If you’re an aspiring actor, you know the place to be is Hollywood, California. But where do you go if you’re a writer or book lover? Many might respond, “New York City, of course!” But you might be surprised to learn that New York City isn’t top dog of the literary world. The United States has many other great literary cities that are perfect for the aspiring writer or bibliophile — sans the exorbitant rent and high crime rate. Check out the list of cities below that have a great reputation for being literarily inclined.
1. Iowa City, IA
Iowa City, IA actually takes the literary city cake, not NYC. In 2008, UNESCO named Iowa City the world’s third literary city (it trails Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia). It’s not really so surprising when you consider that the city is rich with literary history. Iowa Writer’s Workshop offered the very first Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, inspiring another 300 MFA workshops around the country — and the world — to follow suit. The city is also home to more than 25 Pulitzer Prize winners since 1955, 11 literary presses, the country’s 18th largest research library (complete with an astonishing special books collection), 180 book related festivals per year, and a wealth of independent bookstores. The city is so proud of their local authors, that there is a sidewalk entirely dedicated to them, with bronze artwork and quotes embedded into the concrete.
2. Chicago, IL
Next up on the list is none other than the Windy City, Second City, Sweet Home, Chicago! This city has been home to some of the greatest of the literary greats — Ernest Hemingway, Sandra Cisneros, Phillip Roth, Raymond Chandler, Shel Silverstein — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The city is a concrete jungle with a wealth of independent and used bookstores, waiting to be explored by the hungry bibliophile. It’s also the site of the infamous H.H. Holmes, the real-life inspiration for Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. Tours of the “murder castle,” as well as the only remaining buildings of the original “white city,” are available for $34. As if that weren’t enough, there is Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace/museum, a massive annual book festival that spans several city blocks, and come this May 2017, the American Writer’s Museum.
3. Boston, MA
It’s not really all that surprising that a state so rich in history would make this list. Boston is a bibliophile’s paradise, staking claim to the country’s first official Literary Cultural District. The district spans a large area, with destinations that include author homes (Sylvia Plath, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, Robert Frost, and many other greats), indie bookstores, publishing house giants, sculptures, theaters, hotels, graveyards, shops, eateries, and much more — all with ties to literature. Boston also hosts annual book festivals and poetry festivals and has the New England Poetry Club, which is the oldest reading series in the Unites States.
4. Atlanta, GA
Not to be outdone by the Yanks, the Big Peach’s literary scene is on point, carving out a name for itself as a top literary city. Besides being home to Gone With the Wind‘s Margaret Mitchell, it’s home to the Decatur Book Festival — the largest independent book festival in the country. There’s also a variety of unique literary scenes, like The Write Club, which is the equivalent to an author fight club, pitting writers against each other in a storytelling battle royale, the Georgia Center for the Book, which hosts weekly readings, and Emory’s Creative Writing Series. Not to mention the numerous bookstores and massive libraries.
5. Portland, OR
There are a lot of reasons to love Portland — beauty surrounds it. But Portland should be on every bibliophile’s bucket list not because of the beauty (sure, who doesn’t love a peaceful place to read?), but because of the city’s intensely immersive lit culture. Located in Portland’s Pearl District is Powell’s Books, one the largest independent bookstores in the world. It occupies an entire city block, multiple floors, and has its own rare book room. The city features not one, but many different book festivals throughout the year and a thriving community support for the emerging writers and contemporary independent literature. If that’s not enough to satisfy your bookish tastes, there are locations all over Portland that host live storytelling and staged readings that occur on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.
Now that you know what great bookish cities you’ve been missing, Go! Travel! Explore! Write, Read, and Love!
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