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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.]



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, 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.

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 ©]

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 ©]

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

[Photo © New York Public Library]

Five lost tales by Daphne du Maurier are included in The Doll: Short Stories, published this month in the UK and scheduled for release in the US this fall. A bookshop owner in Fowey, England, the author’s hometown, located the stories after years of searching for them in vintage magazines. Among them are “The Doll,” a dark, sexually charged story mentioned in du Maurier’s autobiography, and “The Happy Valley,” which has plot elements similar to those later used in Rebecca, du Maurier’s best-known work and the first major gothic romance of the 20th century.

The seascapes and quaint fishing villages of the windswept Cornish Riviera on the south coast of Cornwall inspired du Maurier, who lived much of her life there and used the dramatic backdrop in her fiction. Kicking off tomorrow in the harbor resort town of Fowey is the Daphne du Maurier Festival of Arts and Literature, which runs through May 21st on the grounds of the luxurious Fowey Hall Hotel (right).

Some of the events and activities on the agenda:

– Talks and signings, including “The Brontë Connection,” a discussion on how Cornwall influenced Charlotte and Emily Brontë, given by author Angela Crowe, a trustee of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth

– A tea hosted at Hidden Valley Gardens, close to the railway tunnel featured in du Maurier’s House on the Strand

– A film show featuring footage of du Maurier and other writers with a link to Cornwall

– “Du Maurier’s Fowey,” “Rebecca and du Maurier’s Coastline,” and other themed walking tours given by Cornish Riviera Guides

– And a whole lot more, including musical performances and dance lessons

Click here for a brochure of the full schedule and details on times, locations, and ticket prices.

If a trip to Cornwall isn’t in the cards this month, Cornish Riviera Guides offers a plethora of tours year round. One is “Literary Links,” an excursion that highlights the area’s literary legacy. Along with du Maurier, other writers with a Cornwall connection are Rosamund Pilcher and Virginia Woolfe.

[Photo © Fowey Hall Hotel]

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is going all out for its 50th season, with a line-up of stage productions on both sides of the Atlantic and a host of other festivities. Some of the highlights:

– Productions at the recently revamped Swan Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, the Bard’s birthplace. Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice (starring Patrick Stewart as Shylock) are among the plays being staged this season, which runs from April through November.

– A host of lectures and workshops, a series of Sunday Talks, and exhibitions such as “A History of the RSC in 50 Objects” (April 4 – December 31). Among the items to be featured is a costume worn by Sir Ian McKellen in a 1976 production of Macbeth.

– A confectionary anniversary tribute, “Sweet Celebrations” (April 9 – July 24). With assistance from visitors, artist Shane will transform a room at the theatre into a large birthday cake by covering the walls with sugar tiles, icing, and sweets.

– “Open Day” on June 12, when the RSC invites the public to learn about how its productions are made. (If you can’t make it that day but are interested in finding out what goes on behind the scenes, there is a fun and informative virtual tour on the company’s website that illuminates everything from weapons to wigs.)

– Outdoor entertainment around town and along the River Avon

– A whirlwind staging of five plays in six weeks in New York City during the Lincoln Center Festival.  The RSC theatre-lover’s marathon line-up is As You Like It, Romeo & Juliet, Julius Ceasar, King Lear, and The Winter’s Tale.

Check out the full schedule of anniversary celebrations here.

Scotland is pulling out all the stops to honor its national bard.

This weekend is the grand opening celebration of the revamped Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Set on 10 acres in Alloway, Ayrshire (a short bus ride from Glasgow), it replaces what was formerly the Burns National Heritage Park and encompasses several historic sites related to the poet. There is free admission tomorrow, January 22, along with live music, poetry readings, and fireworks.

The new museum building showcases more than 5,000 artifacts, some being unveiled to the public for the first time. Among the treasures are a manuscript of the original copy of “Auld Lange Syne” and a window pane from an old inn that Burns inscibred with a stanza of poetry. Also located on the museum grounds are the tiny, thatched-roof cottage (right) where Burns was born in 1759, Auld Kirk, the 16th-century ruins of a church featured in “Tam O’Shanter,” and other literary landmarks.  

The revelry continues on Tuesday, January 25, when bibliophiles commemorate the poet during Burns Night. The first recorded Burns Night Supper took place in 1801, and since then the evening’s line-up has barely changed. A traditional meal of haggis (sheep organ meats blended with oatmeal and spices), neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) is served, washed down with whiskey. 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 celebrate this special night. London establishments are getting in on the act, too. Stateside, check to see if there are Burns Night festivities in your town. If you live in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, The Haven restaurant is putting on feasts January 24-26.

If you’d like to host your own gathering, has a Burns Supper Guide with tips on food, drink, attire, and entertainment. For iPhone users, 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.

[Photos: top © Robert Burns Birthplace Museum; cottage: © Joni Rendon; bottom two: ©]

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