A Literary Guide to Washington, D.C.: Walking in the Footsteps of American Writers


>>Let’s get right
to the business of why we’re really here, what
you see here, Kim Roberts. She is the author of “A Literary
Guide to Washington, DC: Walking in the Footsteps
of American Writers” from Francis Scott Key to Zora
Neale Hurston and we are– and usually having books in
the back for sale and there’s at the– we’re being
offered a reduced rate. And of course since we’re the
Library of Congress it’s also, you know, [inaudible],
so that’s always nice. So you guys have got
very [inaudible] entity. And we also– After the
talk we will have a display. But she is the author of this
book and five books of poems, most recently “The
Scientific Method”, “WordTech Editions” from 2017. She co-edits the
“Beltway Poetry Quarterly” and the web exhibit,
DC Writers’ Homes. Roberts has been the
recipient of grants from the National
Endowment of the Humanities and the DC Commission for the
Arts and has been a writer in residence at 18
different artist colonies. Poems of hers have been featured in the Wick Poetry Center’s
Traveling Stanzas project on the Academy of American
Poets Poem a Day Project and on podcast sponsored
by the Library of Congress and the National
Endowment for the Arts. I also will say that she– I
had a little bit of a preview of this because when the
SHARP 2011 Conference came to Washington, DC, we
often have excursions and I had Kim do a tour
of the [inaudible] Carter and the African-American
literary culture here that was very well received, and
we had many people attend that. And also, both Sabrina
and I, I don’t think– But I know Kim from
graduate school, University of Maryland, too. So let’s welcome Kim
Roberts and [inaudible]. [ Applause ]>>Kim Roberts: Thank
you so much. It’s an honor to be able to
speak before you and thank you, Eleanor, and also in
her absence thank you to Sabrina for organizing this. So my book tells the story
of Washington, DC’s writers from the founding
of the city in 1800 to just the beginnings
of modernism. I stop around 1930. It combines four
neighborhood walking tours with brief portraits of
individual writers of note. Some of these writers
will be familiar to any well read American but many will I hope
be new discoveries. I decided to focus on the city’s
early history because I thought that those were the stories
that were less well known, they certainly were
to me initially. I’ve organized the book into
five chapters corresponding to five, sometimes
overlapping time periods that marked the eras
of the most [inaudible] in the city’s early
literary communities. Chapter 1 has no walking tour but all the other chapters
combine a tour with portraits. The book also serves as
an anthology with poems and prose excerpts from
each featured author. So I thought I’d focus
today on eight writers from the book starting
with the author of our country’s
national anthem. A lawyer and DC’s
former district attorney, Francis Scott Key was
a hobbyist writer. His only remembered poem was
published originally as the “Defence of Fort
M’Henry” and Key wrote it after witnessing the bombing of
Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the war of 1812. Ironically, when it was set to
music, it was set to the tune of a then popular British
drinking song called “To Anacreon In Heaven”. In addition to occasional poems
that were collected into a book that was published 14
years after his death, Key published a nonfiction
book, the power of literature and its connection
with religion. Key lived in two
locations in DC, the Maples at 619
D Street Northwest on Capitol Hill still stands,
although it’s been broken up into multiple
condominium units. Another property that it’s shown
on this slide was once located on M Street in Georgetown. It was made into a museum
celebrating the author but it was torn down when
Key Bridge was constructed. However, across the street from that house location
there’s now a park with a bust of the author. In addition to the bridge
and the little park, Key Elementary School, part
of the DC public school system and Key Halls at George
Washington University and the University of Maryland at College Park are
named for him. Key also owned a country estate,
the farm where he was born, Terra Rubra, named for
the red clay of its soil in Carroll County, Maryland,
a property that was added to the National Register
of Historic Places in 1978 and is privately owned. Key owned slaves, most of
whom worked at this farm but during his lifetime he was
actually considered a racial humanitarian who pursued
dozens of legal cases to secure the freedom
of enslaved families. Although he freed seven of his
slaves during his lifetime, Key still owned eight enslaved
people at the time of his death. Believing that people of African
descent could never become full citizens, Key was the co-founder of the American Colonization
Society, which promoted the
settlement of freeborn and formerly enslaved
people in Africa. Frederick Douglass, renowned
for his influential memoirs and essays was known as an
eloquent and charismatic orator. His memoirs include “A
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an
American Slave” published in 1845, “My Bondage and My
Freedom” 1855, and “The Life and Times of Frederick
Douglass” 1881 revised in 1892. Douglass moved to DC in 1872. He served as DC’s
recorder of deeds and later as consul general to Haiti. He is remembered with a bridge
