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The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Confession: I am a bibliophile.

As a kid, I would hide for hours in closets, in bathrooms, and in trees to read my latest treasures from the library. As an adult, I don't get that luxury as much as I'd like to, but I still try to sneak in as much face-to-book time as my writing, blogging, and toddler will allow.

In college, I started out as in philosophy (since I was told that was a good major for future law students, as I was at the time), but lasted a semester before I switched to English. Thank you to the genius who created the English major, so that I could read and learn and nerd out on novels and short stories and essays for a living!


Now that I hold both a B.A. and M.A. in literature, I am oh-so-full of literary knowledge, and I get lucky enough to share that every once in a while. (I've found that my toddler does not share my enthusiasm of Yoknapatawpha County yet.)

This is one of those times.

If, like me, you enjoy literature and want some more of it in your life, you'll need to take this literary road trip of the South. You'll ramble across 10 states and see exhibits, former homes, and graves of 14 giants in literature. Some of these authors were born and raised in the South, while others settled in the area later in life: no matter when their relationship with the American South began, each of these authors added his or her own voice to the unique canon that is Southern literature.

In fact, even though there is a distinctive Southern tone to these authors' works, they transcended regional lines and became part of the larger discussion of American literature.

So, pack your bags (and don't forget your required road trip reading), and let's go on our literary South road trip!

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
You won't actually be driving over water in this road trip, despite what my poor Google map skills might lead you to believe.
Stop 1: Thomas Wolfe House // Asheville, North Carolina 
Author: Thomas Wolfe
Required reading: Look Homeward, Angel (1929)
Address: 52 North Market Street, Asheville, North Carolina 

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
Thomas Wolfe was a heavyweight in the field of Southern literature--both literally and figurative, as he stood 6'6" and used the top of a refrigerator as his writing desk. His semi-autobiographic novel Look Homeward Angel comes alive for Wolfe fans during a visit to the Thomas Wolfe house. Just like the novel's protagonist, Wolfe's father was an alcoholic, his education was nurtured by his mother, and his family ran a boarding house.

Of all of the literary places I've visited, this one is the closest I've found to actually walking through a book!


Stop 2: Connemara // Flat Rock, North Carolina
Author: Carl Sandburg
Required reading: Chicago Poems (1914), Cornhuskers (1918) 
Address81 Carl Sandburg Lane. Flat Rock, NC 28731

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
As you wander through this house, you quickly come to realize just how much poet Carl Sandburg loved books. They're stacked in the hallways, and they cover entire walls in the bedrooms. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author lived here with his wife from 1945 to his death in 1967, and he produced roughly a third of his canon here. It's now a National Historic Site that's just a short drive from Asheville.

Stop 3: Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Author: Pat Conroy
Required reading: The Water is Wide (1972)

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com

Before he entered the national spotlight as a contemporary Southern writer, Conroy was just a new teacher fresh out of college. His first placement was in a one-room schoolhouse on this tiny island off the coast of Hilton Head Island that, even today, can only be reached by boat or ferry.

Although he only taught on the island for a year, his experiences there led him to right his first bestseller: The Water is Wide. Wander the island to get a feel for what Conroy's life was like here, visit the one-room schoolhouse (which now serves as the island's library), and see many of the scenes from The Water is Wide come to life.

Stop 4: Savannah, Georgia
Author: Flannery O'Conner
Required reading: Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor (1971)
Address: 207 East Charlton Street, Savannah, Georgia

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
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Next up on the road trip is a visit to Savannah's historic district and to the childhood home of Flannery O'Connor. The house is now a museum dedicated to the author's life; it has been restored to how it was when O'Connor lived here during the Depression. O'Connor lived here from the time of her birth in 1925 until she left for college (she attended Georgia State College for Women--now Georgia College and State University--in Milledgeville).

Stop 5: Andalusia Farm // Milledgeville, Georgia
Author: Flannery O'Connor
Address: 2628 N Columbia St, Milledgeville, GA

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
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Keep those copies of Complete Stories close, as we move towards the second of our two O'Connor stops. When she was 26, O'Connor was diagnosed with lupus, and she made the decision to move to Andalusia, her mother's family farm. O'Connor wrote the vast majority of her oeuvre here, and the agrarian setting and wildlife feature prominently in her works. Today, the farm is run by O'Connor's first cousins and is open to the public.

