’s poems. Dorothy vividly describes their everyday life at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and the surrounding landscape of the Lake District, providing context for Wordsworth’s verse. (Or, if you’re looking for something to read while staying put during the pandemic, the book makes for nicely escapist reading.)

Wordsworth House and Garden
Cockermouth, Cumbria

Wordsworth, who composed much of his poetry on foot and is said to have walked more than 175,000 miles in his lifetime, was born in a two-story Georgian town house alongside the River Derwent. The poet’s lifelong love of nature began in his “sweet childish days,” which were spent exploring his family’s backyard garden and scrambling down its Terrace Walk to play on the banks of his “fairest of all rivers.” Memories of the poet’s early years feature heavily in his verse. Today the Wordsworth home re-creates the atmosphere of his middle-class Georgian childhood with period furnishings and tours given by costumed guides.

Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum
Grasmere, Cumbria

After many years spent wandering, Wordsworth returned to the Lake District in November 1799 on a “picturesque tour” with his sister, Dorothy, and their good friend, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
While at Grasmere, a tiny village nestled beside a glittering lake—“the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”—the poet spotted Dove Cottage (photo above right), a vacant inn then known as the Dove and Olive Branch. The simple stone house with a slate roof became his and Dorothy’s “nest in a green dale” for the next decade. Among the intriguing objects on display in an adjacent museum is the original draft of Wordsworth’s famed poem “Daffodils.”

Rydal Mount and Gardens
Rydal, Cumbria

After a decade of profitable writing, Wordsworth moved with his sister, wife, and children into a spacious 16th-century Tudor house near Grasmere. By the time Wordsworth took up residence at Rydal Mount, he was famous, and tourists would peep in the windows trying to catch a glimpse of him. Wordsworth was most welcoming to his eager fans, though, often chatting with them as they strolled by his house and sometimes even showing them around the terraced gardens he designed.

 

[Photo of Dove Cottage © The Wordsworth Trust; other photos © Novel Destinations]

Top left: The House of the Seven Gables ©Novel Destinations; top right: Louisa May Alcott’s writing desk ©Orchard House; bottom left: Mark Twain’s library ©Mark Twain House; bottom right: Flannery O’Connor’s farm ©Andalusia

“We miss you…and have noticed literally hundreds of you still stopping by Orchard House since our closure to enjoy our grounds and peer through the windows,” Jan Turnquist, executive director of the literary site in Concord, Mass., told fans in a recent Facebook post. Unable to invite visitors inside to tour Louisa May Alcott’s abode, which is currently closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, instead she offered a special “virtual treat”—a guided video tour of Orchard House, led by Turnquist acting as Alcott. The cost to stream the video is $10, which can be applied toward admission to Orchard House once it reopens.

Literary travelers looking to liven up their time while social distancing can do some exploring from the sofa. Here are six more author houses with virtual tours on tap:

The Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut
This 3-D tour of Mark Twain’s domain is a visual feast. The Victorian Gothic mansion, where he put down roots for 17 years, has been described as “part steamboat, part medieval fortress and part cuckoo clock.” The house’s construction was financed in part with proceeds earned from Twain’s first full-length book, the travelogue The Innocents Abroad, and design and décor elements throughout reflect his love of travel.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts
The 17th-century seaside manse that inspired Nathan­iel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, and its lovely garden and grounds, constitute a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. A 12-part tour of the complex is available through the free UniGuide app (search: House of Seven Gables). The virtual tour includes images of and information about the property and its numerous buildings, among them Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace, which was moved to this location for preservation.

Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusia Farm, Milledgeville, Georgia
On her mother’s family farm in central Georgia, Flannery O’Connor devoted herself to two great loves: writing and raising peacocks, swans, chickens, and other birds. She spent the last of her 39 years, before dying of complications from lupus, amid Andalusia’s pastoral beauty, which inspired the settings for such stories as “A Circle in the Fire,” “Good Country People,” and “The Displaced Person.” Watch a virtual reality tour of the main house and view the grounds via a web tour.

Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum, Lynchburg, Virginia
A Harlem Renaissance-era poet, civil rights activist, and native Virginian, Anne Spencer lived in a Queen Anne-style residence, built by her husband, for more than seven decades beginning in 1903. See the poet’s house, where she entertained fellow wordsmiths like Langston Hughes, and the picturesque garden, where she wrote in a specially constructed, one-room retreat.

