Literary tourism in Gainesville, Florida

(Originally printed on Wednesday, September 30, in the opinions section of the Independent Florida Alligator)

Recently, I read an old article by Laura C. Mallonee in “The Paris Review” titled “Some Realms I Owned: Elizabeth Bishop in Manhattan.”

The article was one of the most haunting and intriguing reads I’d stumbled upon in a while. It was introspective and powerful, an individual’s account of that strange, personal and little discussed reason for traveling: literary tourism.

Mallonee traveled to 13 addresses in New York City that Bishop had once occupied, for however short or long a time. Her reason for this careful and time-consuming project — many of the addresses were tucked away, difficult to find or not in the best condition for visiting — was simply to be in the same space Bishop had once been in, breathe the same air and search for any trace remnants of self and creative mastery that might have been overlooked by the countless other persons who had since lived in those apartments.

Literary tourism is a funny old thing. It’s not the same as going to see a national monument. While it’s true that there are some writers whose birthplace is treated like a well-known-touristy trap, such as Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, most literary destinations are special and preserved because of a small number of fans who cherish those somewhat-embarrassing hopes that perhaps one day they will be able to glimpse into their favorite writer’s mind, unveiling his or her own unique creative process.

Gainesville, believe it or not, is pretty heavily steeped in literary tourism, although not all of it is author based. If you want to find the only straight-up feminist bookstore in Florida, look no further than Wild Iris, at 22 SE 5th Ave. No matter what you think about feminism, the store’s tireless devotion to its cause and singular existence in the Sunshine State makes it worth a visit.

If you’ve never read “The Yearling,” you should go do so right now and learn that the author of this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, lived only 30 minutes east of Gainesville, and her 72-acre farm has been made into a historic state park open to visitors every day.

When I tell anyone remotely connected to the writing world that one day I will publish a novel, the advice is always the same: That sounds nice, honey, but first you must sit down and write it.

It’s that frustrating point of creating, the process of writing, rewriting and writing again, that has long fascinated the fans of both well-known and obscure writers. How do they think like that? What makes a story happen? Where did it come from?

By visiting sites of literary tourism, such as the apartment home or frequented cafe of a favorite author, we seek to know how this concept bloomed into something more…

Click here to continue reading…

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