While in town, stop and pay your respects to O'Connor's final resting place at Memory Hill Cemetery.

Stop 6: Garden of Heavenly Rest // Fort Pierce, Florida
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Required reading: Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)


The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
During the Harlem Renaissance, there were two dueling schools of thought: one, led by Langston Hughes, sought to share the African-American experience through dialect-free poetry and prose, while the other embraced the unique pronunciation of the African-Americans' spoken language. Zora Neale Hurston, fell into this second category, and her works, such as her Their Eyes Were Watching God (a favorite!), is peppered with the slang of the people with whom she grew up; when you read her works aloud, you're transported to the Deep South in the postbellum era.

Hurston, and the other authors who used the dialect approach, fell out of favor with the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. Although she was quite well-known at her peak, Hurston died nearly penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave in Florida. Author Alice Walker rediscovered Hurston's works and has created a resurgence in interest in Hurston. Thanks to Walker, you can now visit Hurston's marked grave in Fort Pierce.

Stop 7: Hemingway House // Key West, Florida
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Required reading: To Have and Have Not (1937), "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1936)
Address: 907 Whitehead Street, Key West, Florida

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
Although Hemingway isn't Southern by birth, his presence in Key West requires a spot on our road trip. After making his way from Paris to Havana, Hemingway and his wife Pauline stopped in Key West while waiting for a car delivery. They fell in love with the area and decided to stay. From 1931 to his divorce from Pauline in the early 1940s, the home on Whitehead Street was Hemingway's main residence, and where he wrote many of his works, including "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and To Have or Have Not. 

Today, the house is open to the public for tours, and, I think, is an essential part of any visit to Key West. Learn more about the house and Hemingway's influence on American literature in this post.

Stop 8: Tennessee Williams Literary Exhibit // Key West, Florida
Author: Tennessee Williams
Required reading: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1954)
Address: 513 Truman Street, Key West, Florida

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
Just a few minutes' drive from the Hemingway House is an ode to another American literary great: Tennessee Williams. He called Key West home from 1941 to his death in 1983, and it's rumored that he finalized the script for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the city's La Concha Hotel. The exhibit on Truman Street gives readers a glimpse into Williams' life through his manuscripts, photographs, and personal effects (including his typewriter).

Stop 9: Old Courthouse Museum // Monroeville, Alabama
Author: Harper Lee
Required reading: To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
Address: 31 N. Alabama Avenue, Monroeville, Alabama


The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
There was a time in my life that I was sure that Scout Finch and I could be best friends. If you, too, loved Harper Lee's enduring classic To Kill a Mockingbird, a quick stop in Monroeville is necessary on our road trip!

Stop in the Old Courthouse Museum to see photos of Lee and hear friends and relative recount stories of her life. The Courthouse was recreated in full for the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, and an annual retelling of the story takes place here from mid-April to mid-May.

Stop 10: Eudora Welty Home // Jackson, Mississippi
Author: Eudora Welty
Required reading: The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (1980)
Address: 1119 Pinehurst Street, Jackson Mississippi

The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
From 1925 to her death in 2001, this is where Welty called home and where she wrote all of her major literary contributions. Her parents bought the house when Welty was 16; her love of literature and the written word was cultivated here. When she gave the house to the state of Mississippi in the 1980s, she wanted the building to be a monument not to her, but to education, literacy, and the art of writing.

Stop 11: Rowan Oaks // Oxford, Mississippi
Author: William Faulkner
Required reading: The Sound and the Fury (1929), Absalom, Absalom (1936)
Address: 916 Old Taylor Road, Oxford, Mississippi
The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
After Faulkner bought the property in 1930, he decided on a name more befitting a home than the existing Bailey Place: Rowan Oaks. He took the name from the rowan tree, which symbolizes stability. He, his wife, his daughter, and two step-children lived here until Faulkner's death in 1962. His daughter, Jill, wanted the property to remain focused on her father, so she deeded the property to the University of Mississippi.

