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My Antonía by Willa Cather – 100th Anniversary

Photo: visitredcloud.com

“I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away.” –My Antonía

Like Jim Burden, the narrator in My Antonía, a young Willa Cather moved from Virginia to the Nebraska prairie. Cather later lived in Pittsburgh and New York City (where she penned the novel) and traveled around the U.S. and Europe, but it’s with the Great Plains that she is most readily identified. In Red Cloud, Nebraska, the Willa Cather Foundation conducts tours of the author’s childhood home and other sites associated with her real and fictional worlds. In honor of the centennial of My Antonía’s publication, special events are taking place in Red Cloud and across the state through the fall and are listed at MyAntonia100.org.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – 150th Anniversary

A visit to Orchard House, the Alcott family home in Concord, Massachusetts, is like stepping into the pages of Little Women. Louisa May Alcott drew heavily on her family members and their home for the characters and the setting, and the storied abode remains largely as it did during their day.

Orchard House is open year-round and regularly offers interpretive tours, workshops for kids, holiday festivities, and more. Love for the March sisters and their story is universal, though, and readers around the world can celebrate at a wide array of exhibits and other happenings. Check out the list of events at LittleWomen150.org.

Emily Brontë’s 200th Birthday (July 30, 1818)

Wuthering Heights was hewn in a wild workshop,” Charlotte Brontë said of her sister Emily’s famed (and only) novel. The wild workshop was the dramatically scenic moorland around the village of Haworth in West Yorkshire, England. A several-mile walk on the moors leads past a waterfall the Brontës often visited and then on to Top Withens, the stone ruins of a remote farm credited as being the geographical setting of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s domain.

Visitors can also explore the Brontë Parsonage Museum, the beautifully restored Georgian parsonage where the wordsmiths lived and wrote. The museum is in the midst of a five-year bicentennial celebration, Brontë 200, which commemorates the 200th anniversaries of the births of siblings Charlotte, Emily, Branwell, and Anne Brontë. The new exhibit “Making Thunder Roar: Emily Brontë” showcases a selection of Emily’s possessions, writing, and artwork, along with contributions from well-known contemporary admirers of the novelist.

John Steinbeck – 50th Anniversary of His Death (December 20, 1968)

One of the most impressive literary shrines anywhere is the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, a purpose-built museum dedicated to John Steinbeck’s life and works. Thematic galleries with interactive exhibits, mini-theaters showing film adaptions of his novels, and unique features like an oversize, light-up crossword puzzle for testing one’s Steinbeck smarts make it both informative and entertaining.

The brick-and-glass building anchors one end of Main Street in the city’s Oldtown section, which is depicted in East of Eden. Use the Center’s interactive map to take a self-guided tour of Steinbeck-related sites in Oldtown, ending at the writer’s childhood home. Down the street from the National Steinbeck Center (which marks its 20th anniversary this year) is the Steinbeck House, a Queen Anne-style Victorian abode that has operated as a luncheon restaurant since 1974.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – 200th anniversary

At a villa in Switzerland during an unusually stormy summer, Lord Byron suggested to his housebound guests – Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley among them – that they each conjure up a horror tale to help pass the time. The winner of the friendly competition was Mary, who penned Frankenstein after dreaming the idea for the story.

The Keats-Shelley Association of America is spearheading an international celebration of Frankenstein‘s anniversary. Events are taking place throughout the year, culminating in “Frankenweek” from October 24-31. Worldwide events – such as book discussions, stage productions, film screenings, and full and partial readings of the novel (reciting the entire text takes about 9 hours) – are listed on Frankenreads.org. Also check in with bookstores, museums, libraries, and universities in your area to find out what Frankenstein-related fun they might be planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historic author houses are among the best places to get a fix of nostalgic holiday cheer. Here are some literary sites where you can enjoy the seasonal festivities:

The Enchanted Garden at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, comes alive with thousands of lights during “Poe’s Christmas Illumination” on December 1 from 5-9 p.m. Along with free admission, enjoy mulled wine and take a holiday-themed tour with the museum’s curator.

A visit to Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, is like stepping into the pages of Little Women. It’s only fitting then that this year’s December theme is “A Little Women Christmas” since the novel opens during the holiday season. Meet Louisa and other costumed figures and participate in Victorian-era activities and caroling. The program takes place on weekends in December, and advance reservations are strongly recommended.

