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Literary Pilgrimage: Asheville, North Carolina

Head to the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains to tour an important town for four major American writers.

Literary Pilgrimage: Asheville, North Carolina

Photo: mystuart (on and off) / Flickr

Asheville, North Carolina, may be a small, sleepy mountain town, but the hills are alive with literary significance. It played a major role in the lives of four legendary American authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Carl Sandburg, and O. Henry, making it the perfect weekend trip for bookworms.

Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, Asheville offers more than just bookish history: It attracts “leaf peepers” from all over the southeast. After a day of literary site tours and gawking at colorful foliage, take advantage of the plethora of independent used bookstores and breweries. Before you BYO book though, read on about the ties each author has to the town.


 

F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Grove Park Inn

Grove Park Inn

Photo: Courtesy of Omni Hotels & Resorts

Fitzgerald had originally fallen in love with Asheville for its fresh mountain air, but by the time he transferred his wife, Zelda, there for psychiatric care, he also had become a shadow of his former self. His extravagant lifestyle in the 20s had left him with massive debts, and his health was failing.

While visiting Zelda at the hospital, Fitzgerald would book two suites at the nearby Grove Park Inn, a beautiful hotel built in 1913, known for its stunning views of the mountains. Rhiannon Leifheit Tyndell, at The Southerly, points out that it’s interesting (and sad) that Fitzgerald chose to book the rooms without the gorgeous view.

Fitzgerald died of a massive heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44, and Zelda perished eight years later, when the mental hospital in Asheville burned to the ground. For the Fitzgeralds, Asheville represents the tragic end to their gilded marriage—some even say the Grove Park Inn is haunted by their ghosts.

Fans and history buffs will be delighted to know that you can in fact stay in the same two rooms where Fitzgerald slept—though they are no longer a package deal.

Thomas Wolfe Memorial Home

Thomas Wolfe home

Photo: Jim Bowen / Flickr

Thomas Wolfe, the author of Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again, was born and raised in Asheville, and much of the story of the novel (about a young man who grows up in a boarding house run by his mother) is autobiographical. You can actually tour Wolfe’s childhood home. As it turns out, in Asheville, you can go home again.

Carl Sandburg’s Connemara

Carl Sandburg's Bedroom

Photo: annszyp / Flickr

American poet (and biographer of Abraham Lincoln) Carl Sandburg wasn’t from Asheville, but he loved North Carolina so much he purchased a farmhouse in nearby Hendersonville in 1945. Sandburg and his wife called the property “Connemara” and raised beloved dairy goats, whose descendants still live on the land. The house is now protected by the National Parks Service, and tours are open to the public.

O. Henry at Riverside Cemetery

O. Henry's gravesite

Photo: -ted / Flickr

American short story writer O. Henry, like Carl Sandburg, fell in love with Asheville while growing up in nearby Greensboro. When the writer, who had been living in New York, fell ill, his wife took him back to Asheville, where he spent the last few months of his life. When he died, he was buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. Fans of the short story writer often leave $1.87 in pennies at his grave in honor of his famous short story, “The Gift of the Magi.”

From “The Gift of the Magi”:

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar 

Battery Place Book Exchange & Champagne Bar

Photo: Courtesy of Battery Place Book Exchange

The only thing better than a fabulous bookstore in a great town is a fabulous bookstore in a great town that is also a champagne bar. Welcome to the Battery Park Book Exchange, potentially the best bookstore in the world. Located in Downtown Asheville, this bookstore sells new, books, art, and rare books, and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

Food and Drink Recommendations

Brunch: Tupelo Honey Cafe (Be prepared for a long wait, but the delicious Southern fare is worth it.)

Dinner: Cúrate (Spanish tapas. Incredible food and fantastic gin and tonics.)

Breweries: Asheville has many. (Tip: Try the Wicked Weed.)

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