The Literary District
by Marissa Wu
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
The first Boston Literary District mural, found in the passageway from Winter Place to Temple Place.
Boston is divided into a multitude of neighborhoods. There are the prominent ones: Back Bay, the North End, South Boston or Fenway. Then, there are the ones that only locals know really well. But there is one neighborhood, however, that appears on no official map.
It’s the Boston Lit District.
According to Urban Dictionary, the colloquialism “lit” has quite a few definitions, but one can usually expect that the definition will have something to do with either bacchanalian activities or being mind-bogglingly intoxicated. Or, as Urban Dictionary likes to put it, mind-bogglingly stoned.
But for some people, “lit” still means literature. That’s exactly what the Boston Lit District is all about.
The Boston Lit District has no official boundaries. It would not even qualify as a neighborhood, because it encompasses a smattering of others, including Back Bay, Beacon Hill and Downtown Crossing. According to the Boston Literary District, Boston is the “first city in the country to host an official Literary Cultural District.” It thoroughly deserves the distinction, as the city is rife with literary significance, obscured by time.
Take a stroll through Beacon Hill and one will happen upon the residences of Nathaniel Hawthorne of The Scarlet Letter, or Louisa May Alcott, best known for Little Women or Robert Frost, celebrated poet.
Wander over to 60 School Street, where the Omni Parker House Hotel sits. This hotel was a prominent literary watering hole.
The Omni Parker (formerly known as the Parker House) was “home to a meeting of the minds known as The Saturday Club,” said Shelly Barclay, writing for CBS Boston. “While the club was open to scholars of many types, plenty of authors were among them. These included Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ralph Waldo Emerson.”
In addition to its role as the playground of the “who’s who” in literature, Boston also had the distinction of housing many prominent publishers, independent bookstores and libraries. Washington Street, once known as “Newspaper Row,” was home to storied publications including The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Boston Post and the Associated Press. On 2 Park Street, one can find the historic offices of publisher Houghton Mifflin; the precursor to The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly’s offices can be found on 8 Arlington Street.
If you’re searching for books, there’s that, too. The city is home to a plethora of independent bookstores including Brattle Book Shop, Commonwealth Books and Peter L Stern & Company. The Boston Athenaeum is not a bookstore, but is noted for being one of the oldest independent libraries in the country.
For the literature lovers, the Lit District also offers plenty of spots in the city that have been immortalized in literary works. Those who appreciate the work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jack Kerouac, Edward Bellamy, E.B. White, Robert McCloskey and others will find treasures throughout the city.
Probably some of the more recognizable landmarks, the Make Way for Ducklings sculpture (inspired by McCloskey’s children’s book) and the swan boats (where, the Boston Literary District notes, Louis plays his trumpet in The Trumpet of the Swan) can be found in the Boston Public Garden.
Landmarks and locations aside, the Lit District maintains an active presence today as well. It provides information about literary events happening in the city. The curious can find seminars, author appearances, film screenings, poetry and other literary-centric events on the organization’s website.