Read your Way through New England
Take a Page Out of New England: Travel to famous literary sites that are home to many authors in history
By Jamie Kimmel
Massachusetts has been home to many well known writers pretty much since it was first colonized. This is something people can often overlook when visiting this great state but it is not to be unnoticed.
There are many bright minds attracted to Massachusetts because of the thriving intellectual community as a result of too many to count institutions of higher education in the area. Here is a look at some sites paying homage to these native authors.
W. E. B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His childhood homesite (the house has long since been demolished) is a historic landmark. Visitors can take self guided tours–by foot or motor–of trails leading through the site and 16 other places significant to Du Bois.
W. E. B. Du Bois was the first African American to earn a doctorate degree (from Harvard) and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. During his life, Du Bois wrote a handful of works (some novels) rebutting the ingrained American belief of African inferiority and showcasing their genius capabilities.
Although in his youth he was part of the New England Congregational Church, he abandoned organized religion while still in college and spoke out against it. He claimed that American churches were the most discriminatory of institutions and noted the links between African American Christianity and indigenous African beliefs.
In addition to his childhood home site being a landmark, one of the libraries at University of Massachusetts in Amherst is named after him. It was renamed in his honor in 1994 after large movement on campus. This library is home to the memoirs and many papers of Du Bois, himself all donated by his friend, Chancellor Randolph Bromery.
Not only is this facility the tallest university library in the world, it is the second tallest library in the world. Since I have been there many times as a UMass student, I can personally recommend viewing the interesting artworks displayed on the Children’s Literature floor. There is also an eagle nest habitat on the roof which the University records and broadcasts the happenings of within the library for all to see.
For more information visit Du Bois Homesite
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born to a German family in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was in his early thirties before publishing his first signature style illustrated children’s book, And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry St. Mulberry Street in Springfield is less than a mile from his childhood home. His birthday is the annual Read Across America Day which encourages people to read and was started by the National Education Association.
Springfield now has a historical memorial sculpture garden in his honor. It is located at Springfield Museums and the bronze sculptures of Dr. Seuss and his beloved characters were created by his very own step daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates.
The Museum is open to school programs and birthday parties being appropriately held in the garden. Like Du Bois, Seuss had a library named after him at the University of California in San Diego. In his life he contributed greatly to the library along with his second wife.
For more information visit Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden
It is disputed who this woman was or if she was even a real person. There are questionable reports that Mother Goose was a Bostonian woman named Mary Goose who had sixteen children (talk about a woman who lived in a shoe with so many children she did not know what to do).
Supposedly after her husband died she went to live with her eldest daughter and sang songs to her grandchildren so much that other children flocked to listen to her stories. Eventually her son in law published these rhymes in a book.
There is in fact a tombstone from 1690 with Mary Goose’s name on it at the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, MA. However on a less depressing note, Mother Goose has her own theme park in Glen, New Hampshire.
Story Land is the usual kid friendly amusement park with quite a few rides, character greetings, live shows and play areas all featuring the well known characters from Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes. This park also has a handful of animals reminiscent of the lovable creatures from the stories. Story Land is open during the summer months of June, July and August.
For more information visit Story Land New Hampshire
Robert Lee Frost was born in San Francisco, California but his family relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts when he was nine after the death of his father. He is known for his harsh, realistic poetry of life in rural Massachusetts. His name has a handful sites in New England that tourists can visit.
The Robert Frost House in Cambridge, MA was built in 1884 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An other of his homes on that same list is the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire. The house itself is now a museum and the land is a state park. Many of his early poems were written here about farm life while he worked on the property for nine years.
The Robert Frost Trail in Massachusetts is a 47 mile long footpath passing through Hadley, Amherst, Granby, Belchertown, Pelham, Shutesbury, Leverett, Sunderland, Wendell and Montague. It features many kinds of scenery and terrain. It was named after him due to his time served teaching at Amherst College in western Massachusetts.
For more information visit Robert Frost Farm
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on Independence Day in Salem, MA. He was a descendant of John Hathorne who was a judge during the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne’s upbringing and ancestral background of Salem lead to him writing two of his most famous works, The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.
The House of the Seven Gables is a real place in Salem that Hawthorne visited as it was owned by a cousin of his during his lifetime. The House has been converted into a museum right next to Hawthorne’s childhood house where he was born. This house has also been converted into a museum.
For more information visit House of the Seven Gables
The Book Mill
This place is obviously not an author but for anyone who has a genuine love for books this is a must see in Montague, MA. I have been here twice with some friends and I can not wait to go back. This was originally the Montague Sawmill built in 1834 and still has a lovely cobblestone “deck” right on the river left over from when it was a functioning gristmill. Not to be outdone by the other sites on this list it is of course a historic landmark.
The store has about 40,000 used books in very good condition (but they are not catalogued). When perusing the shelves, one feels like they are in an attic full of the owner’s private collection of semi organized stacks of books.
The second floor has the Lady Killigrew café with delicious food and a cinema for independent art films. Right down stairs is the Alvah Stone Mill restaurant and Turn it Up! music and movies shop.
For more information visit Montague Book Mill
Other notable authors
One of the reasons I moved to Massachusetts is to be closer to my favorite authors. After some researching, I have come to the conclusion that every American author in past and present has lived in Massachusetts at some point in their lives.
The next few authors do not have any literary sites in their name (I hypothesize because they are still alive) but I believe they are worth mentioning as one day they may have monuments dedicated to them posthumously due to their impact on literature as we know it.
Depsite being a British author, Gaiman resided in Cambridge, MA until very recently and has frequently spoken at local book discussions and presentations. His most famous work is perhaps American Gods, which has won Best Novel by four different awarding associations.
McGuire received his PhD in English and American Literature from Tufts University in Somerville, MA and now lives in Boston. He served as a professor at nearby Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature for a time and co-founded Children’s Literature New England in 1987. McGuire has several reconstructed fairy tales under his belt aimed at child audiences but he best known for writing the Wicked series. It has been adapted into the very popular Broadway musical.
A New York City native Hoffman eventually did what all great authors do and moved to Boston, MA where she still resides. She is the author of Practical Magic whose film adaption was quite successful and known across the country. Much of the Practical Magic story is set in Massachusetts and incorporates the Salem Witch Trials.
Another book of hers turned into a film is Aquamarine. This is her most popular children’s book and both her adult and youth fictions have themes of magical realism, irony and non standard romances and relationships. I remember reading Aquamarine when I was younger so I was glad to see it on the big screen.
Jamie Kimmel is currently an anthropology major at UMass Amherst. As a very active member of the belly dance club and SPIRALS, she loves all things magickal and artistic. She writes about both of these things in more detail on her blog IamWiccanHearMeRoar.