Illustration by Emily Blevins
Illustrations by Emily Blevins
Bibliophiles can book a trip to these famous authors’ homes.
Tour the houses of Vladimir Nabokov, Jane Austen, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and other authors to see what inspired them to write their acclaimed books.
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If you’re the kind of literature superfan who’s wanted to walk among direct descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-toed cat, see the Nairobi farm that inspired Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, or view Vladimir Nabokov’s famous butterfly collection, you’re in luck. Many authors’ houses—whether they were raised there or lived there while writing one or more of their works—are open to the public and have become museums where travelers can get a look at who they were, how they lived, and what inspired them. Some locales are so inextricably linked with a book or author, like Langston Hughes and Harlem or Gabriel García Márquez and Colombia, that it’s impossible not to entertain passages from their books in your mind as you roam the streets. Rabid lit fans and those curious to see where talented minds lived should make sure to visit these 14 author homes across the globe.
American author John Steinbeck was born and raised in this Queen Anne–style house in Northern California, built in 1897. The Steinbeck family moved into it three years after its construction, and the future author of The Grapes of Wrath was born there in 1902. For the past 45 years, the home, now known as the John Steinbeck House, has been a restaurant that serves dishes with locally grown ingredients for daily lunch and Saturday tea. Guided tours are offered sporadically, so be sure to check the schedule. Also worth a visit is the National Steinbeck Center, a museum devoted to the author, that is two blocks away.
Pearl S. Buck was the daughter of West Virginia missionaries; she was a baby when her parents moved the family to China in 1892. In total, she spent 37 years in China: She was raised in the city of Zhenjiang, in Jiangsu province and lived there until leaving to attend college in Virginia in 1911. She returned with her husband to live at Nanjing University from 1919 to 1934. Today, lit lovers can visit two homes of Buck’s in China’s Jiangsu province. One is the Pearl S. Buck Former Residence, her childhood home in Zhenjiang, which was renovated and opened to the public in 1992.
The other is her home at the university, which opened to the public in 2012 as the Pearl S. Buck Memorial House. This home is where she completed the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Good Earth. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces.”
Harlem, New York
The I, Too Arts Collective leased the brownstone home of the famous Harlem Renaissance writer in 2016 and is currently working to preserve it while it operates its nonprofit organization out of the building. Currently, visitors can visit the parlor floor of the Langston Hughes House and see things like the Hughes’s piano and his typewriter. The organization also holds lectures, poetry and book readings, open mic nights, and other community programming, as well as collects donations for area homeless shelters.
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The father of magical realism spent his whole life in Colombia, living at various times in such cities as Cartagena, Mompox, and Baranquilla. But he was born in 1927 in a town about 150 miles east of Cartagena called Aracataca, where he grew up with his grandparents. Fans of his epic novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera will recognize the town as Macondo, the fictional place where these novels take place. Today, visitors to Casa Museo Gabriel García Márquez can step inside a faithful reconstruction of Gabo’s childhood home (the original was destroyed decades ago), where various scenes from his books were set.
In her 1937 book Out of Africa, Danish author Karen Blixen (who also wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen) chronicled her real-life story of living on a coffee farm in Kenya. In 1985, the book was turned into the Meryl Streep and Robert Redford movie classic of the same name, cementing Blixen’s fame. Until then, her actual house and farm in Nairobi had been serving as a College of Nutrition. But in 1986, the National Museums of Kenya opened Blixen’s old home to the public as the Karen Blixen Museum. It contains furnishings and personal objects that belonged to Blixen and her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, and visitors can take a guided tour and learn about the history of coffee in Kenya and get a peek into what rural colonial life was like in the early 1900s.
This charming English country cottage is where British writer Jane Austen wrote many of her novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the opening of Jane Austen’s House Museum, and various exhibitions and events, like intimate talks and tours with museum director Dr. Mary Guyatt, are taking place all year long, in addition to the usual guided walks and demonstrations.
