Take 5: Literary Capitals of the Deep South

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Take 5: Literary Capitals of the Deep South

There are few places as blessed with the art of storytelling as the Deep South. Throughout generations, there’s been Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. And while those tomes vary vastly, each author shares a profound fondness for this beloved region.

From the streets of Savannah to the ancient alleyways of New Orleans, book lovers will find another world within the borders of the southern states of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. A world where Atticus Finch and antebellum homes are only the beginnings of a tour through the literary capitals of the Deep South.

Brent Taalur Ramsey is an American writer living in Paris.

1. Savannah, Georgia

You may know Savannah for its ornate antebellum homes, cobblestone streets and magnolia-filled parks, or even the Savannah Stopover Festival. However, as the home of Flannery O'Connor, John Berendt, Robert Louis Stevenson and Conrad Aiken (among others), it's also filled with countless literary destinations for you to discover. O'Connor's childhood home, for example, is now a historic house museum located at 207 East Charlton Street on Lafayette Square. The historic The Pirate's House tavern and restaurant, the inspiration behind the tavern of the same name in Stevenson's Treasure Island, hosts the Savannah Community Theatre every Saturday night and most Friday and Sunday nights for a Murder Mystery Show. Or, if hauntings are more you thing, take a stroll to Conrad Aiken's childhood home at 228 East Oglethorpe Avenue—now supposedly one of the most haunted homes in America. Later, complete your literary tour with a nightcap at Club One, the nightclub made famous by drag-star The Lady Chablis, who was featured heavily in Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Photo courtesy of Pirate's House

2. Atlanta, Georgia

A few hours away from Savannah, Margaret Mitchell wrote her bestselling novel Gone with the Wind to fully penned perfection in the Atlanta Apartment she (somewhat questionably) dubbed "The Dumb." The Peachtree Street flat where Mitchell once lived has since taken over the entire building as a museum in her honor. If you're still in a Wind-y mood after visiting her home, drop by the Georgia Terrace Hotel where Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh stayed for the film's premiere. Next, you might like to stop by The Wren's Nest, the Victorian West End former home of Br'er Rabbit author Joel Chandler Harris, for a bit of old-fashioned storytelling.

On the way to our next literary destination, be sure to stop off at the 544-acre Andalusia Farm owned by the family of short-story writer O'Connor. Situated about 90 miles outside of Atlanta, in the town of Milledgeville, this farm is where O'Connor lived and wrote until her early death at age 39. It's now open for self-guided tours—and don't you dare leave without seeing the peafowl aviary.
Photo courtesy of Margaret Mitchell House

3. Monroeville, Alabama

Visit Atticus and Scout Finch in the city of Monroeville. By far one of the most celebrated (and smallest) destinations on this list of literary capitals, this small Alabama town holds a rich roster of Southern writers—Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Mark Childress, to name a few.

A short walk from the Old Monroe County Courthouse is Mel's Dairy Dream on South Alabama Avenue—the best burger joint in town and where Harper Lee's childhood home once stood. A few steps over (where what is now only a pile of stones) lived her close childhood friend Capote, with his cousins, the Faulk family. While you're there, look behind where the house once stood and you'll see an overgrown empty lot, which you probably won't recognize as the setting for Capote's novel The Grass Harp.

Every spring, back at the courthouse, local thespians perform the play adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird, the second act of which takes place in the very courtroom that acted as a model to the film starring Gregory Peck. The Old Courthouse Museum is open year-round for you to drop by on your next trip to "Alabama's Literary Capital"—they'll probably even give you directions to the final resting place of Lee, now around the corner inside the cemetery of the First Methodist Church.
Photo by Mitzi Woodson

4. Oxford, Mississippi

One state over, in William Faulkner's hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, a visit to his former antebellum home Rowan Oak is an absolute must for any book-lover. Built in 1844, the grounds and property of the house are now owned by the University of Mississippi and can be found a short distance from a statue of Faulkner outside City Hall in downtown Oxford—a stones throw away from St. Peter's Cemetery, where the writer was laid to rest. On your walk, imagine the young "Bill," as he was known locally, parading the magnolia lined streets as a child in costume—a sight in military uniforms and an old Confederate cap. Perhaps during your visit to town you'll even run into one of the many ghosts of Rowan Oak that inspired the stories Faulkner told and retold his daughter, nieces and nephews.
Photo courtesy of Rowan Oak

5. New Orleans, Louisiana

No list of literary capitals would be complete without the mention of New Orleans. As the hometown of Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Anne Rice and countless others, this ancient city is a literary haven of the Deep South. Not only do you have the unique culture and food, but you also have the French Quarter, true antebellum architecture and Galatoire's, Tennessee Williams' favorite restaurant.

While in the French Quarter, take Pirate's Alley next to the St. Louis Cathedral and explore where Faulkner once lived and wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, above what is now Faulkner House Books. A few streets away, at 722 Toulouse Street, Williams spent his days penning A Streetcar Named Desire, among several others of his masterpieces. However, if it's gothic literature you're more interested in, jump over to 1239 First Street—the former home of the queen of vampire novels herself, Anne Rice.

With a city like this, no amount of time would ever be enough to see all the literary landmarks—and it can often feel like a whirlwind of scenes and sounds. But, with that said, you're not allowed to leave the state of Louisiana without taking a spin at the Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar—a favorite watering hole for writers Faulkner, Williams, Capote, Welty and so many others. Their iconic cocktail, the Sazerac, would be a perfect boozy finish to this long and winding trip through the literary capitals of the Deep South.
Photo courtesy of Faulker House Books