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Literary Traveler to Bring Writers’ Journeys to Television

May 4, 2013 in American Authors, American literature, announcements, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Literary News, Travel, Travel to New York City

Literary Traveler is excited to announce that we are turning our much-loved website into a series for television. We are passionate about the stories we tell, of authors’ lives and the places that inspire them.

Literary Traveler, the series, will be a new thirty-minute program that follows in the footsteps of classic and modern writers, to explore the inspiring places connected to literature’s most popular and acclaimed works, and to make meaning of the lives, struggles and triumphs of famous authors.

These unique stories are presented by visiting places important to the writer, and by taking unique journeys related to that writer’s life, revealing their experiences and inspirations. Each episode will include interviews with experts, popular writers and academic scholars on the writers profiled. We’ll highlight what the journey and places meant for each writer and discuss how viewers can visit locations featured in the program. We’ll also stop to explore interesting places along the way, immersing ourselves in the culture of a particular time and place, as we traverse the challenges the writers faced on their varied paths to success.

Currently we are producing a pilot episode.  We will go in search of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. An iconic novel of the Jazz Age, with settings that range from Louisville, to Long Island, to NYC, we believe that Gatsby provides the perfect entry point for our literary series.

In order to get this venture off the ground, we are taking the project to Kickstarter and asking our fellow literary travelers to help us finance this project. We are excited to launch our Kickstarter project this May, coincidentally corresponding with Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of Fitzgerald’s classic. We want to take a deeper look behind this work and others, and at the places and experiences that contribute to each author’s journey.

Stay tuned for more on our Kickstarter and Literary Traveler, the series. Please join our mailing list to stay apprised of updates. And, as always, thank you for your support!


Behind the Article: A Further Look at Sir Philip Sidney, Penshurst Place and the Study of the English Renaissance

August 3, 2012 in Behind The Article, English Renaissance, Travel to England

Take a glance ‘behind the article’ as Literary Traveler  speaks with Ann-Maureen Owens, author of our July 16th article, “Rediscovering Sir Philip Sidney at Penshurst Place.”  After reading about Shakespeare’s brilliant and yet largely unexamined contemporary, we couldn’t wait to dig a little deeper into the writer’s history, his family home and what accounts for his absence from academia.

Literary Traveler:  How did you first become interested in Sidney?  What drew you to him?

Ann-Maureen Owens: As an undergraduate in the late 70s, I was introduced to Sidney as a man of action: diplomat, politician, and soldier, maybe even a spy!  He had planned to accompany Francis Drake on an adventurous expedition to America when Elizabeth I required his services in Europe. He was also a patron of other writers and had a finely tuned artistic sense and eloquent writing style but wrote for himself, his family and friends. He packed all this into a short life, Only two of his poems were published before he died, gallantly, at age 32, but he was so well regarded in literary circles so as to be considered “a poet’s poet” and the posthumously published Arcadia, An Apology for Poetry and Astrophel and Stella were held in high regard.

I considered Sidney to be an exciting figure of the English Renaissance, but as the title of my article suggests, I had not paid particular attention to him – Shakespeare dominates our idea of that period now – until a country walk outside London brought me to Penshurst Place.

LT:  What do you think accounts for Sidney’s absence from the majority of college curriculums?

AO:  There are many writers and works vying for inclusion in the current undergraduate curriculum and it may well come down to the preferences of professors or their need to attract students in the postmodern era. My son, Kevin, just completed an English degree that, except for a few foundation courses, concentrated on works of the last two centuries. Another son, David, certainly did not meet Sidney on his English survey course in college.

LT:  If you had to suggest one of his works for an undergraduate English Renaissance literature class, which would you choose?  Tell us a little about your choice.

AO:  The sonnet cycle, Astrophel and Stella, is my favorite and it is perhaps the most accessible to younger readers. It is an unfulfilled love story about the one that got away, modeled on Sidney’s own experience. It show’s Astrophel’s discovery of what it is like to fall in love with the immediacy of the present tense, and previews the dramatic speech of the Elizabethan stage.

LT: Penshurst Place seems like an incredible site to experience first hand.  Do you think reading Sidney prior to touring the property enhances the experience?