The Pearl S. Buck House in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, hosts the annual “Festival of Trees,” with 29 artists, organizations, and community groups decorating the author’s home. Not only is the holiday finery lush and imaginative, some of it conveys a message, too, carrying on Buck’s legacy as a social activist. Through December 30.

Step back in time at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, which is adorned in the style of a late-19th-century Christmas. The author’s abode is one of several sites participating in the “Friends of the Mark Twain House & Museum’s Holiday House Tour” on December 3.

In Monterey, California, 22 historic homes are open to visitors during “Christmas in the Adobes,” including rare access to the Lara-Soto Adobe once owned by John Steinbeck. At the Robert Louis Stevenson House—now a museum devoted to the Scottish scribe, who lived for a time in the seaside city—shortbread will be served and bagpipes will be playing. December 8 and 9.

The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, is celebrating the poet’s birthday on December 9 from 1-4 p.m. with homemade coconut made from Dickinson’s own recipe. Admission is free during the event, and a special guided tour, “Christmas with the Dickinsons,” is on offer.

The Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is hosting a Holiday Open House on December 15 and Holiday House Tours on December 16. Along with touring the poet’s lovely home (previously General George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War), take a stroll through the illuminated gardens and listen to Christmas carols.

In a nod to his debut novel Look Homeward, Angel, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, North Carolina, is putting on “An Angel Christmas” on December 16. Festivities include an exhibition of angel wreaths on the doors and angel figurines displayed throughout the historic 29-room home, where Wolfe’s mother once ran a boardinghouse.

In Salem, Massachusetts, the House of the Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s inspiration for his gothic novel), is presenting “Four Centuries of Christmas Tours.” Walks the halls of the seaside mansion that has stood since 1668, as guides share the history of Christmas in New England. Through December 31.

[Photos © Pearl S. Buck International, Poe Museum, and Orchard House.]

 

Bibliophiles, get ready for a road trip. Summer is the perfect time to visit author houses and other literary landmarks. Some are only open seasonally this time of year, while others offer special events and activities—yoga, live music, improv, and more.

Do Yoga at Scott and Zelda’s Place

FitzgeraldMuseum.JPGGet zen at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Before hitting the mat for a fundraising yoga class, tour the only museum dedicated to the Jazz Age pair. They lived in this house in the city’s historic district for several months in 1931, Scott toiling over Tender is the Night and Zelda writing the novel Save Me the Waltz. Yoga @ The Fitzgerald Museum takes place on Saturday, June 17 from 4:30-6 p.m. and costs $10.

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robert-burns-single-malt

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.

Twain Boyhood Hometwain-house-2

This Monday, November 30, is the 180th anniversary of the day Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) arrived in the world, and the occasion is being celebrated at two literary sites associated with the writer.

Mark TwainTwain’s distinctive facial feature is being touted during a birthday bash at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum (above left) in Hannibal, Missouri. Part of the festivities include a Mustache Contest with categories such as the “Mark Twain” for the one that bears the greatest resemblance to the writer’s own (dubbed the Walrus) and the “Dapper Stache,” the one most full of character and originality (styling aids are encouraged). November 28, 1 p.m. There is a $5 fee to enter the contest, and prizes will be awarded to the winners.

The Mark Twain House & Museum (above right) in Hartford, Connecticut, is hosting a reading of “Colonel Sellers: Reanimated,” based on one of the writer’s forgotten pieces—with a twist. Steampunk and zombie stories like The Walking Dead are currently in vogue, but Twain was well ahead of the trend. In 1883, he and a friend penned a play, Colonel Sellers as a Scientist, that contained elements of both but was panned by critics. In “Colonel Sellers: Reanimated,” playwright and Mark Twain House staffer Jacques Lamarre has refashioned the original into a Steampunk-zombie mash-up comedy. November 30, 7 p.m. Tickets are $10; $5 for members.

At both events, revelers will be served birthday cake and given a sneak peek at the designs of Mark Twain commemorative coins in gold and silver to be released by the U.S. Mint in early 2016. A portion of the purchase price of the coins will benefit four sites: The Center for Mark Twain Studies in Elmira, New York; the Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley; the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford; and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal. We’ll share more details about the coins soon.

Mark Twain's parlor decked out for the holidays.

Make it a double header this weekend and visit both Mark Twain‘s mansion and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abode, which are right next door to each other in Hartford, Connecticut. Among the festivities at the Victorian-themed “Stowe & Twain’s Olde-Fashioned Christmas” extravaganza are crafts, caroling, and horse-drawn carriage rides around the historic Nook Farm neighborhood that was a popular dwelling place for writers and publishers in the 1800s.

