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Novel Destinations features a chapter about Ernest Hemingway’s days in Key West in the 1930s, which Joni researched and wrote. After reading her descriptions of Hemingway’s haunts on the island, I was inspired to visit and recently had the chance to do so. On the plane ride there from New York I read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, which uses Key West and Cuba as its backdrops, and is his only novel set in the U.S.

The highlight in Key West was the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, a two-story Spanish colonial-style house at 907 Whitehead Street. The rough-and-tumble charm of the U.S.’s southernmost city appealed to the writer, and it became his first home on U.S. soil after spending most of his adult life abroad. Located behind the house is Hemingway’s writing studio, where he worked on his semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms and other works.

The literary connection was enough to lure me to the Hemingway Home, but there was also another draw: the 50 or so cats that live on the property. Legend has it that a ship’s captain gave Hemingway a six-toed cat and the ones that live there today are its descendants. The cats have the run of the gorgeous grounds and the house, and the orange-colored Archibald even sleeps in Hemingway’s bed. That’s Archibald in the photo on the right at the cats’ drinking fountain; the bottom portion of the fountain is a urinal from a bar Hemingway frequented, Sloppy Joe’s.

Speaking of Sloppy Joe’s, my husband and I paid two visits to the raucous bar that has Hemingway’s photo and other memorabilia scattered throughout the place. I sampled the Papa Dobles, a cocktail invented for Hemingway and named for him. (If you’re flying in at night, the red neon “Sloppy Joe’s” sign is visible from the air.)

On the dining front, there was Blue Heaven (right), which serves up Caribbean-inspired food and has live music. Before the space was a restaurant, the courtyard that now serves as the dining area was the site of boxing matches occasionally refereed by Hemingway. Another restaurant recommendation is Santiago’s Bodega. Sadly there is no literary connection, but the tapas are excellent.

Look for Part 2 on my Key West adventures — and information about another famous literary figure who spent time on the island — next week…

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

We recently had the opportunity to chat with, a website dedicated to celebrating women’s friendships. Our own friendship certainly grew in new and interesting ways during the course of the intense year we spent working transatlantically on our book, Novel Destinations. In the interview, we talk about what inspired us to write it and share some behind-the-scenes stories of the many wonderful literary sites we’ve been able to visit during our travels. If you’d like to listen in on our podcast, click here. You can also enter a contest to win a copy of our book, which is published next week. Happy listening!




Edith Wharton’s Berkshires estate, The Mount, opened today for the 2008 season.

I plan to visit the house and Italianate-style gardens, both of which were designed by Wharton, this summer. And if ever there was a time for bibliophiles to pay a visit to a literary landmark, this is it. The Mount is facing foreclosure, and a fundraising campaign has been launched to save the property, a National Historic Landmark. A significant amount of money still needs to be raised by May 31st. To see pictures of the house and gardens or to make a pledge (which won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached), go to

The Berkshires area is a paradise for literary travelers. In addition to The Mount, Lenox is also home to the Shakespeare & Company ensemble, which stages productions of the Bard’s works from May through October. In nearby Pittsfield is Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s farmstead and where he wrote Moby-Dick, and the Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which houses the world’s largest collection of memorabilia related to the writer. One of the items on display is his passport signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was Melville’s overseas sponsor while serving as U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England. And last but not least, the Hawthorne House is a small red cottage where the novelist penned his gothic tale The House of the Seven Gables. It’s located on the grounds of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer performance venue, and although it’s not open to the public it can be viewed from the outside.

This summer will be my first trip to the Berkshires, and I’ve already started my itinerary to make sure I don’t miss any of these literary sites and events. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

The literary lodging was one of the highlights during a road trip my husband and I recently took to Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The New England adventure began in Concord, Massachusetts, where we stayed at the charming Hawthorne Inn. We slept in the “Alcott Room” with a canopied bed, a bay window, and a view of The Wayside, the former home of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott and her family. (Nathaniel Hawthorne lived there in later years.)

Concord boasts an array of literary riches, including Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived and set her famous tale about the March sisters; the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial House; and a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. We enjoyed trekking around Walden Pond (at left) in the gorgeous weather, but by far the biggest surprise was the grounds of the Old Manse. The Old Manse was a farmhouse once owned by Emerson’s grandfather. The philosopher lived there for a time, as did a newly wed Nathaniel Hawthorne.