The Pearl S. Buck House, Perkasie, Pennsylvania
After four decades living in China, Pearl S. Buck settled at Green Hills Farm, a 68-acre estate in Bucks County, Pennsylva­nia. The National Historic Land­mark site has gardens, greenhouses, a renovated barn, and a 19th-century stone farmhouse that contains Buck’s personal furnishings and belongings intact as she left them. When taking this virtual tour of the house and grounds, be sure to linger in the lovely library. The desk in the room, originally located in the attic of her home in China, is where she wrote her novel The Good Earth in three months.

Willa Cather’s Red Cloud, Nebraska
“That shaggy grass country…gripped me with a passion I have never been able to shake,” declared Willa Cather of the Nebraska prairie. Featuring historic photos, audio, and video scenes, this virtual tour from the Willa Cather Foundation walks visitors through the prairie landscape she loved and featured in novels like My Ántonia, and highlights three significant locales: Red Cloud’s train depot and opera house, and her family home.

Explore a favorite author’s house. Celebrate Flannery O’Connor’s birthday on March 25 at her family’s farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Georgia (cake and free tours are on the agenda), or take a living history tour with a costumed guide at Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts (tours are given every fourth Saturday of the month and reservations are recommended). Click here for a state-by-state directory of author house museums.

Attend an author event at a local bookstore or library. Among this month’s lineup at the Free Library of Philadelphia are discussions with artist Maira Kalman, the creator of an illustrated version of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (March 9); activist and historian Rebecca Solnit, whose new book is Recollections of My Nonexistence, a memoir of her life as a young artist set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s 1980s punk rock scene (March 12); and journalist Katie Roiphe, author of The Power Notebooks (March 19).

Visit a feminist bookstore in person or online. A favorite is New York City’s Bluestockings, a volunteer-powered bookstore, cafe, and activist center. The store hosts regular book clubs, support groups, and social events, along with many other events ranging from author readings to self-defense workshops. Charis Books & More in Decatur, Georgia, has compiled a list of feminist bookstores in the U.S. and Canada.

Take the Trailblazing Women Writers Tour. This month the American Writers Museum in Chicago is offering a special 60-minute tour spotlighting the lives and works of women writers who broke barriers and paved the way for future generations. Tours are given twice daily at 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. Or take a virtual version of the tour on the American Writers Museum App, available on Android and Apple devices. Among the fascinating facts: Mystery scribe Frances Parkinson Keyes was discouraged from writing by both her mother and her husband. Undeterred, she created an attic hideaway for her manuscripts, and at age 34 she published the first of her dozens of novels.

Delve into books about inspiring or intriguing female figures. Two literary-themed suggestions are Virginia Woolf: And the Woman Who Shaped Her World by Gillian Gill, a look into Woolf’s world through the lens of the women who were closest to her, and Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson, which features writers like Mary Shelley who defied convention to craft some of literature’s strangest tales.

Does your idea of the perfect getaway combine the excitement of a city with literary pastimes? Head to one of these five coast-to-coast locales where there is plenty for book lovers to discover.

Washington, DC

The Library of Congress. Photo © Novel Destinations.

Begin exploring the U.S. capital city’s literary side at the Library of Congress, founded in 1800 and the world’s largest library. The library’s palatial Thomas Jefferson Building is a visual feast with murals, mosaics, and sculpture galore and a Great Hall rising 75 feet from marble floor to stained glass ceiling. (It’s well worth taking the free, docent-led tour to hear about the library’s creation and collection.) Make time to visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, the author-orator’s last residence, an estate less than a hundred miles from where he was born into slavery. Lay eyes on a rare First Folio at the Folger Shakespeare Library and catch a production in the Elizabethan-style Folger Theatre. At indie bookstore Politics and Prose, sit in on a book group discussion (no need to reserve a spot; just read the featured selection and show up) or attend one of the regularly held author events. Sustenance for mind and body can be found at Kramerbooks and the adjoining Afterwords Café, open until at least 1 a.m. daily.

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“The city that never sleeps is the backdrop for some of literature’s best love stories,” writes librarian Gwen Glazer in the post Finding Love in NYC, Literally on the New York Public Library’s blog. The NYPL’s book experts weighed in with their favorite romantic scenes that take place in the city, across all five boroughs.