Faulkner's major works, including those that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature (1949) and the Pulitzer Prize (1954) were written here. This is as close to Yoknapatawpha County as you can get.

Stop 12: Tennessee Williams' Home // New Orleans, Louisiana
Author: Tennessee Williams
Address: 1014 Dumaine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana
Required reading: A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
Like many of the authors on this road trip, Williams didn't stay in one place. Before he moved to Key West (Stop #8), he lived in a small second-floor apartment in New Orleans. The Crescent City inspired his writing, and The Streetcar Named Desire draws directly from his experiences on the now-defunct Desire streetcar line. This apartment was the only piece of property that Williams owned, and he returned to it frequently throughout his life. (For more literary inspiration in New Orleans, see this post.)

Stop 13: Kate Chopin House // Cloutierville, Louisiana
Author: Kate Chopin
Required reading: The Awakening (1899)


The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
The first time that I read The Awakening, I was devastated in the way that only good literature can cause. The story of the disillusioned Edna Pontellier and her struggle to find herself amidst society's expectations spoke to me in way that nothing had up to that point. As I learned more about Chopin, I began to admire her all the more: in addition to writing, she had six children (whom she raised single handedly after her husband died). Her works were far ahead of her time, and I applaud her bravery for publishing them, even though she went against popular opinion by doing so.

Before her husband's death, Chopin lived in Cloutierville in south Natchitoches Parish. Sadly, her house burned in October 2008, and only the ruins are left. Still, seeing the place where this brave, brilliant writer lived is worth a stop on our trip.


Stop 14: Angelou City Park // Stamps, Arkansas

Author: Maya Angelou
Required reading: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970)

Located in Lafayette County, this small town is where poet Angelou was raised. The town council resisted honoring Angelou for years since she'd written honestly but negatively of her time there, but, after public opinion rose in favor of Angelou, City Park was renamed for her.

As you travel through Stamps, take a few minutes out at the park: sit on a bench, read a few passages from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and consider the hardships that Angelou had to overcome on her journey from this tiny place to literary success.

Stop 15: Samuel Clements' Childhood Home // Hannibal, Missouri
Author: Mark Twain


The Literary South: A Book Lover's Road Trip Itinerary | CosmosMariners.com
{photo via flickr | creative commons}
I have to admit: I flinched when I put this entry on the road trip list. Yes, Hannibal is in Missouri, which is sometimes considered part of the South (depending on the person with whom you're conversing), but it's still so far north that it's almost straddling the border with Illinois.

Even so, it's hard to discuss a road trip centered around Southern literature without including Mark Twain/ Samuel Clements, so here we are. If anything, the murky waters surrounding Twain and Missouri's inclusion on this list speak directly to the fact that Southern literature is hard to define--some would even argue that the delineation between Southern literature and American literature is unnecessary, as all authors contribute to the country's narrative.

Anyway, I digress.

Since we've made it all the way to Hannibal, let's talk about Mr. Twain. One of the most colorful people in a line-up of colorful people, Twain captured the world's imagination with his fiction. He also wrote many comic and satirical pieces, worked as a newspaper reporter, and produced several travel guides for the discerning 19th century traveler.

Although he didn't write any of his famed pieces here in Hannibal, he constantly drew from his boyhood experiences to create The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. At the museum, see how Twain grew up, and discover the real people behind the characters of Becky Thatcher and Huckleberry Finn.


Stop 16: Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center // Kyle, Texas

Author: Katherine Anne Porter
Required reading: Flowering Judas and Other Stories (1930)
Address: 508 Center Street, Kyle, Texas

We've made it to end of our road trip! Bask in that heady glow of learning and literature as we head over to the last stop on our journey: the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center. The building, which was purchased in 1880 by Porter's paternal grandfather, was where she lived from when she was two until she was 12.

Now, the Porters' home serves as a focal point for the literary arts in Texas. The Texas State MFA program often uses the home for programs and readings. Tours are available, but you'll have to call or write prior to visiting to arrange your walk through the house.


What's your favorite literary site? What Southern locale would you add to the literary South road trip itinerary?

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