From the front it looks like an interesting but rather nondescript property. Once I rounded the side of the house, though, I was in for a surprise. A vast lawn slopes down to the Concord River, and there’s a great view of the North Bridge, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired. (It was Pariots Day weekend, and the next morning we watched a battle re-enactment.) Even with the trees still bare, it was an impressive site. The grounds of the Old Manse adjoin Minuteman National Historical Park.

After leaving Concord we headed to Derry, NH, and were given a tour of the Robert Frost Farm (at left) by the wonderful Laura Burnham. Frost lived at the farm for more than a decade, and during that time he raised poultry and wrote poetry. Some of his most famous verse, including “Mending Wall,” was inspired by his time in Derry.

For our second night’s lodging, we stayed at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used the establishment, which opened in 1716 as a tavern and lodging place, as the backdrop for his poetry collection Tales of a Wayside Inn. The Inn is a destination in itself and even has a walking tour brochure for exploring its sprawling acreage, which includes a working grist mill (at left), a one-room schoolhouse, wooded paths, a pond, and the not-yet-in-bloom Longfellow Rose Garden. The grand finale of our literary weekend was dining at the inn and then having a nightcap in the rustic Old Bar Room, one of the Wayside’s two orginal rooms. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

This Saturday marks the start of England’s week long celebrations honoring Shakespeare, who would have turned 444 on April 23. Since I can’t make it out to Stratford this year, I hope to join one of this weekend’s Sonnet Walks in London, which highlight the Tudor history of the city in the accompaniment of twelve sonneteers.  

I’m also excited about the 2008 theatre season kicking off at the Globe with Wednesday’s performance of King Lear.  If you haven’t already got your hands on tickets to the season’s sold-out inaugural show, you can still join in the pre-performance birthday celebrations alongside the Thames, where a miniature Elizabethan theatre will be floating down the river before docking in front of the Globe.

But the ideal place to celebrate the bard’s birth is his Warwickshire birthplace of Stratford upon Avon, where an annual parade sets off next Saturday morning from his birthplace (pictured above) and culminates with the laying of floral tributes on the dramatist’s grave in Holy Trinity Church. Throughout the weekend, the town takes on the atmosphere of a lively Elizabethan carnival as musicians and members of “Shakespeare Live” stroll the streets performing scenes from the Bard’s repertoire.

Even if you can’t visit during the celebrations, Stratford is a must-see at any time of year because of its amazingly well-preserved Tudor architecture and its four Shakespeare-related properties. My favorite is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, an enchanting thatch-roofed dwelling surrounded by hollyhocks and climbing roses. It was in this fairytale setting where the bard wooed his future wife.

“We are in a snug little cottage keeping house,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote of the five-room bungalow he lived in for three years in the Bronx in what was then a rural township north of New York City. The humble cottage, home to the writer from 1846-1849 and where his 25-year-old wife died of tuberculosis, has been moved across the street from its original location to what is now Poe Park. It’s a surreal site to see the 200-year-old dwelling — the writer’s last residence — situated in the midst of urban sprawl.

Poe is well-remembered with four literary landmarks, and in recent months I’ve been on the writer’s trail. In addition to the cottage in the Bronx, I paid a visit to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, where the items on display include his traveling writing desk, and the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, which contains the eerie basement and fireplace featured in the short story “The Black Cat”   (candlelight tours of the house are given in October).

Next on my Poe itinerary is the Poe Museum in Richmond, which has an exhibit speculating on possible causes of the 40-year-old writer’s unsolved demise. Poe died several days after being found disoriented and roaming the streets of Baltimore, uttering the final words, “Lord, help my poor soul.” In his novel The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl — who wrote the Foreword to Novel Destinations — delves into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s death. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

img_0322.jpg“Behold us,” Rudyard Kipling enthused in 1902, “lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house–AD 1634 over the door–beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked.” After years of transiency and travels, the Bombay-born author of The Jungle Book and other tales had found “a real house in which to settle down for keeps” in the English countryside. Kipling went on to live in the sprawling Jacobean manor, known as Bateman’s House, until the time of his death thirty years later. 

