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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, Scotland.org 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: © Scotland.org]

To Kill a Mockingbird fans, pack your bags. If ever there was perfect time to visit Monroeville, Alabama—Harper Lee’s hometown and the model for the fictional Maycomb—it’s next month. July 1 marks the 50th anniversary of the book’s publication, and “Alabama’s literary capital” is pulling out all the stops during a celebratory weekend July 8–11.

Many of the events are taking place at the Old Courthouse (below right), the site of the famed courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird and now a museum with an exhibit devoted to Lee and another to her childhood friend, Truman Capote (on whom Mockingbird’s Dill is based).

The courtroom (below left) has been restored to its 1930s-era appearance, and it’s where a marathon reading of the novel will take place as part of the weekend’s festivities on July 9 & 10. (Take a seat in the balcony like Scout and Jem do in the novel.) Also on the agenda are a walking tour of sites associated with Lee and Capote (July 9) and a birthday party on the Old Courthouse lawn (July 12). Click here for the full schedule.

If you can’t make it to Monroeville, there are other places to mark the literary milestone. HarperCollins Publishers has lined up an impressive 50 events at bookstores, libraries, and other venues across the country, beginning June 11 and continuing through the end of September. Stop by Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, New York, for mocktails and music by the Boo Radleys on July 12. Attend a reenactment of the novel’s famed courtroom scene at Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California, on July 20. Check out the details for these and other events—movie screenings, speaking series, and a whole lot more—at tokillamockingbird50year.com.

[Photos © Monroe County Heritage Museums]

This weekend, enjoy a spring stroll on the Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk. On Saturday, May 15, the Emily Dickinson Museum (left) in Amherst, Massachusetts, is hosting the annual event, along with an open house, to commemorate the anniversary of the  poet’s death (May 15, 1886). Readings of Dickinson’s works will take place at six historic sites in Amherst. The walk begins at 1 p.m. in the museum’s Homestead garden and ends at Dickinson’s grave in West Cemetery.

The walk can be joined at any point. And for those who would like to show off their oratory skills, participants are invited to read the featured poems. Assignments will be distribtued on a first-come, first-served basis at the Homestead beginning at 12:45 p.m. The walk is free of charge, and so is admission to the museum’s Open House from 3 to 4 p.m.

The poet is also the focus of an exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden in New York City. “Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers” includes a re-creation of her mid-19th century flower garden with tulips, lilacs, lilies, jasmine, and other blooms, along with selections of her nature-themed poetry and a replica of The Homestead, the Dickinson family abode. The exhibit is on view through June 13.

Starting today in Stratford-upon-Avon is the annual birthday extravaganza for the Bard. Shakespeare was born in the English town 446 years ago. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but it’s thought to be April 23rd — the same date on which he passed away 52 years later in 1616.

Four days of festivities are sponsored by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). So what’s taking place? RSC actors performing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet in various locations around town and also giving renditions of Shakespeare’s sonnets during ferry boat rides along the River Avon; themed walking tours; the “Sonnet Sleuth,” a literary scavenger hunt; and a whole lot more. The centerpiece of the celebrations is a parade on Saturday through the streets of Stratford, along a three-mile route that begins at the playwright’s birthplace (above) and ends at Holy Trinity Church, the site of his baptism and burial.

For more information visit ShakespearesBirthday.org.uk.

2010 is the year of Mark Twain. April 21 marks the centennial of the writer’s death and November 30 the 175th anniversary of his birth. To commemorate the occasions, festivities are taking place at several sites in the U.S. related to the novelist, humorist, and travel writer. If you join in the literary revelry, be sure to enjoy yourself. Twain wasn’t fond of commemorative occasions, but he also declared that “a good and wholesome thing is a little harmless fun in this world.”

HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT
The Mark Twain House & Museum — an atmospheric Victorian Gothic mansion where the writer put down roots for 16 years — is going all out to celebrate Twain this year. Their line-up of events includes “The Mark Twain Séance” on April 21, with a recreation of a Victorian-era séance and a tour of the house led by a ghost investigator. Running through January 2011 is the exhibit “Legacy,” which traces Twain’s influence on America and the world. It explores how Twain has been perceived by the public over the years and features letters from celebrities expressing their thoughts about the writer—like humorist Roy Blount, Jr., who summed it up in three words: “He’s still funny!” marktwainhouse.org

HANNIBAL, MISSOURI
Twain described Hannibal as “a boy’s paradise,” and he immortalized the Mississippi River town as St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Among the 2010 events at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum is a film festival; on the first Friday of each month a film version of one of Twain’s works is screened. At noon on April 21 is the “Time Capsule Ceremony.” Museum staffers will be joined by the characters Tom and Becky as they bury a time capsule filled with items related to the raconteur. marktwainmuseum.org

ELMIRA, NEW YORK
On display at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College is Twain’s octagon-shaped writing studio (John Steinbeck was later inspired to create a similar workspace at his Long Island home). Special happenings in Elmira, where Twain spent summers for nearly two decades, include a reading of his correspondence on April 15, a reenactment of his burial at the town’s Woodlawn Cemetery on April 24, and “Dine Like Twain Dinners” featuring his family’s recipes April 21-23. marktwaincountry.com

Other places to tap into Twain’s legacy: The Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site in Florida, Missouri (temporarily closed for repairs), and the Mark Twain Museum at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, a silver mining town where he began using his famous pseudonym while working as a newspaper reporter.

For a calendar listing of Twain events, visit twain2010.org.

[Photos ©Mark Twain House & Museum, Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, and Center for Mark Twain Studies/Elmira College]

If you’re up for an all-nighter, the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is hosting its annual marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick this weekend. More than 100 bibliophiles will read passages from the novel. The event begins on Saturday, January 9th, at noon when a young sailor decked in 19th-century garb utters the opening lines of the story (“Call me Ishmael”) and concludes about 24 hours later. Much-needed coffee and snacks will be served throughout the night.

On January 3, 1841, Herman Melville sailed from New Bedford aboard a ship headed for the Pacific. He later featured the historic whaling port, which was burned by British forces during the Revolutionary War, in Moby-Dick. “The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England,” declared Melville in his epic tale.

If the current frigid weather in New England is a deterrent, plan a visit to the seaside town during the warmer months. “In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples—long avenues of green and gold,” wrote Melville. “And in August, high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So omnipotent is art; which in many a district of New Bedford has superinduced bright terraces of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside at creation’s final day.”

The museum, whose mission is to illuminate the interaction of humans with whales, has a guide listing 38 of its artifacts and how they relate to Moby-Dick.

Lodging options in New Bedford include the bed-and-breakfast Melville House (right). The restored Italian Empire-style house was once owned by Melville’s sister, Katherine, who often had her sibling to stay. You can slumber in the Herman Melville Room, where a portrait of the scribe hangs above an antique writing desk. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

[Photo © Melville House]

scrooge_nose_editThis year, Christmas in London is taking on a decidedly Dickensian tone as the city gears up for the release of the blockbuster Disney movie, A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins. Set in London in 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale centers on Ebenezer Scrooge, a loney and bitter old miser visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Eventually, he opens his heart and discovers the joyous spirit of the season.   

Events across the capital will seek to capture that magical spirit starting Tuesday, when the movie premieres to a worldwide audience from right here in London. The stars will be walking the red carpet in Leicester Square shortly after they preside overox_st_xmas_lights_long_fireworks London’s city-wide Christmas Carol-themed lights switch-on and celebration, London’s Christmas Carol”, at 5:00 p.m. at various locations around town. (I’ll be situated on Regent Street and then walking over to Leicester Square to see Andrea Bocelli and the St. Paul’s choir lead London’s attempt to break the world record for the biggest ever Christmas Carol sing-along).

