Literary America: Ten Places to Visit for National Author’s Day

Mark your calendars and make some plans!  November 1st is National Author’s Day.  In 1929, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs created the day to honor America’s writers; in 1949, the day was officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Congress. The resolution states, in part, that “[b]y celebrating author’s day as a nation, we would not only show patriotism, loyalty and appreciation of the men and women who have made American literature possible but would also encourage and inspire others to give of themselves in making a better America.”

Most of these historic places are privately staffed or state-run, meaning that even if the government shutdown continues, you should be able to visit these homes, museums, and locations:

Poe-Museum-1small

1. Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, VA

Called “America’s Shakespeare,” Edgar Allan Poe created or mastered the short story, detective fiction, science fiction, lyric poetry and the horror story. His dark genius has invited children and adults to read and love literature for over 150 years.

Mark Twain Study sepia

2.  Mark Twain Study, Elmira, New York 

Built by Twain’s father-in-law, Twain called this retreat “The Cozy Nest.”  It is located on the campus of Elmira College.  Twain’s grave is also located in the town of Elmira.

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Tacos with Pynchon, Burgers with Hemingway

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Spencer Tracy and Ernest Hemingway with Friends at La Florida (“Floridita”), Havana, Cuba. Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

In between drinking (Hemingway) and hiding (Pynchon), these two iconic writers were known to procrastinate in the way that many of us who write do: by chowing down.  While stuffing our faces may partially delay the pain of composing, it’s not all duck-and-cover.  Writing often requires mulling. As Umberto Eco notes, “Writing doesn’t mean necessarily putting words on a sheet of paper. You can write a chapter while walking or eating.”

A new discovery for me, by way of the Paris Reviewis a site called Paper and Salta blog devoted to the love of food and literature.  (Maybe I’ll start another called Windex and Waffles, which, granted, does not have quite the appeal of the former but I do tend to clean everything, and then EAT everything, when I have Major Writing to accomplish.) 

Anyway, it’s pretty entertaining to hear about Pynchon and his love of Beer-Braised Chicken Tacos.  Apparently,  Pynchon could often be found

 “wearing an old red hunting-jacket and sunglasses, doting on Mexican food at a taco stand.” Throughout the late 60s and 70s, Pynchon became a regular at El Tarasco in Manhattan Beach (It’s still open today, if you want to follow in his culinary footsteps). Neighbors would frequently spot him chowing down—the notorious hermit, lured into public by a burrito.”

Hemingway had his favorites, too.  Among them was the humble hamburger, pan-fried, not grilled.  Among his papers was found these explicit instructions for cooking Papa a proper burger:

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The Old Men and the Sea: 150 Hemingway Look-Alikes Descend on the Florida Keys

If you happened to be in Key West, Florida during the third week of July, you may have found yourself caught in a sudden and strange upsurge in the local population of white-bearded men sporting cable-knit fishermen’s turtlenecks. You may have wondered why said men were often found gathered in the streets—donning Pamplona-red neck-scarves, their barrel-shaped midriffs squeezed into white t-shirts—or in bars wrestling the arms of pitiable strangers. You may have thought to yourself, what is this? A Hemingway convention or something?

Hemingway

The real Hemingway, circa 1957

Why, yes. Yes it is.

Each year throughout the third week of July, Ernest Hemingway enthusiasts, or at least the most genetically gifted of them, flock to the island of Key West for the largest (and presumably manliest) look-alike competition in the world. Beginning on the 21st, Hemingway’s birthday, the contest boasted nearly 150 participants this year. 150 specimens of sport-fishing, bull-running, beard-cultivating machismo.

Amidst the four-day competition, photographer Henry Hargreaves sought to replicate the iconic photograph of “Papa” Hemingway himself, taken in 1957. For this he enlisted the help of several contestants. But Hargreaves knew that the replicas would only work if the subjects delved into the mindset of the author when the original photo was taken, not an easy task given what Hemingway had just gone through at that time in his life. As Hargreaves explains it,

I told each sitter about the original shoot with Karsh: how Hemingway just returned from Africa and a terrible plane crash and was in agony; asked them to contemplate the amazing amount of pain he was in but the equally amazing focus he had to sit quietly for a portrait.

Everything came together to take them to a place of pure expression: being Hemingway, inhabiting him; looking like, even feeling like The Man himself. Just what I was after.

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For Hemingway’s Birthday, A Gift to the World

Hemingway Scrapbooks

JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY / AP (The birth certificate and family photograph of Ernest Hemingway from a scrapbook created by his mother, Grace Hall Hemingway.)

Long before “scrapbooking” was a verb, mothers were collecting memories about their children and their achievements in volumes for posterity.  Fortunately for both fans and scholars of Ernest Hemingway, his mother, Grace, was one of these women who kept meticulous journals of her now-famous (and infamous) son.

This week, in honor of what would have been the iconic American author’s 114th birthday, July 21, 1899, the  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston has made available to the public the digitized journals.   There are a total of five volumes and all can now be viewed online here.

For scholars, this is particularly exciting news as the majority of the collection has never been available and only a few fortunate researchers have seen it at all. Prior to their digitization, the leather books were kept in a dark vault to prevent them from crumbling and otherwise becoming damaged.

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Top Ten Authors as Teenagers

Ever wondered what the most respected authors of the world might have looked like in their teenage years? Today Flavorwire compiled sixteen photographs of writers in their adolescence. Scroll down to see a Yearbook compilation of the ten cutest, most awkward, most serious, and most likely to write the next great Canadian novel…

A 17 year-old Ernest Hemingway

The gangly and adorable Neil Gaiman

Flannery O’Connor confesses to her high school newspaper that her hobby is “Collecting rejection slips” from publishing houses.

Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, age 15

A carefree, teenaged Allen Ginsberg at 16

Posho Martin Amis with his father, the writer Kingsley Amis

J. D. Salinger’s yearbook photo from military academy, 1936

A 14 year-old Virginia Woolf, then Virginia Stephen

Beautfiul Anais Nin at 19

Margaret Atwood in her high school yearbook, minus the distinctive curly locks

For the full showcase, including Samuel Beckett’s steely eyed gaze, head to Flavorwire.


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