As my book club is in the midst of reading Kim, set in colonial India and considered to be his masterpiece, I thought it would be fitting to journey down to Sussex and report back to the group what I’d gleaned about the domestic life of the beloved English author. Although I’ve visited dozens of author houses while researching Novel Destinations, Kipling’s home immediately became one of my favorites, perhaps because of its sheer splendor and old age or the fact that its original Jacobean decor (stone doors, 17th century oak panelled walls and floors, Inglenook fireplaces, etc.) remains remarkably intact. Equally interesting were the house’s austere, medieval-era furnishings, which, I learned, earned the Kiplings a reputation for having an  “uncomfortable hard-chaired home.”  

img_0325.jpgBateman’s remains almost exactly as the Kiplings left it, and among the many items that fascinated me were the bronze plaster wall hangings depicting characters from The Jungle Book,  created by the author’s ceramicist father. Although it was a rainy, blustery day, my husband and I enjoyed a walk around the multi-acre grounds to see Kipling’s pristine 1928 Rolls Royce and take in the pond and rose garden he designed himself and paid for with his 1907 Nobel Prize winnings. 

Prior to residing at Bateman’s, Kipling and his American wife lived for a few years in Dummerston, VT, in a custom-built home they christened “Naulakha“, a Hindi word meaning “jewel beyond price.” Today, the house (which is chock-full of its original furnishings, including Kipling’s pool table), can be booked as a vacation rental.

For deep-pocketed Kipling fans visiting London, I recommend a stay at Brown’s Hotel, built in 1837 by Lord Byron’s valet. The author penned portions of The Jungle Book during stays at the luxe hotel, and sadly, the Kiplings were lodging at Brown’s when the writer suffered a hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital. He died of a perforated ulcer six days later on January 18, 1936, the day of his forty-fourth wedding anniversary.–JR


“Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.”
Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language

With so many tourists queuing up at the marquee sites here in London for Easter weekend, my husband and I decided to pay a visit to a more off-the-beaten-path attraction: the 17th century house where famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson toiled for nearly a decade compiling the first comprehensive English-language dictionary. Published in 1755, the 2,300 page tome contained some 42,773 words accompanied by 114,000 illustrative quotations (you can peruse a copy, as I did, while visiting his home). By custom, the devoutly religious Johnson set aside each Easter Eve for meditation, weighing up his achievements and failures over the past year, so Saturday seemed a fitting day to pay him homage.

Johnson’s birthplace in Lichfield, Staffordshire, has also been preserved as a museum, and both houses are gearing up for special events and exhibitions to mark Johnson’s tercentenary in 2009. Next to Shakespeare, Johnson is said to be the most quoted of English writers, known for such witticisms as, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” As a Londoner myself, I couldn’t agree more.

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival kicks off next Wednesday, March 26th, in the Big Easy. A five-day line-up includes author events and workshops, literary-themed walking tours, a book fair, poetry readings, stage performances, panels such as “Wit & Wisdom: Southern Humor at Its Best,” a Stella and Stanley shouting contest, and more. The latest installment of the festival’s popular “Breakfast Book Club” focuses on the writings of Kate Chopin, who lived for a time in New Orleans and set parts of her controversial novel The Awakening in the Crescent City.

If you’re in New Orleans, dine at Galatoire’s at Tennessee Williams’ favorite corner table or drop by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a Bourbon Street watering hole the playwright frequented.  

yatestower.jpgWith St. Patrick’s Day putting the spotlight on all things Irish and March being Irish-American Heritage Month — and sadly, a trip to Ireland not in the cards for me any time soon — I’m visiting the Emerald Isle on the page. Right now I’m reading Dubliners, James Joyce’s short story collection set in Ireland’s capital at the turn of the twentieth century, and plan to follow that with Nuala O’Faolian’s novel I Dream of You (I enjoyed her previous book, Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman) and the travel narrative Round Ireland with a Fridge. For more reading suggestions, the Tuscaloosa Public Library has a list of novels set in Ireland.

If you’re lucky enough to be planning a trip to Ireland, be sure to visit some of the country’s literary sites during your travels — places like the Yeats Tower (see photo) in County Galway and the James Joyce Museum and Tower outside Dublin. And if you’re in Dublin, make time for the Jameson Literary Pub Crawl; local actors lead bibliophiles to watering holes where classic Irish writers sipped for inspiration. Joni can attest to the fact that it’s a spirited way to spend the evening.


Tying in to a more recent book, the Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour takes trekkers to Limerick sites depicted in Frank McCourt’s autobiography. –SMS

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