In his recording of his venture to “journey into literary America ” via six of its greatest writers and their regions of the country, Michael Pearson investigates “how place informs our understanding of who we are.”3 Place, in context of the imagined, seems a strange entity to seek. How and why should we go about doing so? What can the visiting of a literary place do for sightseers? And what, after all, constitutes a literary landmark?
WHAT IS A LITERARY LANDMARK?
For the purposes of this website, a literary landmark is a site recognized by the commonwealth as having contributed in some way to the establishment or development of Virginia's writing heritage and history. Writings that do so include some important governmental documents such as the Declaration of Independence, written by Albemarle resident Thomas Jefferson, and the Constitution of the United States, whose “Father” often is credited to being James Madison of Orange County. It is easy to discern why a tourist might want to see where the men who authored such documents lived or labored: They are seeking a connection to words central to the creation of the United States. They might hope to understand from what origins came such writers of those central documents. Landmarks such as Monticello and Montpelier, the later homes of these statesmen, can be designated literary because their owners contributed in significant written ways to the idea that became America. Other literary landmarks in the commonwealth concern men and women whose writing falls in the more traditional vein of creative or research-based writing. Through the Historical Highway Markers program and Landmarks Register, Virginia lays claim to authors ranging from Boston-born Edgar Allan Poe to Ohioan Sherwood Anderson and even England's own Charles Dickens.
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT LITERARY LANDMARKS?
Bill Morgan, in his Literary Landmarks of New York, asserts the importance of establishing “a record of what literary landmarks are here now and should be appreciated while we still have them to enjoy,” further claiming that “being able to point to a house and say that Mark Twain lived here or Dylan Thomas died here, or Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road here, is not merely a luxury in a city like New York; it is a necessity. It shows today's poets and writers that these people were human, that they lived the same kinds of lives that we live, and that they are cherished by the city in which they did live."4 This site aims to explore what Virginia has to offer in this vein by explaining what goes into getting a site a historical highway marker or spot on the Landmarks Register, giving landmark descriptions and, in some cases, critical evaluations, as well as providing an interactive map laying out the sites in visual geographical form.