across the Anacostia River named in his honor and a statue
of Douglass represents DC in National Statuary
Hall in the US Capitol. Some of you may remember
we had to fight long and hard to get our statue in. Every state is represented
by two statues in National Statuary Hall. We finally got one. But it is a lovely one,
Frederick Douglass. Douglass’ house in
Anacostia is now preserved by the National Park Service. It contains his original
furniture and books. And in the rear, the National
Park Service has recreated his windowless stone studio, which
Douglass called the growlery. If you haven’t been there,
I highly recommend the tour. 2018 is the 200th
anniversary of Douglass’ birth and the Park Service is
honoring him throughout the year with a series of special events. Walt Whitman lived in DC for
10 years, from 1863 to 1873. He’s the author of the
masterpiece “Leaves of Grass”, a volume of poems he reedited
and republished numerous times between 1855 and 1891,
as well as “Drum Taps” which we actually have
a rare first edition of on display here,
published in 1865, “Memoranda During the
War” and “Specimen Days”. None of his boarding house
residences in DC still stand. I went through his
correspondence which of course is
all held here. The Library of Congress
has the best collection of items relating to
Whitman and the world. And I was able to find seven
different boarding houses where he rented rooms in the
10 years that he lived here, but they were all in
the old part of the city and they are now all the sites
of high-rise office buildings. But he is still remembered
in the city in other ways. A bust of him graces
the front desk of the manuscript reading room
here at the Library of Congress and his words are included in
several public art projects, at two metro stations,
Dupont Circle and Archives Navy Memorial, at Washington Reagan
National Airport and in the paving
stones at Freedom Plaza. In addition, a two block stretch of F Street Northwest has
been given the honorary name of Walt Whitman Way. Whitman volunteered as a
nurse visiting patients in over 50 temporary
war hospitals set up across the city. Two months after arriving in
DC, Whitman wrote in a letter to his brother Jeff
about why he stayed. I cannot give up
my hospitals yet. I never before had my
feelings so thoroughly and so far permanently
absorbed to the very roots as by these huge swarms of
dear wounded, sick, dying boys. I get very much attached
to some of them and many of them have come to depend
on seeing me and having me sit by them for a few minutes
as if for their lives. Long after the end of the
civil war, indeed for the rest of his life, Whitman continued
to write and publish poetry and prose on the war’s
impact on American identity. Whitman even claimed
that “Leaves of Grass” could not
have been written without his wartime experiences
despite the fact the three earlier editions had
been published prior to his moving to Washington. For him, the civil war
and how the nation reacted to it were more revealing and more ennobling
than any other time. Of the years he spent
in DC, Whitman concluded that I consider them
the greatest privilege and satisfaction with all
their feverish excitements and physical deprivations
and of lamentable sights and of course the most
profound lesson of my life. Paul Laurence Dunbar was the
first African-American poet to become nationally known
and celebrated by both readers of color and of mainstream
white audience. His books of poems include “Oak
and Ivy”, “Majors and Minors”, “Lyrics of a Lowly Life”,
“Poems of Cabin and Field”, “When Malindy Sings” and
“Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow”. His works of fiction
include “The Uncalled”, “Folks from Dixie”,
“The Strength of Gideon” and “The Sport of the Gods”. He also wrote the lyrics
for “In the Homie”, the first musical written
and performed entirely by African-Americans
to appear on Broadway. Dunbar moved to Washington,
DC in 1897 to take a job as an assistant librarian. Where? Here, of course, at
the Library of Congress. He hated the job and he left
it after less than a year. In 1898, he married another
writer, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and they lived with Paul’s
mother in two locations in the LeDroit Park
neighborhood of DC. One of those houses, a row house at 1934 Fourth Street
Northwest still stands. It’s not marked with a historic
plaque or recognized in any way. I always wonder if the current
residents have any idea that two such eminent American writers
once lived in their house. In 1900, diagnosed with
tuberculosis and alcoholic, he left the area to try
to regain his health. He returned to DC
briefly then Dunbar moved to his mother’s home in
Dayton, Ohio where he died in 1906 at the age of 33. He’s remembered locally with a DC public high
school named in his honor. Alice Dunbar-Nelson is
the author of “Violets and Other Tales” and “The
Goodness of St. Rocque”. She edited “Masterpieces
of Negro Eloquence” and the “Dunbar Speaker
and Entertainer”. Dunbar-Nelson was
a regular columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier
and the Washington Eagle and co-editor of the AME Review. She also served as
Mid-Atlantic field organizer for women’s suffrage,
a representative for the women’s committee
on the council of defense and was a popular speaker
to a wide range of groups. She helped to establish
the industrial school for colored girls in
