The call of the open road is as booming as ever. As far as domestic leisure travel is concerned, more Americans are opting to go by way of the automobile. Whether it’s due to the flexibility of packing heavy and stopping at will along the way or the nostalgia of highway getaways, road trips are back!
To satiate your bookworm wanderlust, take the great American road trip inspired by great American literature.
1. Walden Pond
The site where transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau spent two years in a log cabin is only a half-hour drive from Boston. The pond once hosted an amusement park with concessions, swings, a dancing hall, and a baseball diamond that burned down in 1902, but now all that remains is a replica of Thoreau’s cabin. The grounds are a Massachusetts state park perfect for swimming, hiking, and contemplating “the tonic of wildness.”
The property on which Emily Dickinson was born and spent most of her life as a recluse is a portal to the past. Though a prolific poet, Dickinson published very little during her lifetime. It was on this property in Amherst, Massachusetts that she wrote scores of short, solemn poems that would later be acclaimed for their value to literary scholarship. Both Dickinson houses serve as museums of the prominent family, and the gardens on the property grow the same flowers and shrubs that featured prominently in Dickinson’s poetry.
The Manhattan neighborhood known for an African-American artistic flourishment in the 1930s and ’40s was home to literary greats like Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Claude McKay. Langston Hughes’s longtime home, now in the National Register of Historic Places, is the site of an arts collective, and Madam C.J. Walker’s building is now a public library branch. The Schomburg Center for African-American Culture, once the site of the American Negro Theater, hosts a large collection of books and artifacts pertaining to the Harlem Renaissance.
Eatonville, Florida was the home of Zora Neale Hurston as well as the inspiration for much of her work centering around the African-American experience in the South. Each year, The Zora! Festival of the Arts and Humanities celebrates the author’s life with concerts and presentations on the themes of Hurston’s work. A previously unpublished manuscript by Hurston, based on her interviews with a man who came to the country on a slave ship, was recently released after 90 years in the dark.
5. Key West
Eccentric and lavish, the French Colonial house of Ernest Hemingway sits a few blocks from the southernmost point of the continental U.S. Driving to Key West grants drivers at once stunning views and terrible traffic, and the Hemingway House offers a glimpse into the quirky life of one the country’s most talented writers. He loved his polydactyl cats (the descendants of which still roam the house), and he built a backyard pool at a time when it would have cost over 300,000 in today’s dollars.
The “literary capital of Alabama” was home to both Truman Capote and Harper Lee (they were neighbors), and it inspired the southern settings of their fiction. Maycomb, the segregated setting of To Kill a Mockingbird, was practically modeled on Monroeville, and each year the town’s theater troupe stages the play adaptation. The first half is played in an amphitheater, and the second half takes place inside the town’s old courthouse. The same courthouse houses a museum featuring Capote’s old letters and childhood possessions.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote bountifully of his hometown of Indianapolis, “where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin,” and they’ve memorialized him with the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. You can walk down the same streets as the fictional Kilgore Trout and look up at buildings designed by Vonnegut’s father and grandfather, Kurt Vonnegut, Sr. and Bernard Vonnegut.
Read “Vonnegut Lives!”
Samuel Langhorn Clemens’s childhood town sits on the Mississippi River, where his work on steamboats gave him his pen name, Mark Twain. The name adorns a substantial amount of attractions in Hannibal, Missouri, too: the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, the Mark Twain Lighthouse, Mark Twain Cave. You can even ride on the Mark Twain Riverboat for a dinner cruise.
9. Red Cloud
“I wanted to walk straight on through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away,” Willa Cather wrote of the western prairie. The O Pioneers! and My Ántonia author is memorialized with 600 acres of never-before-plowed prairie near her childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska. The native grasses and wildflowers return visitors to an untouched version of the Great Plains.
John Steinbeck molded the working class and migrant characters of his stories from his experiences working on ranches outside his hometown, Salinas, California. The house Steinbeck grew up in stands at the center of town just a few blocks from the National Steinbeck Center museum. Although the author moved away young and travelled often, Salinas Valley is so prevalent in his fiction that the area is often called “Steinbeck country.”
This edition of Famous Contributors to The Saturday Evening Post focuses on the renowned Poet Laureate of Harlem, Langston Hughes.
Hughes’ life crisscrossed with other famous African-Americans—he went to Lincoln University along with famed civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; his uncle was John Mercer Langston, the first African-American elected to the US Congress; and he worked alongside important figures such as W.E.B. DuBois during the Harlem Renaissance to foster creativity and expression in the black community. Hughes won the Harman Gold Medal for Literature, was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and received the NAACP’s yearly Spingam Medal for outstanding achievement.
His work focused on the exploitation and oppression of fellow African-Americans and, during the 1920s and 30s, much of it showed a nod to Marxism. In 1932 he visited the Soviet Union, an experience that moved the young writer deeply.
However, his controversial viewpoints would come back to haunt him later in life. He was called in front of Joseph McCarthy’s Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953, and, although he was not charged as a “card-carrying” Communist, he was unable to make a decent living afterward. Even so, he is remembered as one of the greatest poets—of any color—in American history.
Hughes’ relationship with the Post could be described as “love-hate.” In his younger years, he described the publication as a “magazine whose columns, like the doors of many of our churches, has been until recently entirely closed to Negroes,” and criticized the magazine in his poetry. However, the relationship became more amicable as Hughes got older and he eventually submitted poetry to the magazine. Below are two poems from Hughes as they originally appeared in the Post.
Refugee In America
By Langston Hughes
There are words like “Freedom,”
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heartstrings freedom sings
All day everyday.
There are words like “Democracy”
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.
By Langston Hughes
I stand most humbly before man’s
Knowing we are not really wise.
If we were, we’d open up the
And make earth happy as the