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Fauxscar Nominee: On the Road

January 8, 2013 in American literature, Classic Writers, Literary Movies, Travel, Travel Writers

A brief reflection on literature, and an even briefer one on the movie, On the Road.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road captured the beat of a generation. It bottled the spirit of a time and intoxicated generations to come with the sweet, burning lust to wander. The story tells of a youth at odds with society and a society just beginning to redefine itself. Kerouac’s voice is heard clear through pages that read like they were written on a single script, beckoning to the young and restless to strap on their packs and hit the road. The novel has become an American passage and one of the first milestone-reads of most any literary traveler.

Walter Salles’ On the Road is said to pale in comparison to the novel it adapts. Unfortunately, I can’t say this with any surety because I still have not seen the movie. Funny to think that Kerouac’s home state would not have one theater with a showing, but maybe I was lucky. From the reviews I have read, it seems I’ve been saved from disappointment. Though most reviewers agree that Salles has stayed painstakingly true to the novel (he traced Kerouac’s footprints throughout the entire country with an old camcorder), the consensus is that he has failed to convey the voice and passion of Kerouac as he jitterbugs through the America of the 50’s.

It’s a shame too. It was always Kerouac’s intention to make the novel into a film. He even wrote Marlon Brando a letter asking him to play Dean Moriarty. Brando never responded and Kerouac never made the silver screen. Unfortunately, great literature is hardly ever successfully adapted to film, if only because being literature is exactly what makes it great.

Southern Hospitality: A Spring Road Trip through the Literary South

April 5, 2012 in American literature, Classic Literature, Southern Writers, Travel, Travel Writers

Painting by David BatesWith winter winding to a close, there is no better time to hop in the car, roll down the windows, and enjoy the warm breezes of spring as you venture off to places unknown.  From John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to Jack Kerouac’s iconic On the Road, literature is ripe with tales of road trips, penned by authors sharing their experiences traveling the country.  With summer fast approaching, isn’t it time to imagine your own cross country adventure?

Over the years I’ve often planned hypothetical road trips for myself, drawing zigzagging lines with a Sharpie across maps of the United States, hopeful to take my own journey one day. But of all the lines I have drawn, my favorite always takes me a southern route from the North East down through Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. I believe one reason it’s my favorite route is because the South has been so vividly portrayed in literature. From the grandiose to the grotesque, Southern writers from Flannery O’Connor to Margaret Mitchell have painted brilliant portraits of the South in their works.

While I long to witness the natural beauty the South has to offer, see the Mississippi River and experience the splendor of the Louisiana bayou, I am sure even these urges have their root in my experience of Southern literature.  So it only makes sense that on any road trip through the Southern U.S., literary travelers pay homage to the literary greats that lived and wrote there. While New Orleans is well known for its associations with literature, from Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote, the South is brimming with less well-known but equally fascinating ways to connect with literary history.

In Atlanta, Georgia, let the wind take you in the direction of the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum on Peachtree Street.  While it took Mitchell almost a decade to finish the epic Gone with the Wind, you can tour the museum in a couple of hours, viewing her living space and a selection of her letters.  Travel to Atlanta this April 20-22nd, and receive free admission to the house during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, an event that draws artists from around the world.

If you take your adventure to Savannah, visit the one-time residence of writer Flannery O’Connor.  While A Good Man is Hard to Find, the author’s childhood home, located on East Charlton Street, is not!  The house where the author resided from 1925-1938 contains some of the original furnishings.  For more O’Connor memorabilia continue on to Georgia College and State University, where there is a room dedicated to the famous alumnus that houses her writing desk and typewriter, among other artifacts including the author’s own personal library of more than 700 titles.

In Mississippi, honor William Faulkner with a visit to his Rowan Oak estate located in Oxford.  Originally built in 1844, the property is now owned by the University of Mississippi and visitors are admitted to view the space where Faulkner lived and worked for over thirty years.  The Oxford, MS Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a more extensive map of “Faulkner Country.” So download one here, and meander at your own pace through the stomping ground of this twentieth century great.

Like John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” The next stop is up to us.


The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival

February 16, 2012 in American literature, Literary Festivals, New Orleans, Southern Writers, Tennessee Williams

Self-Portrait by Tennessee Williams

While many are drawn to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there’s another late Winter festival worth its weight in gold. After all the beads have been tossed and the confetti has been swept away, it’s time for literary travelers from around the world to take over the resplendent city.  March 21st marks the start of the five day Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival.  The Festival started in 1987 to celebrate the city’s immense literary culture.

