16 October 2009

Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States: An Introduction

This is the beginning of a description of a month-long literary trek through certain Southern states: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina. We began from Atlanta, Georgia, by hiring a car for four weeks with the express purpose of visiting as many literary landmarks as possible: these might be museums of writers famous or obscure, a private house once lived in by an author (which we could obviously only photograph from the sidewalk), or merely a marker erected by the state or by an interested organization that remembered a particular author. I went with my partner Penny who declined to drive – in fact who occasionally expressed horror at some of the urban interstates, and who even shuns motorway driving in England.

In all we covered over 4000 miles with no mishaps, usually just staying one night at a hotel before moving on to the next literary stopping place. I'd recommend such a journey to anyone with the stamina, particularly to my very more conservatively-minded compatriots in the UK. OK, this wasn't the first time I'd driven in the States, but it sure was the longest driving journey I've ever made anywhere, and we loved almost every minute of it: taking the wrong interstate exit can be a bummer, and we very frequently got lost, but the anxiety caused by such situations is much lessened when you know that you have lots of time to get on track again.

I'd sorted out a rough itinerary before we went, but unfortunately it wasn't until we were well into the second half of our tour that I bought a very useful book from a shop in South Carolina selling remaindered books: Traveling Literary America: A Complete Guide to Literary Landmarks by B. J. Welborn.

We hadn't been aware of Maria Howard Weeden, Huntsville, Alabama, or the Helen Keller birthplace museum in Tuscumbia, or Thomas Hughes's Rugby, Tennessee utopia. We had no more time to visit any of these places, and I particularly regret missing Rugby, where there are still more than twenty Victorian buildings, and where the restored schoolhouse is now a visitor centre.

Back on the plane headed for Manchester, England, a few days ago, we heard the first English voices we'd heard in four weeks. I can't fully express our horror: we've come back to a country that is in many ways foreign to us. OK, we can now cross the road on foot, but that's a very small concession when we're confronted with a culture that now seems so very alien: England's cramped, there's little breathing space, many people don't respect our history or our culture in general, and there's an all-round lack of neighborliness.

Take me back, please.


Snatch51 said...

I have to concur with Dr Shaw here: I have lived in the United States, and driven many miles there also, before during and after that time...and what I can tell you is that depite some obvious problems, (a high percentage of uninsured drivers for example, any one of whom could spoil your day), the overall courtesy of US motorists is strikingly in advance of what can be experienced in the UK, especially in the Weybridge area where the drivers are greedy, selfish, pig-ignorant and should mostly be put in the stocks.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

I heartily agree, snatch51. (My initial comment was a little unscholarly!)

Dylan Mitchell said...

"In America, everyone is your friend." Quentin Crisp

Yet the poor man died in England...

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Nice one Dylan!