The Olde-Fashioned Christmas takes place Saturday, December 10, and Sunday, December 11, from noon to 4 p.m. The activities are free. There is an admission charge for tours of the houses adorned in holiday finery, looking as they would have when the writers were in residence. If you prefer a different take, also on December 10 at the Mark Twain House is a separate event at 2 p.m.: the Winter Solstice Steampunk Christmas Tea.

[Photo ©westernconnecticut.blogspot.com]

Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts, is hosting holiday-themed tours on Saturdays and Sundays through December 18th. The “Little Women Christmas” festivities include reenactments of scenes from the novel performed by costumed characters, activities for children and families, and take-home mementos.

Advance reservations are strongly suggested. Included with admission for reserved tickets is 10% off in the Orchard House gift shop. For the bibliophiles on your gift list, we suggest a Mood Pillow. The stylish throw pillow, a recreation of one owned by Louisa May Alcott, has a dual use: mood indicator. If it stood on end, the writer wanted to socialize; if it lay flat it was best to stay away.

Also available are t-shirts for literary kids with the tag line “Little Women Grow Up to Be Great Women” and one for grown-ups sporting a quote by Louisa May Alcott: “The emerging woman …will be strong minded, strong hearted, strong souled, and strong bodied…”

If it’s nearly Halloween, there must be a host of Edgar Allan Poe-inspired happenings taking place.

Richmond residents can get a head start on Halloween festivities at the Poe Museum’s last Unhappy Hour of the season tomorrow, October 27 (6-9 p.m.). Head back to the museum (left) on Saturday for Poe’s Pumpkin Patch, a party for readers of all ages. Among the activities on the agenda are pumpkin decorating, a “Black Cat” pinata, and a mummy-wrapping contest inspired by one of Poe’s stories. The museum encourages attendees to bring along the kids, especially if you want to “make sure [they] grow up weird.” Now there’s an invitation that might be hard to refuse. Entry to the extravaganza is included with regular museum admission.

If you’d like to find out “how Halloween is an ideal time of year to celebrate the works of Edgar Allan Poe,” stop by the National Historic Site dedicated to the writer in Philadelphia. At 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30, a park ranger will lead the 45-minute illustrated presentation at Poe’s former abode, and on Friday, October 28, the themed talk will take place at the Portrait Gallery in the Second Bank of the United States at Independence National Historical Park, also at 2 p.m.

In Baltimore this Sunday, October 30 (6-9 p.m.), is Poe’s Frightful Halloween at Westminster Hall, with a dramatic reading of “A Monkey’s Paw,” a costume contest, and more. Admission is $10 for adults, $3 for kids 12 and under. Proceeds are going to the Poe House and Museum, which has had its funding cut by the city of Baltimore and is in danger of closing its doors for good. Also in support of the historic landmark is The Spirit of Poe anthology, coming from Literary Landmark Press the first week in November.

New Yorkers will have to wait a little longer to visit the recently-refurbished Poe Cottage in the Bronx. The New York Times article “Poe’s Cottage, Weak and Weary No More” has the run-down on the house and a newly-constructed, imaginative visitor center.

Midwesterners can join our friend and fellow literary traveler Gary Wyatt this Friday, October 28 (7-9 p.m.) at Belmont Vineyards & Winery in Leasburg, Missouri, where he’ll be reading “The Raven” and other Poe tales. Cheers to that.

Get thee to a playhouse. Shakespeare’s spirited romantic comedies and riveting tragedies are as popular today as they were 400 years ago when he entertained London theatergoers, proving the prediction of his friend and fellow playwright Ben Johnson: “He was not of an age, but for all time.”

Summer is the best time to catch a Shakespeare production, when outdoor venues open for play watching al fresco. Here are seven atmospheric
places to take in a show. If none of them are in your neighborhood, check out the Shakespeare Foundation’s listing of more than 300 festivals in 48 states and 14 countries around the world — all devoted to the timeless works of the Bard.

Shakespeare’s Globe, London
A stray cannonball spark ignited the thatched roof of the original Globe during a production of Henry VIII in 1613, destroying the famed theatre. The new venue (above left) has been faithfully restored to its Tudor-style glory on the south bank of the River Thames. Modern-day “groundlings” (right), much like their counterparts 400 years ago, can pay a mere pittance (then just a penny, today $10) to stand in the pit surrounding the stage during performances. Those with weary legs can watch the action unfold from the wooden balcony stalls in the O-shaped amphitheatre.