According to the press release, “The five-day fête honors the legendary Tennessee Williams, his works, and literary life in the adopted city he called his ‘spiritual home’ and features two days of master classes; a roster of lively discussions among distinguished panelists; celebrity interviews; theater, food and music events; a scholars’ conference; a poetry slam, writing marathon and breakfast book club; French Quarter literary walking tours; a book fair; short fiction, poetry and one-act play competitions; and special evening events and parties.”  With so many events to choose from, five days doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to experience the festival as well as get a taste of all the city has to offer.  In order to squeeze the most into your experience there are a few easy ways to multi-task.

Since no literary trip to New Orleans would be complete without a walking tour of the multitude of literary landmarks that cover the city, make sure to get your fill with Heritage Literary Tours.  Led throughout the year by retired University of New Orleans Literature professor Dr. Kenneth Holditch, as part of the Festival he will be offering a tour that focuses on landmarks relating to Tennessee Williams in particular.

As for accommodations, there is no shortage of literary culture at the historic Hotel Monteleone, which is offering a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate for attendees of the festival. The 125 year old hotel is a literary landmark in and of itself, as it was once frequented by Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and Williams himself, as well as being featured in the writing of Ernest Hemingway in “The Night Before Battle.”  Suites at the hotel now bear the names of Welty, Williams, Faulkner and Hemingway.  The Hotel Monteleone also offers a Literary History Walking Tour, which spotlights the hotel’s place as a literary landmark.  Led by local historian Glenn De Villier, the tour begins and ends in the hotel’s Carousel Bar, which was a favorite of Williams’ and immortalized in the works of Williams, Hemingway and Welty.

In lieu of souvenirs, do a little shopping while experiencing further literary heritage by visiting Faulkner House Books, located at the site of Faulkner’s 1925 residence, where he wrote his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay.  This new and used book store specializes in Faulkner, Williams, and Southern Literature with an emphasis on New Orleans and Louisiana. Faulkner House is a national literary landmark, and for book lovers and history aficionados, not to be missed.

Williams once said, “if I can be said to have a home, it is New Orleans, which has provided me with more material than any other part of the country.” So, take a page from the literary sentinel and find inspiration in the sites and sounds of the city of New Orleans.  Whether traveling to New Orleans for the Festival, or just to experience the city’s rich culture, there is no time like the present to book your trip. 


Featuring Tennessee Williams

Key West Friday: Having Dinner With Tennessee Williams 

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond

Florida Feature: A Brief Biography of Flagler

December 16, 2011 in Florida Feature, Henry Flagler

American tycoons were once something we admired as a nation. They were the physical embodiment of the American Dream and represented the supremacy of the free market. Turn-of-the-century oilmen, factory owners and real estate magnates were the celebrities of their day, both beloved and envied for their success. In 2011, this is no longer true. The super-wealthy “1%” exists in the public consciousness today as a despicable, money hungry bunch, whose financial success is a testament to their ruthlessness and lack of empathy rather than the “classic” American ideals of hard work and faith.

Fortunately for him, Henry Flagler made his bones in an era when the tycoon was king. He grew up in Hopewell, New York during the 1830s, raised by his mother, Elizabeth and father, Isaac, an itinerant Presbyterian minister. Young Flagler only attended school until the eighth grade when he dropped out and moved to Bellevue, Ohio to work for his uncle. The future titan of industry began his working career at a meager salary of $5 a month plus room and board. However, as his later achievements would illustrate, Flagler was a man of formidable ambitions and by age 19, he was promoted to the company’s sales staff at an increased salary of $900 a month. Henry Flagler was on his way.

Late in his wildly successful career, Flagler was viewed by the American public as an exemplar of the “Horatio Alger myth;” a real “pulled up by his own bootstraps” story. However, as is often the case, the public’s perception of celebrity is slightly skewed: Flagler was born into a wealthy family. In fact, he was only able to found his first company in 1862 after borrowing nearly $100,000 from his mother’s side of the family and recruiting his brother-in-law, Barney York, as his business partner. Due to widespread salt shortages related to the Civil War, The Flagler and York Salt Company was initially profitable, but the recipe for success was not destined to last. In April 1865, the Civil War ended, provoking a freefall in demand for salt and the company collapsed.

