Tennessee has several inportant and recognizable literary attractions, a list that just scratches the surface of the places that evoke the words of our greatest writers.
If you’re a fan of “Roots” and other Alex Haley work, visit either end of the state, with his West Tennessee boyhood home and burial place at the Alex Haley Museum in Henning, the Savannah Cemetery, where his grandparents are buried, and Cherry Mansion, where Queen worked. In Knoxville, where Haley lived late in life, enjoy Haley Heritage Square and the larger-than-life statue of him.
In Memphis, visit the Ida B. Wells marker commemorating the work of the outspoken journalist, abolitionist and co-founder of the NAACP. Another pioneer, W.C. Handy, is recognized at the W.C. Handy House Museum. Known as the “father of the blues,” Handy also wrote five books on blues and African American music and is honored at the W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park on Beale Street.
Alex Haley Museum, Henning
W.C. Handy Performing Arts Park, Memphis
Brilliant explorer and natural scientist Meriwether Lewis, whose writings detailed the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition, died under mysterious circumstances along the Natchez Trace. Visit his gravesite on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Also in Middle Tennessee is the T.S. Stribling Museum in Clifton, with artifacts belonging to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who wrote about race relations in the Reconstructed South.
In the Nashville area, start your literary travels at Carnton Mansion, where the events detailed in “The Widow of the South” took place. The nearby Carter House and Confederate Memorial Park are other significant sites related to the Battle of Franklin. While you're in Nashville, don't overlook the rich literary tradition of Vanderbilt University's fugitives and agrarians, like Donald Davidson, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren. And pay a visit to the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson.
The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson
If your taste runs to the scarier side, while you’re in Middle Tennessee, stop by the Bell Witch Cave in Adams, and relive the tale that has spawned books and movies. Visit the Crossville Depot, where war hero and writer Alvin C. York returned home, or stop by the Alvin C. York State Historic Park in Pall Mall. If you’re still feeling patriotic, go to the Cordell Hull Birthplace and Museum in Byrdstown, and the Cordell Hull Law Office in Celina and learn about the distinguished Congressman, Secretary of State and Nobel Peace Prize winner, whose papers are housed at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
In East Tennessee, there is a wealth of sites to choose. Picturesque Sewanee is home to the University of the South, with its breathtaking architecture and setting, and to the venerable literary magazine, “The Sewanee Review,” the oldest continually published periodical of its kind in the U.S. It was once edited by Andrew Nelson Lytle and has published the work of Cormac McArthur, Flannery O’Connor, Robert Penn Warren and other giants in literature. The university was also the recipient of the literary rights and fortune of playwright Tennessee Williams.
National icon Davy Crockett (he preferred to be called David) was not just “king of the wild frontier.” He was also a member of Congress and the author of speeches, an autobiography, and other non-fiction). You can visit his birthplace, a replica of his last home, the David Crockett Cherokee Museum in Lawrenceburg, and the Morristown tavern that was his boyhood home. By the way, Morristown is also the hometown of Peabody, Emmy, and Tony-winning writer Jane Wagner.
In downtown Knoxville, visit the Bijou Theatre, once a hotel that went by many different names and housed not only famous entertainers, generals, and half a dozen U.S. Presidents but also a number of writers, including poet Sidney Lanier. While you are downtown, visit the shops, farmers market and eateries on Market Square, or stroll along the riverfront park, Volunteer Landing, places which figure prominently in the early work of Cormac McCarthy. Then head over the World’s Fair site area and take a drive through the historic Fort Sanders area, once home to James Agee and memorialized in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “A Death in the Family. ”
Just outside Knoxville, visit the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, which commemorates the life of the man who invented the Cherokee alphabet. In tiny Del Rio, visit the place where the events of Catherine Marshall’s “Christy” books took place and were later filmed.