AO:  It is a beautiful place with extensive grounds, well-tended gardens and an amazing house that anyone can enjoy in many different ways. However, it certainly helps to appreciate the history of the writer’s home, which is still owned by the Sidney family, if one is familiar with the man and his work.

LT:  Besides Penshurst Place, do you have any off the beaten path suggestions for literary travelers visiting the London area?

AO:  I have written another piece that is to be published by Literary Traveler about Down House in the village of Downe, Kent, where Charles Darwin wrote most of his scientific books. It is within the London circular M25 and buses run from South Bromley rail station.

I can also recommend the recently refurbished William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, North-east London. Once the childhood home of this writer and artist, it is situated in the grounds of Lloyd Park and can be reached by way of the Victoria Line on the London Underground.

LT:  You are an author of non-fiction children’s books about Canada.  Do you have any books in the works right now?

AO:  Besides a children’s picture book that is currently under consideration by a British publisher, I am working on two at the moment. One is a biography of Frances Ann Hopkins, whose paintings of fur-trading voyageurs are so iconic and the other is about bird science, co-authored with my wildlife biologist son, Luke.

LT:  Would you ever consider writing about Renaissance England?

AO:  Yes, I would, as it was a fascinating time in England, a place close to my heart where I lived for three years and continue to visit my eldest son, Brian, his wife, Abby, and my granddaughter, Ivy.

The Tudors were on the throne, politics revolved around exploration and sea power, and then there were the writers: Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne and Ben Jonson – who wrote an “Ode to Penshurst Place” – as well as Sidney. Quite a gold mine for a writer interested in history and literature!

LT:  So, on the subject of the chivalrous knights and courtly love, is chivalry dead?

AO:  Not dead just transformed to reflect the realities of our current age. Now it means being kind and courteous to anyone, whether there is a romantic interest involved or not. Romantically, it can be practiced by men and women, and works best as a two-way street. Chivalry occurs when we reject self-centeredness to put another’s comfort and wishes ahead of our own, showing appreciation when someone treats us in this way.

LT:  Beautifully stated. I agree that there is far more to the concept than having doors held open.  Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.  I know that our Literary Traveler  readers look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Winter Getaways for the Spending Savvy Literary Traveler

February 8, 2012 in Travel, travel deals, Winter Travel

There is nothing that does the trick quite like experiencing the chill of January in New England to inspire the desire to travel someplace sunny and inviting. For the budget conscious literary traveler, however, a tropical vacation isn’t always a viable option.  Internet savvy travelers are no doubt familiar with websites like Expedia and Travelocity, which have long been vital resources in trip planning.  Now, with the rapid rise of flash sale websites there are even more options for affordable travel.  For those not yet familiar with the ingenious phenomenon of flash sale websites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, among many others, there is no better way to get acquainted than to jump right in with their websites or iPhone applications.  Once on the site you can choose your location and are immediately offered a plethora of discounts on everything from dinners at local restaurants to services provided by nearby spas.  The only catch being that the deals are only available for a limited time and in limited quantities.

While Groupon has been around in its current form since 2008, it wasn’t until this past summer that the sight known for its huge discounts teamed up with Expedia to provide affordable travel options in the form of travel experiences pre-packaged and available for a limited time at a discounted price. With Groupon’s “Getaways with Expedia” and LivingSocial’s “Escapes” there is no excuse not to break the monotony of the winter months with a new experience and possibly a warmer climate.

The mission statement of Living Social is one any literary traveler can relate to.  According to the website, “our mission is to add surprise to every calendar. So we dig deep, pursuing both the things that define a place and the undiscovered jewels.”  As someone who caught the travel bug long ago, there is nothing better than perusing vacation possibilities as easily as browsing titles at a book store. With Groupon and Living Social you can explore affordable options handpicked by the websites with the budget conscious consumer in mind.  As an additional bonus, most packages come with added perks.  Purchase Groupon’s “Castle & Manor Tour” and not only will you spend six nights in Ireland, but the trip is prearranged to give you two nights in an authentic castle and four nights in a boutique hotel, allowing for a variety of new experiences.