Marshallton, Delaware. The Dunbar marriage
was not a happy one. Dunbar was physically abusive
and the pair separated in 1902 and Dunbar died four
years later. Dunbar-Nelson subsequently
moved to Maryland and Delaware. She married two more times but always retained her eminent
first husband’s last time as it helped her
to get publishing and speaking engagements. She also depended
on royalty checks which she split with
Dunbar’s mother. Her third marriage
to Robert J. Nelson, a journalist, was her happiest. Mark Twain lived in DC in 1867
working briefly as secretary to Senator William
Morris Stewart of Nevada. He lived in a boarding
house favored by journalists where he terrorized his
landlady Virginia Wells. According to Senator Stewart
who also lived at that address, he would lurch around the halls
pretending to be intoxicated. He would burn the light
in his bedroom all night. Pretty soon, he took to smoking
cigars in bed and ruined all of her sheets with burn holes. Twain finished the
manuscript of his book “The Innocence Abroad”
while living in DC. His experiences in DC directly
inspired his next novel, “The Gilded Age”, a satire
of the city’s political and social life, co-written
with Charles Dudley Warner. His label for the post-civil
war period has stuck. It describes the economic
growth, widening divide between the rich and poor
and political corruption that are hallmarks of that era. Sinclair Lewis, famous for his
novels about small town life in the Midwest did his most
productive writing during the period he lived in
Washington, DC. Seems like he needed to leave
the Midwest in order to be able to write about the Midwest. He wrote his classic books
“Main Street”, “Babbitt” and “Arrowsmith” while
living in the capital and two of the homes he rented
still stand. The first American writer to win
the Noble Prize for Literature in 1930, Lewis wrote
23 novels as well as plays and short fiction. His other novels include
“Elmer Gantry” and “Dodsworth”. We have “Dodsworth” on display
here, both adapted into movies, as well as “It Can’t Happen
Here”, “King’s Blood Royal” and the posthumous
“World So Wide”. H.L. Mencken characterized
him as a red haired tornado from the Minnesota Wilds. “Main Street” sold an
estimated two million copies within the first few years after
publication and made Lewis rich. Biographer Mark Schorer states
it was the most sensational event in 20th century
American publishing history. The printers could not keep up
with orders and publishers had for a while to ration out
copies to book sellers. Langston Hughes lived
in Washington, DC for a very short time,
one year and four months. During that time, he was
depressed and unsettled, yet it was an extremely
important time in the poet’s early development. While residing in DC, Hughes
won his first poetry competition and gave his first
public poetry readings. He got a contract for
his first book of poems from Alfred A. Knopf
in New York, finished that book
manuscript and published “The Weary Blues”
in February 1926. He also wrote most of the poems that would appear
in his second book. He developed friendships
with prominent writers and intellectuals such as Alain
Locke and Carl Van Vechten and also with numerous
younger writers, and some of those
friendships he would keep for the rest of his life. His experience in
Washington was also crucial to Hughes for another reason. It solidified and
deepened his commitment to the African-American
working class, which would influence
his writing for the rest of his life. Hughes’ use of vernacular
English and the rhythm of the blues widely
influenced modernism and the course of
American letters. Two of his residences
still stand, a private home at 1749 S Street Northwest,
again, not marked with a plaque. No one would know. And that’s where he lived
one winter with his mother and his stepbrother Kit in 1925 in two unheated rooms
on the second floor. They had a movable heater
which they took turns moving from one room to the next. And also the 12th Street YMCA, now the third Thurgood Marshall
Center for Service and Heritage at 1816 12th Street Northwest
where Hughes briefly lived in a tiny single occupancy
room on the third floor. If you go to the Thurgood
Marshall Center, you can– if it’s during a weekday,
you can ring the doorbell and they will let you in. They’ve got displays
in the lobby of the first floor recreating
what the lobby would have looked like during Hughes’ time. And on the second floor,
they’ve recreated one of the single occupancy rooms and they actually very sweetly
put in a manual typewriter. So I think they are trying to say this is what Langston
Hughes’ room could have looked like. But it’s worth a trip if you’re
in the U Street neighborhood. Like Langston Hughes,
Duke Ellington and so many other artists of
the Harlem renaissance period, Zora Neale Hurston
began her career in DC. She attended Howard University
from 1919 through 1924, earning an associates degree
and embracing campus life. She joined a sorority, the
campus theater group and wrote for the campus literary
journal, “The Stylus”, where she published
her first short story. While a full time student at
Howard, Hurston also held jobs as a manicurist and waitress. Hurston owned only one dress
when she first arrived in DC but soon earned enough to enter into the city’s elite
African-American circles. She was a regular at the
Saturday nighters salon in the home of Georgia