Rocky Ridge Farm was the home of beloved Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter Rose. The family moved to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894, living in a one-room log cabin on the farm until their farmhouse was completed in 1913. In 1928, Rose built a new, modern house on the property for her parents, called the Rock House. Wilder wrote the Little House books by hand at both homes on the farm. Nowadays, about 30,000 people a year travel to tour the homes, see Wilder’s study and writing desk, and other personal effects that remain as they were left in 1957 when she died. Visitors can also stroll along the leafy Wilder Family Walking Trail, which connects the two houses. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum is open from March through November and hosts a variety of events, including a summer camp for kids and the annual Wilder Day celebration in September (held this year on September 21); the home reopens on December 7 for special Christmas festivities.
St. Petersburg, Russia
The author of Lolita was born in this house in 1899, and it features heavily in many of his works. Nabokov was forced to flee the country in 1919, and the house became the Vladimir Nabokov House Museum in 1998. While much had changed in the house since then, the museum recreated the dining room and library and it displays a large collection of memorabilia, including part of Nabokov’s famous butterfly collection, his pince-nez, and his travel Scrabble set, along with various manuscripts and editions of his work. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions tied to Nabokov and authors he respected, including Anton Chekhov and James Joyce.
Key West, Florida
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While many places around the world are associated with Ernest Hemingway, his home in Old Town Key West is a favorite of Papa’s fans; it can be toured as The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Constructed in 1851, the Spanish colonial–style home was inhabited by Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, from 1931 to 1940, when the couple divorced. The home is filled with antique European furniture collected during their time in Paris and trophy mounts from their African safaris and hunting expeditions. One highlight of the grounds is the palm-fringed pool, which the Hemingways had built in 1937–1938 at a considerable expense. It was the first in-ground pool in Key West, and the only pool within 100 miles. Beware the six-toed cats that roam the property, which are said to be descendants from Hemingway’s original cat, who also had six toes.
In 1749, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in his family home, which features heavily in his autobiography and is also where he penned his novels Götz von Berlichingen and The Sorrows of Young Werther. The house was destroyed during World War II in 1944 but restored after the war ended, and it opened to the public in 1954, alongside the Goethe Museum next door.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Perhaps one of the most famous author homes in the world, the Anne Frank House is where the teenaged author and her family hid from the Nazis in a secret attic above the annex to a building where her father, Otto Frank, had his business. Anne penned her famous diary while in hiding, and when Otto returned to the house after the war as the family’s sole survivor, the annex was empty. He insisted it remain so when the museum was opened, creating an eerie effect. Anne’s original diary and some of her notebooks are on display, as well as other pictures, artwork, and artifacts. You must buy tickets in advance online with a predetermined time slot; visitors can no longer line up to buy tickets at the museum entrance. Eighty percent of tickets are released online two months in advance, and 20 percent are kept for the day of admittance.
Located among the picturesque Berkshire Mountains about two hours west of Boston, The Mount is as beautiful as it is historic. Edith Wharton, a well-heeled author, designer, and gardener, purchased the 113-acre estate with her husband Edward Robbins (Teddy) Wharton in 1901 and set about meticulously decorating it. Even though the couple only lived there for 10 years, Wharton wrote some of her most acclaimed novels during that time, including The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome, becoming the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921. Visitors can choose from various tours of the manicured formal gardens and house, including a backstairs servants’ area tour and a ghost tour. Exhibits in the house delve into Wharton’s life, her literary legacy, and the lives of the servants. The museum has a charming café and hosts lectures, theater, music, films, and literary panels. The grounds also can be used for weddings.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, Andalusia was home to the author of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories from 1951 to 1964, when Flannery O’Connor moved there to be under the care of her mother after she was diagnosed with lupus. O’Connor completed the bulk of her literary work on the farm. After O’Connor’s death in 1964, the farm, which originally belonged to her uncle, remained in the family until 2003. In 2017, the site was gifted to O’Connor’s alma mater, Georgia College, which opened the museum to the public in 2018 for guided tours.
Known simply as “Colette,” Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is the author of more than 50 novels and dozens of short stories and articles, including Gigi, whose film adaptation made Audrey Hepburn famous. Colette was born in 1873 in a small town in Burgundy, and in 2017 her childhood home there was renovated and opened to the public. La Maison de Colette employed historians and artisans to recreate the family home exactly as it was, and its details like the bolt at the carriage entrance, the stone steps to the front door, and the “large brick house” itself will be easily recognizable to readers of her work. Complete the pilgrimage with a visit to the Musée Colette, also in the village, which exhibits photographs, a film on her life, and some of her furniture.
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