After the failure of his first company, Flagler returned to Ohio and took a job with a grain company. Undeterred, and determined as ever, Flagler was also aided by an exceptionally serendipitous meeting. Through his business dealings with the grain company, Flagler became acquainted with John D. Rockefeller, a New Yorker, who was in Ohio to start an oil refinery in Cleveland, a city that was quickly becoming the center of the burgeoning oil industry. In 1866, when Rockefeller was searching for investors to get his refinery off the ground, he remembered the savvy young grain salesman he had met the previous year. The ensuing negotiation demonstrated Flagler’s impressive business acumen as he leveraged his $100,000 investment into a position as Rockefeller’s full partner. The refinery was a success and the business grew into the famous, turn-of-the-century American corporate behemoth, Standard Oil.

Although Henry Flagler’s substantial fortune would have made him a member of the 1%, were he alive today, he likely would have resented the image of selfish, unchecked excess associated with modern tycoons. He was renowned as a generous, avuncular fellow who eventually abandoned his executive duties at Standard Oil in order to focus his energy on construction and philanthropic efforts in Florida.

This biographical blog series on Henry Flagler will continue next week with posts on Henry’s first trip to Florida and the epic tale of the overseas railway and its financially bloated, hurricane battered construction!


The Journey Becomes the Vacation

November 24, 2010 in American literature, budget travel, Classic Writers, Economy, Travel, travel deals

Mississippi River

Everyday the price for flying and additional fees slightly increases. Baggage fees, pet fees, and airline meals are greatly overpriced. As a traveler, I would rather spend my money on exploration and spontaneity. So I choose driving across country instead.

As you explore the depths of the road, the act of traveling becomes part of the vacation and not something to simply endure. Traveling by car allows for the journey and the destination to be the vacation.

I drove across country this past summer, and one of the many reasons why I prefer to travel by car compared to by plane is because of the spontaneous stops.

As I traveled the country, I decided to cross into Missouri from Illinois via the Mississippi River. I stood on the Ste. Genevieve ferry and reminisced about the story of Huck Finn and his adventures along the Mississippi River. As I watched the twigs float by and felt the cool breeze wisp across my face, I pictured Huck Finn on his raft drifting across the river beside me.

Take it from a traveler that often takes the wrong turn, spontaneity is freeing.  It presents a new layer of traveling. As I took unintended turns, I instantly rerouted myself along another path towards my destination. Every unintended turn became a spontaneous new adventure and a shift in a new direction.


Travel Deals to Satisfy your Wandering Mind

October 13, 2010 in budget travel, Classic Writers, Helen Hunt Jackson, Travel, travel deals

Photo via Ashley BoydI often sit on the San Francisco transportation and allow myself to be carried to a new destination. I find myself daydreaming of my recent adventure across this beautiful country.

My mind retraces all the amazing and memorable moments and I wish that sometime soon I will again be on the road. Traveling is not only an adventure for me—it is a time to be free of the daily stress and daily uncertainty of what am I going to do with life? I feel that more often than not I am ‘boogled down’ by uncertainty; I am driven by the need to endlessly search for a tangible answer. However, traveling makes me feel as though this answer is right in front of me, as if this answer is unimportant, a mere speck of what is truly out there. When I travel, this mere speck is just a weightless distraction left behind.

As I was nearing the end of my trip across the country, I found myself at Seven Falls in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was enchanting. The color of the mountainside against the beautiful blue sky and forest green trees on my way towards the entrance, promised an unforgettable afternoon.

Entrance fee was $9.25, but well worth the hike and afternoon out of the car.

Seven Falls is located in the South Cheyenne Canyon. It received its title based upon the water that cascades from 181 feet in seven distinct steps. The water falls from the southern edge of Pikes Peak and allows for a picturesque, tranquil sight.

In addition to the waterfalls, Seven Falls has 2 hiking trails: Trail to Inspiration Point and Trail to Midnight Fall. The Trail to Inspiration Point is a mile long, intermediate hike that is the location of the original gravesite of Helen Hunt Jackson. Helen Hunt Jackson was a writer of the 1800s. She is best known for her interest in the mistreatment of American Indians by government agents. This hike was a great way to stretch my legs and breathe heavy as the hill sat in front of me. The sun was beautiful as it set upon the mountainside and the clouds swiftly moved across the evening sky.

