Thursday, May 5, 2011

American Literary Tourism

Nearly three weeks ago now, in New Brunswick, I participated in an outstanding panel at the NeMLA annual conference on American Literary Tourism and its contemporary study. Jennifer Harris from Mount Allison University organized the panel and brought together myself, Jane Wood (Park University), Mara Scanlon (Mary Washington University), and Susan Bishop (All in One Tours) to talk about our research in literary tourism. While I spoke about Mark Twain’s birthplace and the likelihood that it, like many other birthplaces, is a fake or a “replica,” others talked about sites associated with Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Walt Whitman, and the rich history of early American literary guidebooks.

Jane Wood discussed the Cather and O’Connor sites, and their various eccentricities. Mara Scanlon told us about her amazing class on Whitman that she ran in conjunction with 5 other Whitman classes across the world (most at or near historic sites associated with periods in Whitman’s life), the partner-classes made use of the fabulous digital resources on Whitman made available through places like the Walt Whitman Archive, and sought out real places with which to connect with Whitman’s biography and work. Susan Bishop’s overview on the history of literary tourism guidebooks was amazing. Although I thought I had uncovered all the early American guides through my amateur searches of various library catalogs, Susan brought accounts and photographs of her collection of rare books dealing with travel to American literary sites—and she was generous enough to share her sources.

I organized a panel on a similar subject a few years ago at an American Studies Association conference in Philadelphia—and had a great cast of participants—Mary Jenkins—now retired administrator at the NSP’s Poe House, Anne Trubek—before her recent Skeptic’s Guide to Writers' Houses, Lawrence Buell, and Karen Sanchez-Eppler. Between this recent panel and the last, it seems like there’s more than enough interest in scholarship on literary sites and literary tourism to put together a well rounded and interdisciplinary collection on the subject.

If you are interested or intrigued, please visit the Call for Papers for this collection here.

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