Douglas Johnson and developed friendships with
other writers and scholars that would last the
rest of her life. After DC, she moved to New
York where she earned a degree in anthropology from
Barnard College in 1927. That same year, she was awarded
a grant from the Association for the Study of Negro life
and history based in DC to do anthropological
work in Florida, which led to the publication of
her second book, “Mules and Men” in 1935, as well as the
recent posthumous publication of “Barracoon” earlier
this year. That was also done on
that same research grant. Neither of her former DC
homes is marked with a plaque. We’re getting a theme here. I do think that DC
needs to do a better job of claiming our fantastic
rich literary history. You can find all of these
writers and more in my book. I’m really pleased with
how the book came out. The University of Virginia Press
did a gorgeous job with the maps and combining historic
photographs, many of them from the collections of
the Library of Congress with contemporary photographs
taken by a local writer and visual artist Dan Vera. And I can take questions. I do hope that you
will want to take some of the walking tours
yourself, do some exploration.>>Do you have a podcast
of the walking tour?>>Kim Roberts: I do not. I do not. We talked about
that at the press at one point and that never– Yeah. That did– did not happen. Anyway, thank you for
your kind attention. [ Applause ]>>Let’s see. We have questions. Yeah, John.>>John: First of all, thank you
for this and also when I found out that you were going
to speak, I went online and [inaudible] the
DC private houses and way of by experience of– [ Inaudible ]>>Kim Roberts: Thank you. Thank you. For those of you who are
interested in DC Writers’ Homes, that’s a website that I
co-curate with Dan Vera, the same guy who
I just mentioned. We are documenting where in
the city writers have lived from the city’s founding to
the present with the caveat that the writers have to be dead
but the houses have to be alive. We’re not doing any site of
on that particular website. And we have a short bios
of each of the writers and then contemporary photos
of what their homes look like. And again, it’s part of this
effort to try and get us to acknowledge all
of these layers of history that we live among. So you can look up
by neighborhood and different locations
in the city. You can find out what
famous writers, you know, lived in your neighborhood. So, thank you for
mentioning that. [ Inaudible ] Oh, I love the London
system of the blue plaques.>>Yeah.>>Kim Roberts: Yeah. So the answer is no. Every jurisdiction
is a little different in how they handle
historic plaques. In DC the law is that it– the request must come
from the homeowner. And that would mean that
homeowners would have to actually know the history
of who lived in their houses and care about it and
care about it enough to go through a fairly elaborate
process of requesting that kind of recognition. Having said that
however, there are ways that we could help homeowners
do that more efficiently and, you know, it would
be great to have a– You know, cultural
tourism has signs of now– there are many more
certainly been– I moved to the city a
little over 30 years ago and there was nothing
at that point. So now we’re doing a
slightly better job. And certainly there are more
people, average Washingtonians who are aware that–
the Harlem renaissance for example is a horrible
name for a literary movement because it implies it
only happened in New York but it actually happened in
several cities simultaneously and you could argue that
it actually started in DC. So that’s a name that was given
much later to that movement. So we’re beginning
to do a little better but it’s slow work and,
boy, it would be so helpful if we had something like
that system in London. I’m so jealous of
that system in London. I don’t know if anyone here has
been to London and just walked around neighborhoods, but you
know, those signs are everywhere and they’re fascinating and
it’s very easy also to their– it’s connected to a
website, you can–>>Suzanne.>>Suzanne: I’m just going
to follow up and then ask if you have approached people
in DC government to see if you could get these plaques.>>Kim Roberts: I have not. I have talked with the
Humanities Council of Washington about the possibility of
someone spearheading an effort but not much has come of it.>>But I do know that– I
think DC is becoming more– the cultural institutions
are becoming more aware of what has gone on in the city because even the
National Gallery of Art is now recognizing
the Washington Color School–>>Kim Roberts: Right.>>– which there were never any of those paintings prior
to the [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Yeah, I know. You’re absolutely right. Yeah, it’s– I think that it’s
because we’re so overshadowed by the federal government
that there’s this idea that nothing else
happens here and in a way that gives the arts
an underdog status that has had some positive
effects because writers– artists of all kinds
tend to band together and support one another and
there’s an incredibly gracious, generous, literary
community here in DC. That’s unusual for other
city, comparable cities. But in many ways it really works
to our detriment, you know. But we’re still just seen as– it’s like a company
town [inaudible].>>I was going to ask,
what is the London system? Is it done by the
