|The kitchen in the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, in Asheville, NC, where I visited last year and was able to take photographs. Preserved as the boarding house where Wolfe lived with his mother, it also inspired his novel, You Can't Go Home Again.|
Writer A.N. Devers shares this same passion as she has recently started a blog called Writers' Houses. It promises to be a wonderful journey into the homes of writers around the world [the criteria is that they be open to the public]. I learned about Devers' new blog today in my daily The Daily Beast email and just had to sit down and tell you all about it.
Writers and their homes are intricately fused. Where a writer lives can be as important as what they write about as it helps shape their outlook on the world. It is also a treat for a fan to be able to visit where a writer lived and sometimes wrote. My first such pilgrimage was to Haworth, England as a sixteen-year old exchange student. There the Brontë sisters lived and wrote at the Brontë Parsonage at the edge of the Yorkshire moors. Let me tell you that seeing the bleak landscape that inspired the wanderings of Heathcliff and Cathy made Wuthering Heights that more real for me.
As one who has worked in numerous house museums, I understand why these places are of interest to people. When you add a famous person or a writer to the equation, it can make the experience even more powerful. Tromps to writers' homes become more of a pilgrimage. There are also writers whose homes we wonder about––J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee come to mind (I have driven past Salinger's former home many times in Cornish, NH and have seen his mailbox and barn, at least!)––and others that are as open as, well, a book. Others are as secretive as their former occupants: the rather starkly furnished Emily Dickinson Museum comes to mind (where the pantry is now a storage closet for the museum shop, but where Emily was said to have written many poems in it while tending to her domestic chores in the kitchen). It helps when these places are left with their original contents, too.
This new Writers' Houses blog is timely for me this week. The other day a woman contacted me who is now a caretaker in the former home of Newbery Award-winning children's author Elizabeth Yates McGreal. She wanted information on the original stencils in the house so that they could be restored. [I assumed they had been painted over by a former caretaker and it bothered me to think about it.] When Elizabeth left her 18th century Cape and its property in Peterborough, New Hampshire, known as "Shieling," to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, she likely hadn't included provisions for the preservation of her house. One of her books, Patterns on the Wall, was inspired by the restored stencils in the front room that were presumably painted by itinerant artist Moses Eaton. They are gone but her house, and barn––where her writer friends Elizabeth Gray Vining and Dorothy Canfield Fisher used to come and write at different times in the small apartment every summer––and beautiful property is still preserved, at least. I spent many Tuesdays in her home as a teenager, and later as a young adult home from college, reading aloud and having Lapsang Souchong tea and English biscuits. She was one of my early mentors and I am grateful for the friendship that we had.
It is always a great thing when a writer's home is as preserved as their literary legacy. I look forward to seeing what the blog Writers' Houses has to share in the coming years.