Thursday, March 17, 2016

Writers at Home

While I was in Latvia I got a chance to some homes of writers and artists.  I remain struck by the reverence and affection that these houses seem to occupy in the post-Soviet world--different than in the United States in some ways. I'm always trying to puzzle out why and what lessons it might provide as many historic houses are rethinking their focus and approach.

One difference, of course, is that post-Soviet countries don't have all those houses of capitalist industrialists or political figures.  There's the Tzar of course, and some big palaces, but small towns and cities don't have those historic houses of Mr. So-and-So, who founded the So-and-So Widget Company.  Those houses are tough places to find compelling stories.  But artists and writers houses have stories already, both dramatic and homely; inward and outward looking.

So there are fewer homes, but more of these memorial museums, as they are called. I wonder whether literature is valued somewhat differently in places other than the United States Does that make it possible for people to make more direct connections with writers' homes? Does that mean that our educational system is sadly missing the chance to create new generations who care about literature and historic houses?

I'm also always puzzling about the role of creativity and narrative in such places.  As it happens, some of these places I visit, like in Latvia, are the homes of people unknown to me.  But why do I still feel connected to them?  In Jurmala, I visited the newly restored home of Aspazija, a noted Latvian poet and writer.  The best of these writers' houses have a welcoming sense to them somehow, a sense that we are not paying guests, nor tourists, nor supplicants, but rather friends coming to visit (and below, I did get to visit with friends and colleagues!)

At Aspazija's house, as in other writers' houses, attention is given to the feel of the house, but also to words as in this small exhibition of her work where books are displayed and text banners appear on the ceiling.

I also appreciate houses where you too are encouraged to embrace and build your own creative spirit. These places, around the world, go beyond the idea of "memorial museum," to the idea of a memorial being a living place. At her house, there's a library/community gathering space, used on a regular basis--and as well, currently a small exhibit where young people's drawings are exhibited.

Readers, tell me about your favorite writer's house?  Is it different than other historic houses?  Why? And what can other historic houses do to enhance that spirit of creativity and a sense of welcome?


Ginny MacKenzie Magan said...

Probably in some ways we get closer to writers, feel as if we somehow know them, thus seeing a favorite writer's personal space can be almost a thrill. With war heroes, presidents,famous business people and inventors it's not the same -- less personal. Maybe a part of the reason? (I know I'd surely rather visit Edna St. Vincent Millay's house than George Washington's...)

Mediatrixy said...

Thank you for showcasing some a lesser-known writer's house. I'm in the process of cataloguing all the writers' museums I can find in Europe (and could look at widening it into the US/Canada too). Do you know of any resources that could help? Alternatively, if anyone wants to help me out they can comment here or email me at celkingston [at] gmail [dot] com.

Unknown said...

Here is a quite complete list of writers museums in Latvia:
A. Čaks Historic House - museum
Ādolfs Alunāns Historic House
Actors Brother Amtmaņi Museum
Andrejs Upīts Historic Museum
Andrejs Upīts Historic House and Garden
Museum of Antons Rupainis
Aspazija Historic House
Bārda Family Historic House Rumbiņi
Rūdolfs Blaumanis Historic House Braki
Brother Skrindas Museum
Jānis Akuraters Museum
Janis Rozentāls and Rūdolfs Blaumanis Museum
Jāņaskola – Emīls Dārziņš and Jānis Sudrabkalns Museum
Rainis Museum Jasmuiža
Antons Austriņš Historic House Kaikaši
Eduards Veidenbaums Historic House Kalāči
Brothers Kaudzītes Historic House Kalna Kaibēni
Francis Trasūns Historic House Kolnasāta
Krišjānis Barons Museum
Association of Memorial Museums
Ojārs Vācietis Historic House
Union of Piebalga Museums Orisāre
Rainis and Aspazija Historic House
Rainis and Aspazija Cottage Historic House
Jānis Jaunsudrabiņs Historic House Riekstiņi
Museum of Romans Suta and Aleksandra Beļcova
Kārlis Skalbe Historic House Saulrieti
Herberts Dorbe Historic House
Anna Brigadere Historic House Sprīdīši
Rainis Museum Tadenava
V. Pludonis Museum

Terry C Abrams said...

I recently visited the James Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. This is the home featured in such classic Thurber stories as "The Night the Bed Fell," and "The Night the Ghost Got In." Having read Thurber and his biography, it was pretty exciting to see the actual place where he lived and where the "fictionalized" events took place. Each room has a label which includes some his drawings as well, and a gift shop features his books, as well as items with is drawings. There is a writers-in-residence program as well. They give guided tours on Sundays.

Mediatrixy said...

Thanks Terry!

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