Not looking to leave the country, or even perhaps the state?  There are always options for weekend jaunts to nearby accommodations you may not have ever known existed.  After entering “Boston” as my location on LivingSocial, I am offered a remarkable amount of cozy two night stays at a variety of bed and breakfasts in Massachusetts and surrounding states.  From an outing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, complete with a voucher for dinner and a complimentary bottle of wine, to a weekend at a quaint Cape Cod inn including a discount on spa services and daily breakfast, the options are vast and each uniquely appealing.

One can also appreciate their homage to the literary traveler in particular.  Describing a picturesque cottage, LivingSocial whimsically digresses that “Henry David Thoreau may have never found a companion that was as… companionable as solitude, but we’ve uncovered an Escape with which you’re sure to get along famously in a setting just as intimate.”  Ultimately, even if you are unable to travel further than your living room couch, perusing the various trips is its own little escape, allowing a break from the dropping temperature with the possibility of exploring an idyllic locale without breaking the bank.


Red Eye: My Weakness for A Week in the Airport

October 11, 2010 in New release, transportation, Travel, Travel Writers

via storem's flickr streamWhen I read, in some travel blog or another, that Amsterdam has one of the most comfortable airports in the world — couches for napping during layovers, 2 Euro showers, stands selling Belgian waffles and peanut-butter-dipped fries — I stopped worrying about finding a hostel over Halloween weekend.  In fact, I wondered why people bothered to book hostels.  Some fellow literary nerds squeed over the possibility of staying overnight in Paris’s Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.  Despite the intensity of my Beauty-and-the-Beast-inspired library fantasies, dozing in a transportation hub took a close second.

So I was disappointed by the metal seats, the florescent lights, the loudspeaker announcements every five minutes, and, after 4:00 a.m., the airport guards who explained that, if I continued to occupy more than one seat, I could be charged with vagrancy.  In my youthful folly (ah, to be 19 again), I’d missed a crucial detail: the perks of air travel were limited to ticketholders.

This experience hasn’t diminished my dreams of airport occupation, though.  When there’s a weather emergency, or when I watch Independence Day for the millionth time, I remember Jeff, who confessed, during an Agnostic Club meeting in college, that he went to airports on Thanksgiving to people-watch, to imagine himself in their families, their communities.

Everyone traveling by airplane is in a state of transition in the terminal, separated from most of their possessions, acquaintances, and surroundings.  Unless they’re hiding out in the Red Carpet Club, they’re subject to the same sterilized, scrutinized, Starbucks-packed otherworld that I am.

Alain de Botton, a French philosophy student gone culture critic, knows what I’m talking about.  He chronicles the week he spent in London’s Heathrow Airport in his creatively-titled A Week At The Airport.  As the airport’s Writer-in-Residence, he had unfettered access to air traffic control towers, baggage handlers, and, yes, the first-class lounge.  Critics are calling it an essay collection, a meditation on a non-place.

I’m calling it the cheapest route to an extensive stay in one of my favorite places.

Literature From the Lab: An Intellectual Friendship in California

October 2, 2010 in American literature, California Travel, John Steinbeck

Photograph by Victor WalshTrue to the saying, great minds often do think alike.  They also share, borrow, and sometimes steal from one another. Picasso once said that “bad artists copy, great artists steal.”  I don’t if this statement still holds water (or if it ever did, really), but he did get one thing right: the best ideas should be shared.

This may explain why so many intellectuals are drawn to one another.  It’s not necessarily because they have a lot in common (other than shockingly high IQs) or because they can’t communicate with the general population (though sometimes this is also true).  Even the most brilliant minds need to be fed in order to grow and the best food is foreign thought.

At least, this is how I make sense of certain intellectual friendships, like that of John Steinbeck and the famed biologist Edward F. Ricketts.  Though their genius was in very different fields–Steinbeck in literature, and Ricketts in science–their relationship helped both men grow and learn.  In the cramped walls of Ricketts’ lab in Monterey, California, they bounced ideas back and forth, traded inspiration, and opened new channels of thought.

