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robert-burnsScotland’s national bard turns 250 this year and his native country is pulling out all the stops to celebrate. Burns, known as much for his sentimental lyrics (“My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose,” “Auld Lang Syne,” etc.) as he is for his poetry,  is so beloved that his birthday (Jan. 25) inspires elaborate feasts called Burns Suppers, featuring haggis, whisky and recitations of his poetry. In previous years, if you weren’t a member of a Burns Society, it would be all but impossible to garner an invite to a Burns Night dinner. But this year, during the Anniversary Weekend kickoff (Jan. 24–25), visitors to Scotland have the unique opportunity of booking several hotel packages that include a Burns Supper (cometoscotland.com).

Even if you don’t happen to be in Scotland this weekend, there are special festivities taking place throughout  the year.  The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh is running the exhibit Zig Zag, The Paths of Robert Burns, featuring his personal correspondence. And the Mitchell Library in Glasgow hosts Inspired (Apr. 4–Sept. 20), a show of artworks influenced by Burns’s poetry, such as photos by the singer Patti Smith.

Burns loved whisky almost as much as the written word, so the Isle of Barra is throwing a Whisky Galore Festival (Sept. 18–20), with a golf tournament, live concerts, and tastings of single malts. The famed Malt Whisky Trail also joins in the celebrations with Whisky Week in November. Participating distilleries will sponsor a series of gala dinners pairing their signature tipple with local dishes. 

Those with Scottish ancestry will want to grab their kilts and head to Edinburgh in July for The Gathering 2009  (July 25–26), the largest get-together of clan members in the country’s history. Avid ancestry seekers will also want to check out the new ScotlandsPeople Centre, which is offering visitors a free, two-hour session to research their family tree.

burnscottageextLast but not least, be sure to check out the Robert Burns Heritage Park in Ayr, just a short bus ride away from  Glasgow. In the tiny, well-preserved thatched-roof cottage (pictured), Burns was born in 1759. Next door to the cottage, a museum (which is receiving a state-of-the-art-upgrade this year) contains treasures such as a manuscript of the original copy of “Auld Lang Syne” and a window pane from an old inn the Burns inscribed with a stanza of poetry. –Joni Rendon

It’s the year of Edgar Allan Poe. January 19th is the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth, and in four East Coast cities with connections to the scribe the occasion is being heralded in a big way.

This week Boston College is holding a two-night celebration called The Raven Returns to Boston. (Poe was born in the Massachusetts town.) Headlining on Thursday evening are authors Matthew Pearl (The Poe Shadow) and Scott Peeples (The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Allan Poe Revisited). On Friday there will be a screening of the independent film The Last Days of the Raven and a Q&A with Brent Fidler, the movie’s co-director, screenwriter, and star.

At the Poe Cottage in New York City, the writer’s last residence, an afternoon birthday celebration will take  place with an actor performing as Poe.

The Poe Museum in Richmond, home to the world’s largest collection of Poe memorabilia, is staging a 24-hour birthday bash on January 19 along with other events this month and throughout the year. And this Friday in Richmond, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a 42-cent stamp commemorating Poe.

poe-grave-newThe city of Baltimore, which is home to the Poe House and Museum, is hosting Nevermore 2009, a yearlong celebration. Festivities include a “Cask of Amontillado Wine Tasting,” the exhibit “Art of Darkness: Inspired by Poe” launching at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and a funeral service at the Westminster Burying Ground (left) in October. Poe died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances that have never been explained.

Tomorrow night, the Great Poe Debate will take place at the Free Library of Philadelphia with scholars Jeff Jerome of Baltimore, Paul Lewis of Boston, and Edward Pettit of Philadelphia. Up for discussion? Which city can best lay claim to Poe’s legacy.

Looking ahead to Halloween, bibliophiles can take a candlelit tour of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, which includes the shadowy basement that inspired the setting for his eerie short story “The Black Cat.”

In you can’t make it to one of these literary sites and join in the celebrations, you can honor Poe by delving into some of his works – like “The Raven,” the poem that made him famous; The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only novel; or “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” his genre-defining detective story.

Click here for a complete list of Poe bicentennial events.

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

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This month, one of our favorite literary destinations, the Brontё Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England, opens a new exhibit entitled “No Coward Soul,” celebrating the life and work of Emily Brontё, the force behind Wuthering Heights. The exhibition (which takes its name from Emily’s haunting poem “No Coward Soul is Mine”), runs through December and it marks the first time all of the Brontё Society’s “Emily Collection” has been on display together. Among the many items of memorabilia featured are the author’s christening mug, her straw bonnet and sketches of the family’s three dogs. (Emily was a notorious dog lover and her beloved canine, Keeper, even attended her funeral!) Also not to be missed is the black couch upon which Emily gasped her dying breath, which has long been one of the most moving items on display at the Parsonage.

This spring, scenes from the upcoming major motion picture “Brontё” are to be filmed in Haworth and the surrounding Yorkshire moors, which is sure to make for some gorgeous cinematography. (See “On the Road” for a few snapshots from our trip there a year ago.) 

Novel Destinations

A 60-foot scroll is the centerpiece of The New York Public Library’s exhibit “Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road.” Kerouac’s draft of On the Road is a marvel to behold — typed, single-spaced text on sheets of architectural tracing paper he taped together. The full scroll is 120 feet long, with the first half on display. The original is on view until February 22nd, after which a facsimile will take its place for the remainder of the exhibit, which runs though March 16th.

The exhibit illuminates the life and times of Jack Kerouac, the famous Beat generation scribe. On display are diaries, manuscripts, photographs, journals, and a host of intriguing items such as artwork created by Kerouac. The exhibit is divided into eight sections, among them “The Beat Generation,” which pays homage to Kerouac contemporaries Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others; “Early Life, Influences, and Writings,” which explores some of the writers who made an impact on Kerouac, among them William Blake, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Wolfe; and “Fantasy Sports,” which delves into the one-time aspiring sports reporter’s affinity for horse racing and baseball and the fantasy worlds he created centered on those pastimes.

Highlights include the sketches “Self-Portrait as a Boy” and a rendering of Van Gogh, with whose art Kerouac became interested while visiting France; crutches used by Kerouac after a football injury at Columbia University; and a journal entry in which he praises James Joyce’s Ulysses as the “greatest book ever written.” Also included in the exhibit are audio recordings of Kerouac reading from On the Road and The Subterraneans, as well as singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “Ain’t We Got Fun.” Kerouac was a jazz aficionado, and clips can be heard of songs by Charlie Parker, George Shearing, Lester Young, and Slim Gaillard — all of whom receive mentions in On the Road.

For more information on “Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road,” visit http://www.nypl.org.

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