As early as this August, Boston could become the first American city with a Literary Cultural District. The area, which would run roughly from the Boston Public Library in Copley Square through the Boston Public Garden and Beacon Hill to what was once the Globe Corner Bookstore, got an intial nod last September. That’s when the Massachusetts Cultural Council awarded a group of nonprofit organizations led by GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers, a planning grant of $42,500.
The idea for a literary district grew out of a conversation between GrubStreet executive director Eve Bridburg and MCC head Anita Walker when the former bemoaned the fact that even though there is a lot happening culturally in Boston, you don’t often hear about the writers. The goal is to provide a series of walks through Boston’s literary history, while supporting writers and publishers working today. It’s also about including all the literary efforts in the city under one umbrella. “We’re thinking about branding the work that everybody is doing so that there’s one place to look for the literary arts,” says Bridburg, who plans to create a website to go with the district. “There’s a lot going on [in Boston] and everybody’s working in their own little silos.”
“[The Literary Cultural District] is a way to celebrate all that’s going on now, and to attract literary visitors to Boston,” adds Michael R. Colford, director of Library Services at the Boston Public Library, which has been an active partner in creating the district. “We’re really excited that Huntington Avenue [behind the library] is the Avenue of the Arts. We like being at the juncture for these two districts.”
For Colford, Boston’s rich literary history also provides the biggest challenge for the group—determining the sites. Currently there are more than 70, including the BPL, which is planning to create a permanent marker for the district in its Johnson Building as part of its renovation.
Some Historic Sites in the Proposed District
Founded in 1807, the Boston Athenaeum is one of the oldest independent libraries in the U.S.
Members of the Saturday Club, which included Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, and Holmes, met at what is now the Omni Parker House. Almost a century later Malcolm X worked at the hotel restaurant as a busboy and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh as a baker.
Pinckney Street formed a literary row with the childhood home of Henry David Thoreau at #4, Louisa May Alcott at #20, and Nathaniel Hawthorne at #54.
The Old Corner Bookstore was the original site of the publishing company Ticknor & Fields, founded in 1832, which published Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emerson, Longfellow, and Thoreau. The Atlantic Monthly also got its start there in 1857.
The Public Garden’s “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture, created by Nancy Schön in 1987 as a tribute to Robert McCloskey’s Caldecott medal-winning book, is a popular photo op.
The Brattle Book Shop, founded in 1825, is one of the oldest and largest antiquarian bookstores in the country. Next door is the home of Elizabeth Peabody, likely the first woman book publisher in the U.S. Miss Birdseye in Henry James’s The Bostonians is based on her.
The Boston Cooking School became famous following the 1896 publication of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, which is still in print today.
Poe Square will be the site of a new sculpture, “Poe Returning to Boston,” to be installed this fall in honor of native son Edgar Allan Poe.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt headquarters continue to remain in Boston.
The Boston Public Library, established in 1848, is one of the oldest and largest publicly supported municipal libraries in the U.S. The Khalil Gibran Memorial faces the library, which is where he wrote and illustrated The Prophet.