city government? You said it’s one [inaudible]. Is it done by some
government person in London?>>Kim Roberts: I don’t know
the answer to that question. I will go look it up
after we finished.>>[Inaudible] the
London systems. The London system, what
is the London system that you said is [inaudible]?>>Kim Roberts: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I’m not sure who
administers that but it’s–>>It’s from the city. It’s from the city
of London, yeah.>>Kim Roberts: Right, yes. Yes. And anywhere you go in London you will see
these blue plaques.>>And they kind of [inaudible]
to put the plaque on the door. And you know that–
in respect to the– of the owner what they like.>>Kim Roberts: That
I don’t know. I would have to look
into it more.>>Sometimes I think just this– it’s just one case
it’s [inaudible]. The house that she died in,
it reaches to [inaudible]. I don’t think it’s not
true anymore but there used to be a sign there, approved
sign they have the owners, go away. Leave us alone. So that if this is the–
this is sometime ago. I think they have actually
come to some [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Well, I
have a couple of the–>>Sometimes owners
don’t want that.>>Kim Roberts: Right.>>It’s understandable
when [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Right. So I have a couple of
funny stories about that. So, Dan Vera and I were
out documenting a few– photo documenting a few houses
and we went to the house of the very first US poet
laureate, Joseph Auslander and we– and took a few picture. Well, Dan took a few pictures. The owner came out and
asked us what we were doing. And, you know, of course you
can stand on the sidewalk and take a picture of a house. You don’t have to ask
permission but we, you know, explained what was going on,
said something about, you know, who this writer was
who lived in the house and the homeowner said,
“Oh, we don’t want to be included in that. We don’t want tourists to
come up knocking on our door.” And Dan and I just– and we
could hardly keep in the– our glee as we were imagining
like Auslander groupies. No. We assured him it was not
ever, ever going to happen. But we have had other
people who, you know, for example we were
photographing the childhood home of Philip K. Dick and the
homeowner’s grandson came out and he had never heard of the
author until we mentioned some of the movies that had
been made from his books and then he got extremely
excited and pull– ran in, got his grandmother,
pulled her out to talk– you know, so you know,
that goes both ways. But I will say that what I
consider the most important extant site of the Harlem
renaissance era is a private home that was owned by Georgia
Douglas Johnson on S Street, so near the historic
U Street neighborhood. It’s at S and 15. And I have led a Harlem
renaissance walking tour or versions of a Harlem
renaissance walking tour for, I don’t know, a decade
or two now. And so I always would stop
in front of that house. And one of the former owners,
every time I would come out with a group of–
who were taking a tour, they would make a big point
of shutting their blinds. They hated that they
were living in a house that was so recognized. But they sold the house. They moved away and the new
owners have embraced it. So, you know, I take
pleasure in the fact that Georgia Douglas Johnson
will outlast any modern owner of the house.>>Don. [ Inaudible ] Thank you.>>Don: Just this idea of
tracking down all the places where Walt Whitman
lived is [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: It’s
amazing to me that no one has done
this before me. It– so with the Whitman
research, I will tell you that the biggest help
to me was going back to the correspondence
he had with his mother.>>Yeah.>>Kim Roberts: Because
who else do you write to about how the boarding
house lady treats you and your bed is lumpy and
if the food is good or, you know, et cetera. So those letters were just
a treasure trove for me. However, before 1870,
none of the addresses in DC were regularized. So what I mean by that
is as houses were built, they were just numbered
as they went along. It wasn’t until 1870
that they decided that– so for example if you live
in the 300 block of L Street, then you know that you go to
L Street between 3rd and 4th. That didn’t have that
regularized system, didn’t happen until 1870. So, every address in the city
prior to 1870 had to be changed. And– So the hardest thing–>>Yes.>>Kim Roberts: — for me
was translating the earlier addresses into the
current addresses.>>Were there– were the city
directories of [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Yes, so the
1870 city directory gave very elaborate instructions on how
to translate addresses in each– There were different
parts of the city where it was done
slightly differently. So it gave these elaborate– But I had to go back to
the based real estate maps and actually look at
plats to make sure. So, that was tedious.>>Well, a more general approach
is– and when– for your period, would you say that there is– was a literary poetry
of Washington and how would you define
that and if there wasn’t such a thing, why
it wasn’t there.>>Kim Roberts: Yeah. So yes, the answer is yes. But part of the weirdness
of our city is that prior to the civil war there
was a small group of year round residents and
then there was this huge group of people who came just
