Offsite Activities: A Literary Approach
Bored with the same old obvious offsite activities? Depending on your event destination, perhaps you need to think outside the box – or, in this case, the book.
Touring the homes of American literary masters is a great way to interject art, history, architectural design, landscaping, humor and human interest into the more mundane sightseeing pursuits. Sometimes, the memories of an author’s home tour linger far longer than a spin at Disneyland, touching something deeper inside of us.
I still recall the pleasant spring morning I spent a decade ago, strolling William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak outside Oxford, MS, at a civic event hosted by bestselling author and fellow Mississippian John Grisham. Faulkner spent the last 30 years of his life renovating the Greek Revival home and lovely grounds, which still echo with the masterworks he wrote there, including The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August.
What made the day even more memorable were the Oxford High School choir and cheerleaders who performed, then sat fidgeting in folding chairs on the lawn. They still had Faulkner to look forward to, after all.
Tired of touring by the book? Here are six author homes that invite you inside the book.
Ernest Hemingway House, Key West, Florida
During his eight years in residence in this charming nineteenth-century Spanish colonial at Mile Marker Zero, the Pulitzer and Nobel prizewinner wrote To Have and Have Not, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Green Hills of Africa, and began For Whom the Bell Tolls” here. His manual Royal typewriter remains, as do 40 to 50 descendants of the famous six-toed cat once given to Papa by a sea captain.
Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Connecticut
America’s shared literary youth began in this Victorian Gothic mansion, where the colossally-imaginative Samuel Clemens dreamed up The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, among others. Twain once claimed his Tiffany-adorned abode “had a heart, and a soul, and eyes to see us with.”
Margaret Mitchel House, Atlanta, Georgia
Mitchell fashioned her masterpiece, Gone with the Wind, in a room she once called “the dump,” situated in this three-story, turn-of-the-century Tudor Revival building. Now operated by the Atlanta History Center, the Mitchell house displays and memorabilia trace how the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler was transformed into the equally iconic motion picture starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable.
John Steinbeck House, Salinas, California
Although Steinbeck grew up in this Victorian home, wrote “The Red Pony” and lived here caring of his ailing mother until 1934, his heart was in the nearby fields with the migrant workers he would ultimately bring to life in Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.
Jack Kerouac Homes, Orlando and St. Petersburg, Florida
So Kerouac moved around a lot. What would you expect from the beloved Beat author of On the Road? In Orlando, you can tour the home where he wrote his second novel, The Dharma Bums, then drive cross-state to St. Petersburg for a peek at the small block house where he lived with his wife Stella and mother Gabrielle from 1966 until his death in 1969 at age 47.
Thomas Wolfe Home, Asheville, North Carolina
There was little love lost between Wolfe and his hometown, which he renamed “Altamont” and subsequently scandalized in his 1929 debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Although Wolfe quickly beat feet when his hometown subsequently banned the book, Asheville still commemorates his genius at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site.
Photo credits: Front, John Steinbeck House: jejim / Shutterstock.com, Top: Mark Twain home by f11photo / Shutterstock.com, Ernest Hemingway bedroom by Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock.com