The U.S. boasts some of the finest writers who have ever lived, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway to name a few. Even if other famous authors didn't live here, chances are they visited and left their mark in bookstores, hotels, and unique sites. Dotted across this beautiful country is the legacy of inspiration, creativity, ingenuity, and talent, granting you the amazing chance to look deeper into a life, a work, and a legend as you visit these top literary-themed destinations in the U.S.
With most U.S. authors, one destination is enough but being arguably the greatest American author, Mark Twain deserves at least two stops. Growing up on the Mississippi inspired Mr. Samuel Clemens to action and creativity. His boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, still stands as a house museum alongside the Becky Thatcher House, Huckleberry Finn House, Tom and Huck Statue, as well as Twain's father's own Justice of the Peace Office. Much of Hannibal is themed after Mark Twain's legacy, even naming the cave system running under the town after him.
Mark Twain didn't live his whole life in Hannibal, however, but ended up in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1871 after he married his wife Olivia. Designed by Olivia Clemens and a New York architect, this house is a fabulously creative work of art on its own with Victorian details, wrap-around porches, and an oddly comforting yet exotic facade. At the museum, you can find a collection of personal possessions owned by the author including his clothes, his bed, his last pair of glasses, letters written by Sam to Olivia, and almost every first edition of Mark Twain's works.
Ernest Hemingway House - Key West, Florida
Although this isn't the only Hemingway museum in the country, this is by far the most popular for its extensive collection of Hemingway possessions, manuscripts, photographs, and more. Set in the tropical oasis that is Key West, this iconic home spectacularly captures Hemingway's own love of Florida. Bought by Hemingway in 1931, the house still contains furniture used by him and his family and continues to be inhabited by the descendants of the cats Hemingway himself owned while living here. The house museum offers tours of the lush gardens, the pool, bookstore, and of course the home and its collections.
Emily Dickinson Museum - Amherst, MA
Arguably one of America's finest poets, Emily Dickinson was known for being somewhat reclusive, keeping to her home in Amherst. Tours of the illustrious hideaway start at the Homestead, and leads you through the home, the gardens, and over to the Evergreens, the home of her brother Austin and his family. As the Homestead was sold in the early 20th century and the possessions moved or sold, all collections have been continuously acquired and now number over 8,000 pieces. From textiles to manuscripts to letters, photographs, furniture, and more, the Homestead and Evergreens is the place to learn more about Emily Dickinson's life, works, and legacy.
William Faulkner's Rowan Oak - Oxford, MS
An absolutely stunning mansion of Greek Revival architecture, Faulkner's Mississippi home is secluded behind the pines and oaks of the south, shrouding it in mystery. There's no fee to visit the 29-acre grounds and walk among the trees although there is a $5 cover charge to enter the house. Open year-round to curious bibliophiles and history buffs, Rowan Oak offers self-guided and audio tours of the house and grounds including outbuildings, cabins, and more.
Edgar Allen Poe:
Poe, like Twain, left a broad impressionist stroke across the country, reflected in the collection of museums dedicated to his life. No matter where you're at in New England, chances are you won't be far from a Poe site. Visit the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, New York, the Baltimore Poe House, and Museum, the Poe House and Museum in Richmond, Virginia, or his grave in Baltimore. The Poe Museum in Richmond is reportedly the best based on collections, archives, and exquisite curation although Poe fans might enjoy seeing Poe Toaster at his grave in Baltimore, leaving behind cognac and roses on the tombstone.
Harry Ransom Center - Austin, TX
Although this isn't an author's home, the Harry Ransom Center is one of the finest collections of manuscripts in the country. Holdings include a genuine Gutenberg Bible (c. 1450-1455), one of only five in the Western Hemisphere, to the Cardigan manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1450), early editions by Shakespeare, Milton, and Marlowe, as well as materials and manuscripts covering the entire career of Lord Byron. This center is a dream world for book lovers and you definitely do not want to miss out on the Harry Ransom Center if you're near Austin.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum - Mansfield, MO
The author of one of the most popular children's book series, Laura Ingalls Wilder's home in Mansfield, Missouri, marks the beginning of her literary career. She didn't begin putting pen to paper until she was 65 and living on the Mansfield farm. Taking a tour of the buildings and grounds includes historic insight into the Ingalls and Wilder families and the series of books that brought their stories to life. The on-site museum is the single most comprehensive collection of Ingalls and Wilder family possessions from personal clothing to the items Mrs. Wilder kept on her desk as she wrote, family guns, typewriters, and manuscripts. Also see her vegetable garden, the bookstore, and much more!
The Mount - Edith Wharton's Home - Lenox, MA
Located in the beautiful Berkshires, the Mount was what Edith Wharton considered to be her "first home," designed by her own hand in the early 20th century. The author of Ethan Frome enjoyed the extensive and lush garden grounds, opulent rooms in the mansion, and a plethora of possessions now seen in the house museum. Today the house is not only open for tours but hosts a number of book readings and musical performances among other special events.
Bookstores, Libraries, and More:
- Powell's City of Books - Portland, OR
- City Lights Books - San Francisco
- Scribner Building - NYC
- Square Books - Oxford, MS
- Parnassus Books - Nashville, TN
- Faulkner House Books - New Orleans
- The Last Bookstore - Los Angeles
- San Francisco Center for the Book (FREE!)