October 13, 2014

Boston introduces new “literary district”


A plaque marks Edgar Allan Poe's birthplace in Boston. (via Wikipedia)

A plaque marks Edgar Allan Poe’s birthplace in Boston. (via Wikipedia)

Boston may not have New York’s bookish reputation, but the city’s literary history is undeniable. Over the years, the city has housed such notable writers and thinkers as Louisa May Alcott, Mary Antin, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Henry David Thoreau, and Jack Kerouac, as well as many others.

And so the city of Boston (you’ll get no cute “the Hub” or “Beantown” remarks from me, thank you very much) has taken it upon itself to curate a “Literary Culture District.” The goal of this district, which physically exists around the Beacon Hill neighborhood, on the banks of the Charles River, is to celebrate Boston’s rich history of writers, illuminate the vibrancy of its current literary scene, and of course, attract tourists. This undertaking has been officially voted upon and approved by the Board of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

The website for this endeavor features a comprehensive map of the district’s sites, which vary greatly in terms of historical and literary relevance. If you like, you can walk by the former homes of Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Deland, and Henry Adams. Weirdly enough, you’re also invited to explore—at least from the outside—the current residence of Dr. Robin Cook, the author of medical bestsellers like Intervention and Seizure. Dennis Lehane must have somehow opted out of that part of the deal.

In addition to the residences of these writers, the map also includes the addresses of several important publications, from the past and present. Included are the offices of Little, Brown, Ploughshares, The Colored American, The Boston Evening Transcript, and Women’s Journal.

If you’re so inclined, you can drop by The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where Eugene O’Neill and Sylvia Plath were known to sometimes stay. If that’s not your cup of tea, you could dine on sauerbraten at Jacob Wirth Restaurant, an establishment Kerouac allegedly wrote about. And then there’s the Omni Parker House, where Malcom X was once employed as a busboy, Ho Chi Minh as a baker, and where Charles Dickens gave a reading of A Christmas Carol.

If you’re looking to take your bookish or writerly interests beyond sightseeing, the new district is hosting a number of events, including classes, readings, and workshops. Larry Lindner, the district’s coordinator, is hoping that the district will expose people to poetry “in a really cool way.”

It’s a lot to process, surely, but bringing the literary world into public spaces is a worthy endeavor. Nice work, Beantown.