Today Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. Every year I listen for the name – and often quickly forget it. Attaining such recognition seems so foreign to me that it barely registers in my mind. It’s just another piece of news and affirmation that literature still matters.
But did you also know that The New The New York Public Library is recreating Charles Dickens’ library of fake books. and Patti Smith visited the Brontë parsonage and Sylvia Plath’s grave. Now these may not be life changing events, but they do show that writers, and their related items and places, continue to engage people in tangible spaces. There is a life of reading and writing that goes beyond the covers of a given book.
Both of these news bits came from a website I recently discovered – Writers’ Houses. As you will see, this site contains archives descriptions of a number of writers homes along with a weekly update on upcoming events or other connections to these houses. It’s a virtual place to gather with others who continue to find importance in visiting these homes and other literary sites.
This could be dangerous for me. Reading the list from two weeks ago I’m ready to go to Manorbier House, a Welch haunt of Virginia Woolf’s, that is still used as a writers’ retreat or find a way to live in one of the castles in the UK used for movies and television shows. Who knows where I will be drawn to go over the next weeks as I return to the site. Some of the ventures will be doable, others not so much. But merely reading about the opportunities and getting a glimpse of the actual lives lived by these authors have inspired me to sit at the keyboard once again and get to writing.
In my research on literary pilgrimages to writers houses, I have found that such journeys don’t only or even primarily draw people to follow in the steps of the authors, mimicking their styles and attempting to recreate what had been. Such visits also encourage people to step into their own life, and possibly writing, journeys on a more engaged level. There’s something about knowing that it’s been done before in a given place, with all its attendant difficulties, that makes writing or even another activity seem possible.
Now I may or may not purchase Mo Yan’s latest writings in which he merges “folk tales, history and the contemporary” with hallucinatory realism. But I do know that I will return to a writer’s house soon to explore the places and surroundings that inspired them. But even before that time, I will make my own journey into the practice of literature – both reading and writing in the places that surround me today.