A search for literary landmarks online turns up quite a list. Clearly, the idea of plotting the places where writers wrote — or wrote about — on a map is not such a new idea. In the last column I described Vancouver Public Library’s Literary Landmarks project, and BC Bookworld publisher Alan Twigg’s plans to take literary mapping province-wide. This column, I thought I’d talk about the different ways communities and regions mark their literary sites, and the books and authors we might honour in ours.
The American Library Association started their landmarking crusade off in the 1980s, and since then plaques have been unveiled at the homes of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, at literary scenes such as John’s Grill in San Francisco (immortalized by Dashiell Hammett), and even Edgar Allan Poe’s stuffed raven, which oversees the Rare Books Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia with a beady eye.
The website Buzzfeed has a “Guide to Literary Landmarks to Visit Before You Die” that include Sleepy Hollow, New York (think: Ichabod Crane), and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis (where you can type on the very typewriter he used to write Breakfast of Champions).
In Canada, literary landmark projects abound, including Miranda Hill’s Project Bookmark Canada, which comes at the idea with a different twist.
Project Bookmark “bookmarks” a specific scene from a book at its very site, so you can read Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion and then visit Toronto’s Bloor Street Viaduct, where Ondaatje’s character, a construction worker, catches a nun falling off the unfinished bridge during its construction in 1917. Since that first bookmark, a dozen have been placed across Canada, including the one on the site of Wayson Choy’s novel The Jade Peony in Vancouver’s Chinatown, the scene reproduced in both Mandarin and English.
Last month Project Bookmark bookmarked the setting of Lawrence Hill’s novel Any Known Blood. This is a good time to tell you that the literary dynamic duo of Lawrence and Miranda Hill will be in Nelson and Castlegar in April. Selkirk College will host a writing master class and public reading by Lawrence, and Miranda will give a reading at the Nelson Library.
Which brings us to our neck of the woods. What Kootenay books, settings, or author hidey-holes might be noted? Taking a page from Miranda Hill, a list of contemporary Kootenay fiction set in the Kootenays might include Beyond This Point by Holley Rubinsky (Kaslo), The Canterbury Trail by Angie Abdou (Fernie), The Diamond Grill by Fred Wah (Baker St., Nelson),Tom Wayman’s newest book of stories The Shadows We Mistake for Love (Slocan Valley) and Treading Water by yours truly(Renata), among others.
Both Antonia Banyard’s Never Going Back and Ernest Hekkanen’s Of a Fire Among the Hills are unapologetically set inNelson, which is less common for small town settings as in big cities: consider the Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town syndrome (Stephen Leacock famously got in some trouble with the residents of Orillia, Ont.). Mystery writer Deryn Collier renamed the setting of Open Secret “Kootenay Landing,” perhaps a prudent move given the underground-economy nature of its subject.
A look at notable Kootenay authors from history must surely include Frederick Niven, author of 30 novels through the 1930s and ‘40s (many of them penned at Willow Point), and Catherine Anthony Clark, whose children’s classic The GoldenPine Cone is set on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake. There are so many more.
We have a rich legacy of writers, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Suffice to say that to Literary Landmarks to Visit Before You Die must surely include our own impressive stomping ground. Now, let the plotting begin!
Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.