Seven Falls is a gem of this country. It is a secluded area, with rushing water as its soundtrack. It is a great place to become in touch with nature and breathe in the amazing fresh air that this earth has to offer.

It makes my list for the top 10 places to visit in America. What’s on your list?


Third-hand captivity narratives

September 22, 2010 in American literature, Dark New England, involuntary travel, New England Travel, Weekend Getaways

When I read Katy’s post about LT’s Dark New England theme, I thought of centuries-old stories set in a wilderness that no longer exists, Hawthorne’s characters tempted by the devil in the woods.

Then, last weekend, on the drive to his late godfather’s place in Maine, my boyfriend me told a story that hit a little closer to home.  His mother had recently stumbled across an old family Bible in the attic.  Inscribed in it was the name of a distant great aunt who was accused of committing withcraft in Marlborough, Massachusetts in the early 1700s.

More interesting, though, was a letter folded in the Bible, recounting the experience of another Marlborough aunt.  She started in an idyllic domestic setting, singing in the kitchen as a pie baked in the oven and her sister’s children made God’s Eyes on the floor.

Then the tomahawks came out, the arrows flew through the air, and, in a few minutes time, everyone but the singing aunt was slain where they stood.  Enraptured by the beauty of her song, the invading tribe decided to take her as a captive instead.  They brought her back to Marlborough four years later.

I haven’t heard many more details — I do know that she married her fiance when she came back to town — but until I get them, I like to hope that the letter is a concise, Quaker variation on Mary Rowlandson’s The Soverignty and Goodness of God, with sheet music of the melodies she dreamt up on the frontier.

I scoured the internet, just in case, but I couldn’t find any such music, or even an operatic captivity narrative.  (His mother’s a writer and his grandmother was an opera singer; I thought they might appreciate the connection.)  No such luck, but I did find a blogger/musician who wrote a song inspired by Rowlandson’s experiences.  Listen at your own risk.


Travel Deals to Satisfy your Wandering Mind

August 18, 2010 in budget travel, lorraine hotel memphis, martin luther king, memphis tennessee travel, National Civil Rights Museum, Travel, travel deals

Day 10 of this road trip across the country and I find myself in the center of Memphis, Tennessee.  I spent over twelve hours in the car yesterday and drove through 5 states; it was liberating and quite astonishing.  I am sure I am not the first person to do such a thing, but I never really thought that I would travel that much in a twelve-hour period.

I am currently sitting beneath the balcony where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  The sun shines down upon me on a very different era of this nation; our African-American president, Barack Obama can attest to that.  He plainly demonstrates the advancement of Black Americans everywhere and the growth of our country as a whole.

I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis at the Lorraine Motel, the exact location where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.  Admission was $13 dollars and for an extra $2, I purchased the audio tour, which I highly recommend.  It clearly guided me through the museum and allowed me to stop or pause when I wanted to read further into what they were speaking about. The museum offered a great display of our nation’s struggles with civil equality.  Displays of segregation, the sit-ins, the riots, the protests, the lynchings, the KKK, the marches–all this and more was made visible, present.  Both the desire and willingness African-Americans had to fight for our country and the terrible reality of our history of oppression were prominent throughout the museum.  I was overwhelmingly impressed with this museum and am so happy that we asked Camille, a local, for her recommendations.

Before walking to the museum, we ate brunch at a local hotspot on the corner of Second Street and Union Ave: Cockados.  A quaint, welcoming restaurant that offers bottomless mud coffee and an amazingly decadent dish of bananas and peanut butter sandwiched between two French toast drizzled with maple syrup, whipped cream and blueberries.  Cockados is a great way to welcome yourself to Memphis.  This is also where I received the museum recommendation–as opposed to going to Graceland.  Clearly, we took their recommendations and are 100% happy with our choice.  I was very impressed with Memphis and had a great time there.  After the museum and before getting back into the car, we took a stroll down Beale street and sat outside with our large beers, live music and 7-year-old street performers.  Memphis was not only beautiful, it was also rich with history and culture.  But enough for today.  The road still stretches in front of us, so we head north… safe travels.