Tickets to the movie premiere at several theatres in Leicester Square are still available at a cost of £50, but you can enjoy the light switch-on festivities for free. –Joni Rendon

twain-house-2In today’s Hartford Courant, columnist Tom Condon looks ahead to 2010 and a trio of anniversaries related to writer and “world citizen” Mark Twain: the 125th anniversary of the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in February, the 100th anniversary of his death in April, and the 175th anniversary of his birth in November. 

Condon notes that the raconteur wasn’t fond of commemorative occasions and once said, “What ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Mere killing would be too light.” But since Twain isn’t here to object, Condon says, Hartford—the city where the scribe spent 16 years and penned some of his most famous works—”should do this up big.” Events will take place throughout the year, many of them in April for the centennial of Twain’s death, including special exhibits at the Mark Twain House and Museum (above) in Hartford.

Stayed tuned for more information about Mark Twain 2010. We’ll be posting details on events and festivites at Twain sites across the country.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts
The abode that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel The House of the Seven Gables hosts a spine-tingling event during the month of October, “The Spirits of the Gables,” with the 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.” Click here for more information on the events.

The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Connecticut
Guests have had unexplained encounters at the Mark Twain House, crossing paths with a woman in white, smelling cigar smoke, hearing children’s voices, and seeing flickering lights. Explore the Gothic mansion at night during the “Graveyard Shift Tours,” which include stories about the writer and his family’s haunted history, details about Victorian spiritualism, and a telling of Twain’s favorite ghost story in the basement. Click here for information on dates and reservations.

The MountThe Mount, Lenox, Massachusetts
Creaking floors, whispered words, taps on the shoulders, and sightings of spectral shapes are some of the eerie experiences reported by visitors at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate (left) in the Berkshire Mountains. The daring can take part in special guided evening tours, “Friday Night Fright,” and explore the most haunted parts of the house and grounds. It’s recommended that participants dress warmly and wear sensible shoes. We’re hoping the latter isn’t because you might have to run from a ghost. Click here for information on making reservations for Friday Night Fright tours, which take place weekly through the end of October.

Sunnyside, Tarrytown, New York
Those with young literary travelers can head to Washington Irving’s estate for its Legend Weekends, taking place October 17th & 18th and October 24th & 25th. On the itinerary are magic shows, puppet shows, games, sing-a-longs, Irish ghost story telling, and other kid-friendly Halloween activities.

The nearby town of Sleepy Hollow claims to be “Halloween Central” (although Salem might rival them for that distinction). Go for a Haunted Hayride along the dark path traveled by Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving’s spooky story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Or take part in Legend Nights at Phillipsburg Manor, which is transformed into a haunted landscape illuminated by lanterns and bonfires and teeming with goblins, ghosts, and witches from Hudson Valley folklore.

Know of any other literary sites hosting special events this month? Please share it in the comments section.

 

 

[Photo ©David Dashiell, Courtesy of The Mount]

 

poe-grave-newBaltimore has made a year-long celebration of Edgar Allan Poe’s 200th birthday with its Nevermore 2009 extravaganza. The festivities continue with some appropriately spooky events befitting the master of the macabre. Click here for a listing of Poe-inspired happenings taking place from October 7 – 11, and beyond.

Attend an all-night candlelight vigil at the Poe Monument (left) at the Westminster Burying Ground or witness Poe’s funeral (he died a mysterious death in Baltimore). There are also walking tours and other special events, including an exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art, “Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon,” on view until January 17, 2010. It’s divided into three sections—Love and Loss, Fear and Terror, and Madness and Obsession—and features prints, drawings, and illustrated books inspired by Poe, among them works by Gaugin and Manet. If you can’t make it for the Nevermore 2009 festivities you can always pay a visit to the Poe House and Museum, which is open April through November.

See what’s happening at these Poe sites:

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, Philadelphia
Poe Cottage, New York City
Poe Museum, Richmond
University of Virginia, Charlottesville

For those who want more literary haunts, later in the week we’ll have information on eerie events taking place this month at the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, and other sites.

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