The line-up (plays run through the dates listed): Hamlet (July 9), All’s Well that Ends Well (August 21), As You Like It (August 26), Much
Ado About Nothing
(October 1)

Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
Based in the Bard’s picturesque hometown along the River Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Along with a stellar schedule of performances, other festivities being held to mark the milestone include the exhibition “A History of the RSC in 50 Objects” (through December 31), featuring items like a costume worn by Sir Ian McKellen in a 1976 production of Macbeth.

The line-up: The Merchant of Venice starring Patrick Stewart (October 4), Macbeth (October 6), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (July 29 – November 5), Measure for Measure (November 17 – March 10, 2012), The Taming of the Shrew (January 19 – February 18, 2012)

Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford,  Ontario
Set on its own River Avon, this town of ultimate Bard buffs in eastern Canada boasts the largest classical repertory theatre in North America.
Stroll the Shakespeare Gardens after taking in one of the plays offered at the Festival’s four theatres. The weekend of September 30 – October 2, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is participating in the nationwide “Culture Days” program with  hands-on activities and behind-the-scenes events.

The line-up: Richard III (September 25), The Merry Wives of Windsor (May 30 – October 14), Titus Andronicus (June 23 – September 24), Twelfth Night (June 26 – October 28),

The Old Globe, San Diego, California
This regional theater company located in Balboa Park has three theaters, including one modeled on the famed, circular-shaped Old Globe
in London. Like the original, it was destroyed by a fire and subsequently rebuilt. Staging of the Bard’s works, though, take place in the larger, open
air Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. For those who want more information and insight, there is a lecture series on topics related to the featured plays.

The line-up: Much Ado About Nothing (September 24), The Tempest (September 25)

Shakespeare in the Park, New York City
Watching the Bard’s dramas on sultry summer evenings in an open-air theater in Central Park is a ritual for New Yorkers. Scoring free tickets
requires patience, but the payoff is worth the effort. Tickets are given out each performance day at 1 p.m., with some staking a spot in line as early as 6 a.m. when the park opens. Big spenders can obtain tickets in advance by making a donation to the Public Theatre ($350 for two tickets).

The line-up: All’s Well that Ends Well (July 27), Measure for Measure (July 30)

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, Oregon
Surrounded by towering peaks and lush pine forests, this Pacific Northwest town boasts one of the oldest and largest professional nonprofit
theatres in the United States. Founded in 1935, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival stages an eight-and- a-half-month season of Shakespearean and other classic plays in three local venues, including an outdoor Elizabethan-style amphitheatre.

The line-up: Measure for Measure (November 6), Julius Caesar (November 6), Henry IV, Part Two (May 31 – Oct 7), Love’s Labor’s Lost (June 2 – October 9), Richard III (July 20 – November 5)

American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, Virginia
Situated in the historic Shenandoah Valley is the American Shakespeare Center‘s 300-seat Blackfriars Playhouse, the world’s only full-sized re-creation of the indoor theatre Shakespeare and his comrades built on part of London’s Blackfriars Monastery. Even more impressive? Performances are staged in the Elizabethan tradition with natural lighting, simple stage sets, and recycled costumes.

The line-up: Macbeth (June 18), As You Like It (June 18), Measure for Measure (June 19), The Tempest (June 22 –
September 3), Hamlet (July 10 – September 3)

[photos © NovelDestinations.com]

The New York Public Library’s grand Beaux-Arts edifice at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, famously guarded by two stone lions named Patience and Fortitude, is one of Manhattan’s most iconic structures. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of its Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the Library has dipped into its vast archives and created a special display.

250 of the Library’s millions of treasures are showcased in “Celebrating 100 Years: The Centennial Exhibition.” The items are organized into four thematic sections—Observation, Contemplation, Society, and Creativity—and range from intriguing to unusual. Among them: Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk; Virginia Woolf’s walking stick and the last diary entry she wrote before committing suicide; a snippet of Mary Shelley’s dark brown locks; and Jack Kerouac’s glasses, rolling papers, and pipe.

The exhibit is open until December 31st. Free tours are given Monday thru Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. and Sunday (except July and August) at 3:30 p.m. Or ask for a brochure at the information desk and do a self-guided tour.

Next weekend, May 21st and 22nd, readers of all ages are invited to join the revelry at a public festival in honor of the Centennial with live music and theater, lectures, tours, gratis ice cream, and much more. For details, visit www.nypl.org/findthefuture/100.

[Photo © New York Public Library]

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