Monday, May 24, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: A Journey Through Literary America

A Journey Through Literary AmericaA Journey Through Literary America by Thomas R. Hummel, photography by Tamra L. Dempsey. Val De Grace Books, Napa, Calif., 2009.

This is a book I keep coming back to again and again.  Thomas R.Hummel and photographer Tamra Dempsey place twenty six American writers on the map, drawing portraits of their homes and lives and the landscape that shaped them. The writers are grouped  in seven, interesting, literary regions:   

Beginnings: (Washington Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper)  
New England: (Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Frost) 
Reeling Westward: (Willa Cather, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers)  
Not Forgotten: (William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe)  
Main Streets (Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson) 
The Inner Migration:   (Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, Rita Dove) 
Twentieth Century Excursions: (Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, John Updike, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, E. Annie Proulx, Richard Ford)
He draws on the writers' own words in his sketches of their lives.  Washington Irving describes the area known as Sleepy Hollow and poet Rita Dove pens a tribute to Akron's Goodyear zeppelin plant.

His words and  Dempsey's photographs light up this literary landscape. The Great Smoky Mountains in Asheville, NC stretch across two pages as a backdrop to the life of Thomas Wolfe.  The camera captures the Harlem brownstones of Langston Hughes as well as the frontier of James Fenimore Cooper. The featured photo of Flannery O'Connor's Andalusia is not of the house itself but of its porch with white rockers that appears in her story "The Enduring Chill."  Dempsey also captures the view,
through the screen, which O'Connor would have looked upon after being diagnosed with lupus.

The reader visits Carmel and Big Sur which figure in the writing life of Robinson Jeffers and Leadville Colorado's Main Street which was home to Wallace Stegner. We see interiors such as William Faulkner's study and Robert Frost's cabin in Vermont. 

The book itself is oversized enough to appreciate the full color photographs but not so tall (27 cm.)  that it does not fit in your lap.  You will not need a coffee table to enjoy it.  

The book serves as a resource to the places that formed some of America's best known writers. This is not a detailed field guide but it provides an armchair traveler with a virtual visit that might spur a real trip to Walden or Sleepy Hollow, Cannery Row or John Updike's Reading, Pennsylvannia.   Locales in the book can be found at the book's website, -- and specifically at

It would be an excellent addition to a high school library but please, do not restrict it to the Reference shelf.  This is a book that needs to be taken home where it can picked up again and again and enjoyed.  I am looking forward to sharing this book with my book group. 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I thought you might be interested in the upcoming John Updike Society Conference, Oct. 1-3, 2010, in Reading, Pa. The conference includes tours of sites - probably mentioned in this book - that are important to Updike's life and literature.

Sites include Updike's childhood home, the church where he was baptized, the family farm, his parents' grave site, and the Peanut Bar, where Updike frequently ate when he worked for his hometown paper, the Reading Eagle.

You can see more about the conference at the John Updike Society website,