Travel Deals to Satisfy your Wandering Mind

August 8, 2010 in budget travel, smithsonian institute, Travel, travel deals, washington d.c. travel, Washington Monument

Now that I have begun my journey across the country and have my destinations planned, I find myself breathing easy and at peace with my choice to leave my home state. Maybe it is the rush and excitement of an amazing adventure coinciding with new discoveries and sites, but my happiness has almost entirely overwhelmed the feeling that there is something I’m missing.

Another two weeks of unknown routes, friends, new knowledge and self-discovery still lie ahead.  These weeks are sure to promise long days of driving, sunburns, fast food, hot weather, and many moments of being lost; I welcome even these inevitable inconveniences for the mere pleasure of learning about my country and myself.

Today’s discoveries took place in Washington, DC.  In all my 24 years, I had never been to DC and have never explored the ‘Mall.’  Today I had the opportunity to walk the long distance of the National Mall towards our Nation’s Capital, then back towards the Washington Monument, and over to visit Lincoln on his Memorial.  I popped in to see the Obama’s with hopes to play a quick game of basketball (actually I stood outside the gate like every other tourist and snapped pictures). I visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and later hit up the National Museum of American History where I had the chance to view the flag that inspired the Star-Spangeled Banner, our national anthem. Today was a full day of walking, sun burns, and almost endless amazement.  Although our country is young compared to other nations, I felt proud to be standing in front of all the sites that proclaim our heritage.

Traveling for over two weeks and moving across the country puts me in a position of unemployment and quickly very conscious of money. So, needless to say, I plan to travel in such a fashion that will leave me with funds to begin a new life, in a new state.

Today, I got a heavy dose of history, national sites, with the added perk of self-discovery – all for the price of $19.60. The museums were free and because I chose not to rent scooters or bicycles to get from one site to the other, it was an extremely inexpensive day. Of course, I could have spent more money (you can always spend more money) but if you want to explore for cheap, all you need to do is pack some water, a lunch, sunscreen and good walking shoes.

Tomorrow will bring a new destination with new discoveries.  It will also bring me one state closer to the eventual goal, so stay tuned for more tips, lessons, and stories from my trip.

Reading Mark Twain On A Summer Day

July 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Image via AmazonToday, in honor the holiday and the long weekend, I’ve decided to forgo Friday links and instead focus on one of my favorite American authors: Mark Twain.

For a lot of people, “summer reading” means one of two things. Either they’re referring to the mandatory “great books” assigned by High school English teachers or they’re talking about the light, “trashy,” less-than-literary novels commonly termed “beach reads.”  But when I hear the term “summer books,” I think about something else entirely.

For me, a summer book is one that I return to over and over, one that breathes heat out of its pages and soothes with its particular brand of fantasy.  These books feel carefree – reading a summer classic is about as satisfying as climbing a tree, or diving into a swimming hole.

My all-time favorite summer book is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, though Huck Finn comes in at a close second.  These novels perfectly capture the mischievousness of childhood, the excitement and the continual yearning for freedom.  They speak to a part of me that still sometimes secretly longs to run away from home and join a circus, or a band of traveling musicians, or just float lazily down a river, ignoring all of my other responsibilities.  With his sharp wit and ability to capture the local color perfectly, Twain transports me back to a different time, one that only appears simpler at first glance.

Another reason I love Twain has less to do with his characters and more to do with the setting.  Twain is an American Author.  He is quite possibly the quintessential American Author.  Not only does he write in that hilarious, rambling, biting-yet-kind voice that feels so American, he also manages to inject each of his novels all the beauty of our country while remaining authentic.  He does not sugar-coat his books; childhood is not a perfect place, free of tension.  Tom and Huck may not be aware of the great injustices of the world at the beginning of their journeys, but as they grow and progress, they come to see our world for what it really is.

This July 4th, do America proud and pick up a book by one of our many great authors.  If Twain isn’t your cup of tea, how about some Faulkner?  Or Melville?  (May I suggest Benito Cereno?)  Or, if you don’t have that much time, check out one of our articles on Mark Twain, which include A Revealing Interview with Terrell Dempsy, Author of Searching for Jim: Slavery in Sam Clemens’s World, Mark Twain in Unionville, Nevada, and Finding Mark Twain’s Hannibal.   You can also search for other American authors at

Happy reading!

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