In our most recent feature article, writer Victor Walsh travels to Monterey to see Ricketts’ lab, which has been left basically as it was at the time of his death in 1948.  Still filled with specimens and Ricketts’ personal belongings, the lab stands testimony to a great intellectual friendship–and the work of a great scientist.

Take a moment out of your busy weekend to read about Walsh’s visit to Cannery Row and learn a little more about the life of one of America’s greatest writers with our piece A Meeting of Minds: John Steinbeck and Edward F. Ricketts at the Lab in Monterey. And if you want to learn more about Steinbeck’s biography, please take a look at any of our other great articles on the Of Mice and Men author.

Happy reading.

Announcement: Literary Traveler Goes Dark For October

September 16, 2010 in American literature, announcements, Dark New England, New England Travel

In the rich literary tradition of Photo via Matt Trostle's Flickr StreamAmerica, tales of the supernatural have always occupied a special place. Stories of the fantastic and the unreal have not only entered our imaginations, tainting the way we think about the very ground below us, but also the cannon of great literature. From Washington Irving to Edgar Allan Poe, we have always celebrated the authors that have the power to make our skin crawl and our nights restless.

This fall, Literary Traveler will feature a new theme for our feature articles: Dark New England. As the days lengthen, and All Hallows Eve approaches, we will be publishing several articles that center around some of America’s best horror writers, including Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe. We will also highlight one of our favorite underrated writers: Shirley Jackson, author of The Lottery fame.

Join us as we journey to Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts in search of what makes New England so uniquely suited to images of ghosts and specters, stories of hauntings and awakenings.


Culture shock 3: the line

August 24, 2010 in culture boundaries, culture shock

I just shared a positive anecdote about surrender in a culture shock situation, but it can also be a liability.  A traveler has to be willing to push boundaries, to grin and bear the uncomfortable situation.  However, especially during the early phases of adaptation, this flexibility makes her vulnerable, too.

The subtle culture shocks – tremors, as I called them – can define a culture in contrast.  You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.  And sometimes “it” is something as minor as a healthy selection of peanut butter.

Likewise, a person can be defined in contrast – you are marked by your limits, notable for what you do not do.  Let’s add a moral element to the food, and say that a vegetarian may identify as someone who does not bloody their mouth with the inhumane slaughter of animals.  But what if the vegetarian’s host family slaughters a goat in celebration of her arrival?  If she ate it, it would be a sign of respect to the family, and certainly reflects a willingness to push her boundaries.  But at what point does she violate her own beliefs?  And, if they are constantly in negotiation, how will she know?

I tended to know when the line is crossed – rampant sexism always gets my goat – but I had trouble knowing when to keep that goat as a pet, or when to slaughter it in public (I think this feeling of disgust means the metaphor is officially exhausted).

My question is:  How and when did you learn to set boundaries when you were traveling?  Which of your convictions – culturally transmitted, personal, religious, etc. – are nonnegotiable, and how do you react appropriately in situations where they are threatened?  Where, and how, do you draw the line?

Edith Wharton's Morocco: A Literary Trip Through Fez

May 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photograph from FreeDigitalPhotos.netIn high school, my favorite teacher, Miss Reynolds, once told our class that F. Scott Fitzgerald was famous for writing “the perfect sentence.”  I knew immediately what she meant.  While some authors are masters of the paragraph, and others shine most strongly with a single phrase, Fitzgerald’s majesty lay between two periods.  He has the rare ability to capture an image – or a feeling – completely within these bounds of punctuation.  Unlike Hemingway, Fitzgerald’s writing tends more towards prolix than terse, yet it is possible to get a real feel for his writing by reading just one of his immaculately-crafted sentences.

I have always felt that Edith Wharton came from the F. Scott Fitzgerald school of writing.  Like Fitzgerald, Wharton uses words to the utmost advantage; she does not let the reader guess at her meaning, but rather paints with phrases, colors and tints our view with her writing.  She has the ability to transport a reader back in time, to the Age of Innocence, or move us through place, to the winding streets of Morocco.

