There’s something magical about being in a city that buzzes with love for the written word. If you’re book lover and/or writer, you know how important place is in not only creating literature, but keeping it alive.
Here are six cities where writers, readers and lit enthusiasts should take a literary pilgrimage. Breathe the same air as your favorite author and find that perfect first-edition book you’ve been hunting for. And when you’re ready, get back to that manuscript you just can’t seem to get right. Maybe this time, things will finally fall into place.
There’s a reason why Boston earned its nickname as the “Athens of America.” With three MFA programs, a host of colleges and universities, and a rich history with Transcendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne, Boston holds its title as the intellectual capital of the United States. Aspiring writers can enjoy a robust literary community with a wide selection of readings, literary events and writing resources.
Book stores: Brattle Book Shop, Harvard Book Store, Commonwealth Books
Universities: Boston University, Boston College, Berklee College of Music, Harvard University
Literary visits: The Writer’s Room, Woodberry Poetry Room, Pierre Menard Gallery, Forest Hills Cemetery, St. Joseph’s Abbey
Famous writers: Jack Kerouac, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath
Literary events: Boston Book Festival, Grub Street, The Blacksmith House Poetry Series, Boston National Poetry Month Festival, First and Last Word Poetry Series, New England Poetry Club
Libraries: Boston Public Library, Newton Free Library, Watertown Free Public Library, Public Library of Brookline, Cambridge Public Library
Coffee shops: Cafe Pamplona, Algiers Coffee House, Club Passim
Come to Austin and you’ll see the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan plastered to every shirt, store window and novelty magnet you set your eyes on. That’s because Austin is known for its quirk and laid-back vibe. With its casual pace, uber-creative residents, and no shortage of things to do on any given night, Austin is perfect for artists, entrepreneurs and techies alike. Writers and book-lovers can get their literary fill while dabbling in at least ten other gigs—because that’s just how life works in Austin.
Book stores: Book People, Half Priced Books, BookWoman
University: UT Austin, Michener Center for Writers
Literary visits: Harry Ransom Center, Blanton Art Museum, J. Frank Dobie house, O. Henry Museum, Philosopher’s Rock
Famous writers: James Michener, J. Frank Dobie, J. M. Coetzee, Dean Young
Literary events: Texas Book Festival, Austin Jewish Book Fair, Austin International Poetry Festival, African American Book Festival, O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships
Libraries: Austin Public Library, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection
Coffee shops: Houndstooth, Epoch, Bennu, Mozart’s
Iowa City, IA
No list about writing would be complete without Iowa City, home of the first and most well-known creative writing program in the United States. It’s called the City of Literature, and for good reason. Iowa City’s revered Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced a number of literary greats, including Andre Dubus, Rita Dove, Denis Johnson, Gish Jen, John Irving, Wallace Stegner, Mark Strand, ZZ Packer, Flannery O’Connor, Sandra Cisneros….The list goes on, but we won’t. Just take our word for it.
Book stores: Iowa Book and Supply, Iowa Memorial Union, Prairie Lights Books, Murphy-Brookfield Books
University: University of Iowa, Iowa Writers’ Workshop
Literary visits: House where Kurt Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse Five, Literary Walk, Micky’s Irish Pub, Old Capitol, City Park, Dave’s Fox Head
Famous writers: Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Philip Roth
Literary events: Iowa City Book Festival, Iowa Summer Writing Festival, Mission Creek Literary Series, Live From Prairie Lights reading series, The Examined Life Conference
Libraries: University of Iowa’s Main Library
Coffee shops: Java House, High Ground Cafe, Waterstreet Coffee Bar
The largest city in Oregon is also one of the most creative. Writers enjoy a robust arts and literary scene, with frequent visiting authors, reading series and writing workshops. Portland is also recognized as one of the most “green” cities, thanks to its extreme walkability, a large community of bicyclists, and over 10,000 acres of public parks. See a show, check out one of the many breweries around town, then hunker down in a cozy coffee shop to write your next great American novel.
Book stores: Powell’s City of Books, Broadway Books
University: Portland State University
Literary visits: Heathman Hotel’s “Books by Your Bedside” package, Independent Publishing Resource Center, Writers’ Dojo
Famous writers: Chuck Palahniuk, Beverly Cleary, Ursula K. LeGuin
Literary events: Portland Arts and Lectures series, The Loggernaut Reading Series, Mountain Writers Series, Back Fence PDX
Libraries: Multnomah County Library
Coffee shops: Glyph Cafe and Arts Space, Rain or Shine Coffee House, Oui Presse, Red E Cafe
The place where “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired is also the home of American literary giants. Its most prominent citizen was Ralph Waldo Emerson, author of an obscure essay called Self-Reliance. Other literary heavyweights include Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott (Little Women is based on her life in Concord), and Henry David Thoreau. Need to get away and do some introspection? Concord is also the home of Walden Pond.
Book stores: Willow Books, Concord Bookshop
Literary visits: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house, Walden woods, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Orchard House (Louisa May Alcott’s home), The Wayside, The Old Manse (Hawthorne’s old home), The Concord Museum
Famous writers: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott
Literary events: Concord Festival of Authors
Libraries: Houghton Library, Concord Free Public Library
Coffee shops: Haute Coffee, Main Streets Market & Cafe
Oxford gets almost 25,000 literary pilgrims a year. That’s because this small, seemingly innocuous Southern town is the home of William Faulkner, one of the most revered writers in American and Southern literature. It’s the perfect writing retreat for anyone looking for a temporary escape from the world. Need some inspiration while you finish that short story? Take a trip to Oxford, enjoy its good ol’ Southern charm, and breathe in the sleepy perfume of its many magnolia trees. If you find yourself waylaid by the meatloaf at Ajax Diner, we don’t blame you.
Book stores: Square Books
University: University of Mississippi
Literary visits: Rowan Oak (William Faulkner’s home), skip over to Jackson to see Eudora Welty’s estate, Saint Peter’s Cemetery, City Grocery
Famous writers: William Faulkner, John Grisham, Donna Tartt
Literary events: Oxford Conference for the Book, Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference, The Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference
Libraries: J.D. Williams Library
Coffee shops: Bottletree Bakery, Cups An Espresso Cafe