Some highlights are the Brooklyn Bridge in Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg, where the main character, an independent young woman, has a passionate moment with her lover—scandalous for the 1920s; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is used as a backdrop in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; and vibrant Union Square in Pete Hamill’s Forever. The NYPL’s own gorgeous Rose Main Reading Room makes the list, too, for a scene Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

An accompanying red-heart-dotted map marks the locales for bibliophiles who want to explore on Valentine’s Day…or any other time of the year.

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▫ Some 838 miles of shelves in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., house the Library of Congress’ bounty of books and other materials. Visitors should head for the Thomas Jefferson Building, where a visual extravaganza awaits.

 The Library was initially located in a boarding house after its founding on April 24, 1800, and was later moved to the U.S. Capitol. Its first permanent building—bearing former president Jefferson’s moniker—opened in 1897, making it the oldest federal cultural institution in the country.

▫ Why does Jefferson have the honors? After British troops burned the Capitol building and destroyed the library’s core collection of 3,000 volumes, Congress approved the purchase of Jefferson’s personal library—6,487 books bought for $23,950. The volumes that Jefferson originally contributed are on display (southwest pavilion, second floor).

▫ A bibliophile could move in and be right at home in the dazzling, octagon-shaped Reading Room (photo top row, center). It’s spacious (several stories high); gorgeously decorated with golden-color marble columns, statues of writers, artists, and thinkers like Michelangelo and Shakespeare, and a Renaissance-style dome; and has plenty of reading material. The Reading Room can be viewed from an upper level platform called the Overlook. Standing behind a clear plastic partition takes away some of the grandeur, but it’s still an impressive sight.

▫ Let there be light. The library’s light bulb budget is $100,000 a year.

▫ Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, is one of the images adorning the Thomas Jefferson Building’s main chamber. The Great Hall soars 75 feet, rising from a marble floor to a stained glass ceiling. Take some time to soak up the splendor of the Great Hall. Look up, down, and sideways, or you’ll miss its nuances. Woven into the eye-catching display of mosaics, statues, paintings, and decorative details—some of it drawing on the Italian Renaissance style—are themes of literature, music, philosophy, education, and architecture, along with references to the zodiac and mythology and tributes to other countries.

▫ The Guttenberg Bible, on display in the Great Hall, is one of a three-volume set. To reduce wear and tear on the fragile documents, it’s changed out periodically—under armed guard.

▫ Size matters. The collection contains nearly 167 million items, making it the largest library in the world. Of those, 39 million are books (including Novel Destinations) and other printed materials. The rest are films, photos, prints, maps, manuscripts, and sheet music. About half of the books and serials are in languages other than English.

▫ Pick and choose. Every day the library receives 15,000 new items, approximately 12,000 of which are added to the collection.

▫ It’s well worth the time to take a free 60-minute, docent-led tour. It gives a fascinating, more in-depth perspective than strolling through the building on your own (I’ve done both). Learn about the library’s creation and collection, as well as its impressive architectural details. Tours are given several times daily Monday through Saturday, and there’s no need to reserve a spot. Even if 50 or 60 people show up, guides break tour-goers into smaller groups.

▫ Only members of Congress and their staff can check out books. The rest of us can view the digital collection online.

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

The classic literary world includes some curious connections between scribes who lived decades, and sometimes centuries, apart.

Frederick Douglass and Charles Dickens

On the grounds of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., is a tiny stone cabin where Douglass retreated to read and write in solitude. He dubbed the one-room dwelling the “Growlery,” a termed coined by Charles Dickens in Bleak House. In the novel, Mr. Jarndyce speaks with his ward, Esther, in a small room filled with books and papers, boots and shoes, and hat-boxes. “This, you must know, is the Growlery. When I am out of humor, I come and growl here,” says Mr. Jarndyce. “When I am deceived or disappointed in—the wind, and it’s Easterly, I take refuge here. The Growlery is the best-used room in the house.”

Frederick Douglass’ “growlery,” or writing cabin. Photo: © NPS/Johnson.

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Interested in literary travel tales and trivia? Come hear Shannon speak about Novel Destinations at the New York Public Library’s 53rd Street branch in New York City on October 24 at 6:30 p.m.

This entertaining presentation features photographs of literary landmarks in the United States and Europe, stories about classic writers and the places that inspired them, and some of her own tales from the road. Six-toed cats, volcanoes, Edith Wharton’s library, and more!

Where: The New York Public Library, 18 W. 53rd Street, New York, NY.

When: Tuesday, October 24, 6:30 p.m. in the theater.

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