for the winter season when Congress is in session. And so there was this sort of
seasonal literary community that swelled and then there
was this modest, you know, sort of small town
older group of citizens. So that really affected
literary culture quite a bit in the city’s early days. You know, it’s harder to
build community with people who are only here
part of the year. So, that was one thing that
sort of kept things very small. And initially DC didn’t have
the– it didn’t have theaters and bookstores and, you
know, the types of places where a literary
community might gather. So it really wasn’t
until after the civil war that we became a
city of any size. And that’s when things
really started to change.>>What were the markers of
the literary [inaudible]?>>Kim Roberts: Well, I would
say the main markers were places where writers could gather. So that would be the rise
of salons in people’s homes. That would be certainly
the rise of institutions such as Howard University,
the American Negro Academy. You know it’s at– but
the institutions are– help build community. Certainly there were a lot
of writers in the early days of the literary community
who were journalists, as well as creative writers. So a big part of sort
of a meeting house for writers would
have been the– what was called newspaper row.>>There were towns and bars.>>Kim Roberts: There
were, yeah. Actually for the
journalists in the early days, a lot of them were hanging
out in bars in the block where the National
Theater is today. Those were favored
by journalists. It’s where the gin rickey
was first developed that’s– well, one of our– one
of our claims to fame is that what was made up here
and, you know, that the bar at the Willard Hotel
was another place. Yeah, so. [ Inaudible ] The National Press Club
came, yeah, much later. I don’t– I don’t know the exact
date but interestingly part of what was then called
newspaper row is now the site of that building, the
National Press Club.>>Which is all male
[inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Right,
of course.>>We have a question
at the back. Go ahead [inaudible].>>I have two questions, one– I think British [inaudible]
Washington, DC was the discovery that Francis Scott Fitzgerald
[inaudible] were very, you know, [inaudible]. And so I’m just wondering, are there any things
literary people buried in DC?>>Kim Roberts: Oh yeah.>>And secondly, can you
talk about Henry Adams?>>Kim Roberts: Oh, sure. Yeah. So the reason that
the Fitzgeralds were here is because it was his family
that had lived here. Yes, his family had lived here
so they were actually married in DC in his parents’ house
or his grandparents’ house. So they had family
connections here. And then you know of
course their daughter, Scottie, settled in DC. So, weirdly it was just
a family connection but they didn’t live here. They never lived here. But there are some other sort
of surprising burials here where writers wanted
to be in the capital, in the sort of center
of, you know, but didn’t necessarily have
a connection to the city. What is the name of the
writer who wrote the poem “Home Sweet Home” which
became a famous lyric? [ Inaudible ] Yes, right. Is he never lived in the city
but he wanted his remains to be. You know, so there
is examples of that which is sort of fascinating. I don’t really understand
the appeal but at that, you know, OK. And then your second question
was about Henry Adams. So Henry Adams, he lived in DC
after he retired from teaching at a– He was a history teacher
at Harvard and the editor of the North American review. And he had come to DC
of course as a child and visited his grandparents
and his great grandparents and, you know, he had– He was part
of this big political dynasty. So he knew if he moved here,
he would have cache right away. And he lived in a couple of different residences
in Lafayette Square. The last house, the
one that he had built for himself is now the site
of the Hay-Adams Hotel. And that’s why it’s
called the Hay-Adams Hotel. It was the site of his house
and his best friend’s house, John Hay, who was another writer
but is famously known as one of the two personal
secretaries to Abraham Lincoln. Later became Secretary
of State under a couple of different presidents. I’m getting sort of way
late here but the only house of Henry Adams is– that still
stands is a place that he– his father rented
for one winter. His father was a
senator and he served as his father’s personal
secretary and it’s now the Arts
Club of Washington. So that that’s the one place. And of course he’s buried
here in Rock Creek Cemetery under a monument that is
probably the most important piece of funerary art
in the entire nation. If you have not made the
field trip to go see it, I– it’s part of the Henry Adams
tour in my book but I just– I think it’s stunning. It’s worth seeing. And you know, Henry Adams was
such a snob, you know, he– there is absolutely no way that I would have been
acceptable to him as a person. He– not just because
I’m a woman but also because I’m Jewish. He hated Jews, very
anti-Semitic. And yet, his writing is just– I mean what an exquisite
prose stylist. He’s so worth reading and
you know he’s dead now. We don’t have to deal with what
a nasty human being he was. But his books, especially “The
Education of Henry Adams”, his memoir and “Democracy”, I
feel like everyone should read. And “Democracy” is fun. It’s a fun read.>>Thank you.>>Kim Roberts: Thanks. Thanks for asking.>>John.>>John: This is [inaudible] to
