Take a pre-summer road-trip to the land of the seer-suckered authors.
Before the car-paint-eating love bugs arrive, hit the below-Mason-Dixon highways to visit the inspiration points of your favorite Southern writers. Plan the course accordingly, and you can do all of the below over a four-day stretch:
1. Monroeville, Alabama, the home of (Nelle) Harper Lee and Truman Capote (who was the inspiration for her character “Dill” in her single-sensational novel). Big Plus: As of two years ago, Monroe County (closest airport is Pensacola) is finally “wet”! “Miss Nelle,” as locals call her, is still alive and cranky as usual at 86, as of last week (April 28th). If you see her, be wary: She’s less Scout, more a mean version of Boo Radley. For your road-trip psyche-up, watch PBS’s great new documentary, “Hey Boo!” Ask for the Rev. Dr. Tom Lane Butts—her old grade school buddy—to give you the lay of the land.
2. Oxford, Mississippi: Walk the Town Square where William Faulkner strolled, trying to get a handle on the inner workings of his complex Compson family in “The Sound and the Fury,” and hit some fun university bars and a spate of great new eats. Maybe you’ll run into the sorely underrated John Grisham.
3. Milledgeville, Georgia: After visiting the homestead of Flannery O’Connor’s Andalusian farmhouse (once home to all those crazed peacocks she kept) “A Confederacy of Dunces” scribe John Kennedy Toole asphyxiated himself along the road inside his car. Don’t do that. Keep going to his hometown of New Orleans. After all, posthumously, Toole won the damned Pulitzer. This is Southern Gothic at its finest hour. Plenty of B&Bs and neato bridges and boondoggle.
4. New Orleans, Louisiana: All the get-lit ghosts are stumbling around here, where pretty much no self-respecting author didn’t do time, most notably Sherwood Anderson (who led the way), Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, and later, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac and Anne Rice. (The vampire author blew out to the West Coast, bringing in Savannah chronicler John Berendt, who’s found new inspiration there.) Hit the Faulkner Book Shop, on Pirate’s Alley, and the well-read staff will send you on a watering-hole tour of where the ink-stained wretches hung their weary hats and heads. Got a mind to go the distance, head out to Covington, La., to see Walker Percy’s homestead. Besides being a great novelist and deep-thinker himself (“The Moviegoer,” “The Last Gentleman”), he was responsible for Toole winning that Pulitzer and getting his food-stained manuscript published.