In our newest feature article, writer Inka Piegsa-Quischotte travels through Fez, searching not only for the Morocco of Wharton’s description, but also for a house. She is looking to purchase a mini-palace; a burrow of tiny bedrooms and storage spaces that she can call home.  Like me, Piegsa-Quischotte has been seduced by Wharton’s perfect sentences and her ability to conjure up an entire world through a single phrase.  Clip-clopping on the back of a mule through the covered alleys and tented streets, Piegsa-Quischotte can’t help but remember the poetry of Wharton’s language, and the aptness of her descriptions.

This week, join us in Morocco, where we ride on colorful saddles and smell the many scents of Fez in Pink Saddles & Djellabas, Edith Wharton’s Fez In Morocco. Allow yourself to be guided by Piegsa-Quischotte and her new-found friends as they work their way through a foreign land, searching for beauty and something far more lasting: a room of one’s own.

The Chimera: Traveling To Turkey, Searching For Orpheus

April 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo by Stephanie MelmedSpring has sprung, and with it, my wanderlust has returned.  Not satisfied with the budding beauty of the Cambridge spring, I have begun to look abroad for inspiration.  Itching for summer, I wonder what the air feels like in Greece, Turkey, or Morocco.  I realize I’m impatient, but all the subtle greenery makes me crave is the heat of summer and the rush of hot air.

There is something about natural beauty that seems to always ask for more – more heat, more greatness, more overpowering beauty.  The Romantics wrote of the sublime – the overwhelming appreciation of a natural phenomenon, tinged with awe and fear.  This is the experience many of us seek through travel, although we do not always find something so humbling.

Our newest feature article, by freelance writer Vanessa H. Larson, takes us to Cirali, a small town in Mediterranean Turkey.   Larson is seeking the Chimera, a self-replenishing burning rock that has spawned many myths and inspired countless writers.  However, Larson is interested in one novelist in particular: Nazli Eray.  In 1983, Eray published Orpheus, a surrealistic retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  Larson walks through the August night to rock formation, searching for a place to locate Eray, and in the process, she rediscovers her own sense of awe and wonderment.

I, too, have recently found myself staring at rocks, looking for answers.  Just last weekend I visited Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, Massachusetts, for the first time.  Reading about the Chimera, I am reminded of this incredible natural formation – the violent, rocky gash that opens out of the earth.  While I can’t offer forth any great epiphany, I can say this: whether you are able to travel far, or only have the time for a local jaunt, there is always the opportunity to be wowed by nature.

Join us this week in celebrating the intersections between mythology and landscape (and wishing for summer’s heat) by reading The Chimera, A Mystical Journey of Nazli Eray’s Orpheus.

The Legend, And Letters, Of Mariana Alcoforado

April 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photograph by Francisco Almeida DiasWe’ve entered an era where much of our correspondence occurs over e-mail and cellphones; we are not without words, but our words are generally without object.  The things we write to one and other are disembodied, floating on screens, written with light rather than ink.  While the modern methods of communication have allowed for some wonderful things – our thoughts have never been able to travel so freely, and so quickly, across oceans and continents – I still occasionally mourn the loss of the most old-fashioned form of transmission: the letter.

A handwritten letter is a truly beautiful thing.  It bares the mark of the writer in a way that no text message ever possibly can.  It also contains a permanence, a strength of sorts, that allows us to feel as though the abstract concepts put into writing are real, tangible and forever ours.

Perhaps this can help explain why the Portuguese have not given up their fascination with Mariana Alcoforado, a nun who supposedly conducted a passionate, clandestine affair with a French soldier, which she documented in a series of letters.  The letters show the arching trajectory of her love, from passion to eventual heartbreak.  However, some literary historians doubt the veracity of the romantic tale, and suspect that Mariana was not the true author of the moving documents.

Looking for the truth, writer Andrea Calabretta journeys to Portugal.  She visits Beja, the city where Mariana supposedly spent her days pining for her faithless soldier, to learn a little something about the mystery of the nun.  Join Calabretta in her search by checking out Literary Traveler’s newest feature article, Letters of a Portuguese Nun: A Literary Mystery in Beja.  You might learn a little something about literature – or at the very least, be inspired to put pen to paper and create something truly lasting.

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