go back to the previous section about [inaudible] but talking about literary cultures
in Washington.>>Kim Roberts: Yeah.>>John: It seems to me, and this is partly [inaudible]
numerous appearances on the web, there it makes two and
second [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Oh, yeah,
yeah, there’s cultures. Right.>>John: And I’m struck by
the fact that from [inaudible] to civil war on into the 1950s, there’s a very small continuous
African-American intellectual and cultural tradition in Washington Center
throughout the [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Right. So start– yeah. Starting in– during the
civil war the city was a draw for intellectuals of
color and that continued through reconstruction
and long afterwards. And this is one of the
things that I really– I wish this story
were better known and we did a better
job of claiming. When you compare us to New York,
this city was more affordable and so the neighborhoods in
the middle of the city, Shaw, Pleasant Plains, LeDroit Park. Those mid-city neighborhoods
were places where people of color could afford
to own not just rent. And that made a middle
class lifestyle here in DC more attainable than any
other major city in the US, plus the education
that was offered here. So I don’t know if
you’re familiar with M Street High School. It’s the forerunner to
today’s Dunbar High. But it was not just
the top high school in DC during segregated public
schooling, it was the top school for students of color
in the entire nation. And there were many
families who moved to DC just for the opportunity to send
their children to that school. Plus of course we had
Howard University. Partly because of
the strange story of how slaves were freed
first in DC before the rest of the nation, the African-American
intellectual community felt like people of color had gotten
a head start here in the city and that we needed to
be a national model. Plus, you know, there were good
paying prestigious jobs here especially in the
federal government that people of color could get. There were, you know–
this was– I will say during the
Harlem renaissance period, a lot of writers and artists who
started here moved to New York but a lot stayed and in
general, the people who moved to New York tended to be the
men and the people who stayed in DC tended to be the women who were the major
writers of that period.>>I know Helen has
[inaudible] this one. I’m going to add one little
thing just tying to that knot because I’m also
thinking even before– I’m thinking antebellum
period, I’m thinking of Elizabeth McHenry’s
work for [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Oh,
it’s a great book.>>And she’s not looking
Washington really quick. A lot of her research
from the African-American, that book centers on [inaudible]
literacy and Baltimore and DC figures the kind
[inaudible] foundations of what happens. And I’m so sorry I’m packing all
because I wanted [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: Well, and I
will say that’s one of the books that I referenced in my
own book and she writes about the salon– oh, good. OK. She wrote about
the salon in the home of Georgia Douglas Johnson. Yeah, she did great research.>>My question is if–
could you tell us more of Frances Hodgson Burnett? I’ve read a couple of her novels
and the novels actually tells about salon life and that
she herself had [inaudible]. If you could tell us about–>>Kim Roberts: Sure.>>– what was her relationship,
because she lived here?>>Kim Roberts: She did. She– so she’s now
mostly remembered for her children’s
literature, “The Secret Garden”, “Little Lord Fauntleroy”
but she started out as a novelist for adults. And during her lifetime that’s
what she was best known for. And she set a couple
of her novels in DC and of course I’ve read them. They’re fun in a
sort of dated way– [ Inaudible ] I didn’t know that.>>Yes. It’s a– I
cannot remember the name but it’s a very good one. And actually like a [inaudible]. And it’s got, well,
the same [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: I
need to look for this.>>Right. Right. And it’s hard to be [inaudible]. And I know she would take–>>Kim Roberts: Yes. So she lived, she–>>She’s interesting woman.>>Kim Roberts: She is. She was a very interesting
woman. So she lived in a house
on Massachusetts Avenue, right in the Dupont
Circle neighborhood. It unfortunately
no longer stands. And she was immediately
upon moving to DC– She moved here because her
first husband was a physician and started to practice
in the city. And she immediately made
a sensation, you know, making sure that she
knew everyone who was– anyone in the white upper
class artistic circles that she was running in. And– but she divorced and
remarried I think two more times which is very scandalous
at that time. She also lost her son to
tuberculosis and she turned to forms of spiritualism to
try and deal with her grief. So she’s a complex– [ Inaudible ] OK. [ Inaudible ] Interesting.>>Because no one knows
about the Washington, DC. It’s more like it’s British.>>Kim Roberts: OK.>>You know, you
think that you– that she, that she was
kind of– kind [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: No.>>OK. So got novels in England
and it seems like [inaudible]. You might know of the silence. It was moving to
[inaudible], you know this–>>Kim Roberts: No.>>All right.>>Kim Roberts: No. I have to– clearly I
