Snowbird Trail is a 12-part series on unusual or different attractions for snowbirds in the Sunbelt.
The U.S. South is a storied land – a place of swaying palms and Spanish moss, where history always seems recent and the warm, sultry breezes feel like poetry in motion. Not surprisingly, the South has served as inspiration for some of America's greatest writers; it's the land of Gone with the Wind and The Sound and the Fury and A Streetcar Named Desire, titles that evoke a kaleidoscope of vivid images at their very mention. And the best part: The literary South is a place you can visit, retracing the steps of authors and playwrights, seeing where they lived, wrote and even drank. Many of the most interesting spots are close to snowbird destinations. Here are some of the very best.
Ernest Hemingway House (Key West, Fla.)
At his home for most of the 1930s, Hemingway wrote the majority of his best-known works in a small, upstairs studio attached to this two-storey Spanish colonial house. You can still sit at his writing desk and place your fingers on the typewriter keys that tapped out A Farewell to Arms and visit the descendants of his original six-toed cats, which roam freely here. Guides regale guests with rollicking tales of the writer's decade in this house – tales of boxing matches in the backyard, ridiculous feuds with neighbours, and the story behind the urinal that now serves as a water fountain, which Hemingway brought home from his favourite island drinking hole.
Margaret Mitchell House (Atlanta)
Affectionately nicknamed "the dump" by the writer herself, this apartment in a leafy Atlanta neighbourhood served as both home and writing studio for Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind here in the 1920s. It's a diminutive space, but a non-profit organization called the Atlanta History Center offers tours and also maintains an exhibit called Margaret Mitchell: A Passion for Character, which features some of her early work as well as articles from her career as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal. Then take a tour of the area with Peter Bonner, a local historian who recently fought to save the façade of Tara, the plantation house used in the Academy Award-winning movie, and who offers guided excursions to some of the best-known sites from the book.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Savannah, Ga.)
Perhaps the most beautiful city in the South – a place famous for its 21 symmetrical squares, designed and built well before the Civil War, which sit under towering oaks and overflow with azaleas – Savannah serves as more than simply a setting for John Berendt's acclaimed non-fiction novel. Like a silent character, the city pervades the book (and the movie of the same name, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Kevin Spacey). Tour through Mercer House, where the murder that catalyzes the action in the book took place, and visit Bird Girl, the creepy statue pictured on most paperback versions of the novel. You may even bump into one of the eccentric secondary characters, a number of whom played themselves in the movie, and still make Savannah their home. And while you're here, check out other literary sites, including Robert Louis Stevenson's Pirates House, which played a role in Treasure Island.
Rowan Oak (Oxford, Miss.)
Home to William Faulkner for the final four decades of his life, this glorious Greek Revival antebellum home still bears his fingerprints. Lovingly restored from a state of disrepair by Faulkner himself, the study holds his typewriter and pipe, while an outline for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Fable, remains nearby, pencilled in his handwriting on the wall. Now owned and maintained by the University of Mississippi, Rowan Oak has become a pilgrimage site for many authors and other creative types – everyone from John Updike and Salman Rushdie to the Coen Brothers has visited this National Historic Landmark.
A Streetcar Named Desire (New Orleans)
While streetcars haven't clanged down Desire Street since the 1960s, replicas of the namesake cars from Tennessee Williams's Pulitzer Prize-winning play still clack on the city's Riverfront Line. But you don't need to ride a streetcar to experience Williams in the Big Easy. Grab some gumbo or jambalaya at Galatoire's, the playwright's favourite restaurant, check out his former homes, and – if you're a big fan – come here in late March for the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. This annual event celebrates his work through panel discussions, master classes and theatrical revivals of Williams's work (next year's edition will stage Suddenly, Last Summer, which is also set in NOLA).
To Kill a Mockingbird (Monroeville, Ala.)
Home to both Harper Lee and Truman Capote, this small southwest Alabama town has been recognized as the state's literary capital. Start at the Old Courthouse Museum (which, yes, is housed in the town's historic courthouse), which, with photos and other artifacts, commemorates the Monroeville childhood of each author, as well as their famous friendship. Then proceed into the actual courtroom, where Lee watched her father practise law as a child. In the months of April and May, the town stages performances of To Kill a Mockingbird, with the first act taking place in a nearby amphitheatre and the second act inside the courthouse, with jurors drawn from the audience – a unique opportunity for readers to take the leap inside the Pulitzer Prize-winning book (and Academy Award-winning movie).