have to look further. OK. [Inaudible] Well,
one of the things that made DC literary culture
so open to women writers in particular was the fact
that we had so many newspapers, so many journals that
were published here. And they tended to publish
poetry, short fiction, short articles by women because
they were looking for content that was patriotic,
sentimental about, you know, family and romance and home
life or that was about nature. And those were all subjects that were considered
suitable for women writers. Your questions, you
guys are so good. What a joy it is to talk
with you about all of these.>>Well, I think the
relationship between place and literature is
very interesting and there are a lot of– and there was a lot of actually
university courses offered about the relationship between
place and space especially when it comes to the novels. I don’t think I’ve [inaudible]
specifically about DC.>>Kim Roberts: No. And this is what– yeah,
this is what surprised me. Because there are other cities,
for example San Francisco, Boston, Chicago have done–>>Philadelphia.>>Kim Roberts: Yeah,
Philadelphia. Have done really good jobs of,
you know, making a big deal about their– even Baltimore
does better than we do, so.>>Well, it is kind of
interesting because even in the 20– I’m thinking
of Edward Jones–>>Kim Roberts: Oh yeah.>>And Edward Jones’s
short stories too that all built around the metro. So I mean it’s obviously
pretty things in place. And even some of the
international writers that we have here, right?>>Kim Roberts: Right. Right.>>You think of someone who probably [inaudible]
his memories growing up on 16th Street and
then reading in the park and there was just such a rich,
you know, area that we’ve, you know, have think of,
you know, [inaudible] here at our website, there’s a
lot more at [inaudible].>>So there was a project
started a couple years ago by some librarians at the [inaudible] DC
followed by [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: DC By the Book.>>DC By the Books where they’re
having them on an [inaudible]. You can put by zip code
or neighborhood and– but they made it crowdsource. They made people that entered
the book send a couple sentences about it or a couple
sentences from the book. It’s a– it was really
interesting project but I don’t know–>>Kim Roberts: OK. So I was a consultant
on that project.>>Yeah.>>Kim Roberts: Yeah. And if you– it’s still up. It’s called DC By the Book. I think it’s dcbythebook.org. And it’s on the server
of DC Public Libraries.>>And you know like
that probably came out and I might be wrong. Don’t you think that came out
of John Coles set approval because he has literary
maps of all the states so he started the
center for the book? Why do you think that
probably DC would stay put. And so that’s what
Philadelphia– the Philadelphia Center for the
Book was not the same as Center for Book History
of the Penn State but it’s also based
off of Penn State. We had actually the author, a
scholar, and he was involved in that and come to speak
when we were [inaudible] because library was
closed to [inaudible]. Anyway, and that was
the first interactive but maybe you feel it wasn’t. You know, I mean it’s online
where the others are published in print and given out in
different public libraries for events and you know,
things like that by people who [inaudible] states.>>Kim Roberts: Right.>>And you’re absolutely
right that there are cities that are doing [inaudible]
DC, that’s an–>>Kim Roberts: I’m glad you
know about that project though because it’s been
sort of languishing.>>Yeah.>>I always thought
when I retired, I would sit around
and [inaudible].>>Kim Roberts: There’s also a
couple of DC literary historians who have started
adding Wikipedia pages in a much more concerted
effort as well. So there are these little
homegrown projects popping up here and there.>>There’s so many active
book clubs you will look– you would think of and the
library system should hook up with all the book club because that would be a great
resource of, you know, inputting and [inaudible], you know, knowledge because [inaudible]
I think so many in the city, it’s just unbelievable.>>Kim Roberts: We are a
highly educated reading city. I mean, yeah. It’s amazing.>>Are you working on
volume 2 in the [inaudible]?>>Kim Roberts: Everyone
always ask me this question. I have no plans to
do so at this point. I started looking into who
were the writers in this city and that history when I first
moved here 30 years ago. So of course I didn’t
know I was writing a book for a very long time
but the idea that I– it might take me another
30 years to write any sort of volume 2 is a little
daunting at this point. So I’m not making any claims.>>Do you know is it as rich?>>Kim Roberts: Oh
yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that the history
after the 1930s of DC includes the Howard Poets. This was also an
amazing flowering of the small press movement– the little press movement
in the 1960s and ’70s. There is an enormous
amount of vigor in the spoken word
community that, you know, DC is one of the places– most
people don’t realize for example that the very first
youth poetry slam team in the nation was
started here in DC. So you know there’s all kinds
of more modern movements that modern history that if
I don’t do it I hope other people will.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *