Literary Tourist's Top Literary Things to do in Rochester

Rochester Quotes 

"The University of Rochester began life in an old hotel. The Eastman Kodak Co. had its beginning in a kitchen sink. And the Genesee River starts in a barnyard." -- River Ramble, Arch Merrill

A Little Background

Once known as the ‘flour’ city, and subsequently the ‘flower’ city, Rochester is today one impressive ‘hotbed’ of literary activity. For one thing there is a string of impressive rare book and special collections in libraries all across the city, at the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Eastman House, and the Strong Museum. You can take writing and book arts workshops at the Writers and Books and Genesee Centers, and you'll find some of the best stocked used bookstores in upstate New York. As the Rochester Booksellers website puts it: “The Rochester New York area has a rich cultural heritage that has resulted in an unusually high concentration of great books and diverse booksellers for a city of its size.”

 Download Literary Tourist's Visitors Guide to Rochester here.


1) Melbert B. Cary Jr. Graphic Arts Collection


Audio: The Cary Collection: Just Your Type

The Cary Collection is one of America’s premier libraries on the history and practice of graphic communication. Located in Rochester on the campus of the Rochester Institute of Technology, the original collection of 2,300 volumes was assembled by New York City businessman Melbert B. Cary, Jr. during the 1920s and 1930s. Cary was director of the Continental Type Founders Association (a type-importing agency), a former president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), and proprietor of the private Press of the Woolly Whale. His professional and personal interests in printing led him to collect printer’s manuals and type specimens, as well as great books on the printer’s art. In 1969 his collection, together with funds to support its use and growth, was presented to RIT.  Today the library houses some 40,000 volumes and a growing number of manuscript and correspondence collections.

While its original strengths continue to be an important focus, other areas of graphic arts history have also been developed. For example, the Cary is committed to building its collection on the development of the alphabet and writing systems, early book formats and manuscripts, calligraphy, the development of typefaces and their manufacturing technologies, the history and practice of papermaking, typography and book design, printing and illustration processes, bookbinding, posters, and artists’ books.

Though many of the volumes in the library are rare, the Cary has maintained, from the beginning, a policy of liberal access for students - especially those enrolled in the RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences - and interested literary tourists.

   Listen here to Curator Steven K. Galbraith and Assistant Curator Amelia Hugill-Fontanel.

Video: Frederic Goudy in Rochester

Come to Rochester and get ‘ZAPFED’

Born in Germany in 1918 Hermann Zapf is one of the greatest calligraphers/type-designers of the 20th century, creating some of its most important fonts,  including Palatino and Optima. The former, named after Giambattista Palatino,  a 16th century master calligrapher, is modelled on the humanist fonts of the Italian Renaissance which emulated writing produced by the broad nib pen. First introduced in 1948,  it remains today one of the world’s most widely-used  typefaces.

The Optima font has its origins in the classic Roman monumental capital model.  Like Palatino,  it is widely admired and much imitated. Both faces are trade marks of the Linotype company. In 1976 the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) offered Zapf a professorship in typographic computer programming, the first of its kind in the world. He taught here from 1977 to 1987 commuting back and forth from his home in Darmstadt, Germany. Some of his students would go on to become hugely influential American book and type designers, including Julian Waters, Jerry Kelly, and Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes who together created the Lucida type.

The Melbert B. Cary Jr. Graphic Arts Collection, one of America’s premier libraries on the history and practice of printing, is located on the RIT campus. It contains a substantial archive documenting the work of Hermann Zapf. Head on over the next time your in Rochester, and get 'Zapfed.'

2) Largest Collection of Video Games in the World

The International Center for the History of Electronic Games® (ICHEG) at The Strong Museum in Rochester N.Y. houses the largest and most comprehensive public collection of video and electronic games (35,000 and counting), and game-related historical materials in the United States, possibly in the world. ICHEG’s holdings include the games themselves plus game platforms and related artifacts and a growing array of library and archival materials. In addition the collection also includes packaging, advertising, magazines, personal and business papers and other associated artifacts and documents that represent or illustrate how the games have been conceived, developed, sold, and used.

For those who love games, and playing them, this is a library like no other.  For more information on how to join the fun click here, or call 585-263-2700.

3) Got a thing for Photography?

Shutterbugs will go gaga over the Richard and Ronay Menschel Library at George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. It's home to stacks full of impressive books and rare trade journals that together cover the entire literature and history of photography and motion pictures.  

Here you’ll find everything from original landmark publications and manuscripts documenting early optical and chemical experiments,  to modern limited editions and art books produced by major contemporary artists - the library is a one stop shop for lovers of everything celluloid. International in scope, it contains books on every conceivable aspect of film, including its significant impact on modern society and culture.

Focusing on  history, aesthetics, and technology, the library contains more than 59,000 rare books, journals, and pamphlets. Among these are copies of William Fox Talbot’s Pencil of Nature (1844–46) the first major book to be illustrated with photographic prints; Julia Margaret Cameron’s Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (1875), and a full run of The Daguerreian Journal, the first journal devoted exclusively to photography. Camera Work, by Alfred Stieglitz (1903–17) is also here, along with the Galerie Contemporaine (1876–84) which features photographs of leading Parisian cultural figures by Carjat, Nadar, and other major portraitists.

Works illustrated with tipped-in original photographs are one of the Library’s specialties, along with technical literature, artists’ monographs, professional trade journals, and the journals of amateur societies; there’s also an unequalled collection of Daguerre’s original manuals.

These rare documents, apparatus catalogs, advertisements, scientific reports, instructions for the amateur and professional, and a sizable number of historical reference works, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, histories and lexicons, combine to make this a decidedly impressive, 'photogenic', you might say, library. And there's more: records of artistic achievements and aesthetic controversies can be found in numerous salon catalogues, publications of camera clubs and societies, almanacs, yearbooks, and other works by critics and photographers.

The library is open to the public for research Tuesday through Friday, 10 am to noon, 1pm to 5 pm. Admission is free. An appointment is not necessary, although you’re better off calling ahead if you plan to spend a lot of time here.

4) ‘Proof that Slaves could be Accomplished American Citizens’

Frederick Douglass the famed American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman was born in February 1818 on the Holme Hill Farm in Talbot County, Maryland. His father was an unnamed white man, his mother, Harriet Bailey (1792-c1825), a slave owned by Aaron Anthony.

Douglass escaped slavery, and rose to become a leader in the abolitionist movement thanks largely to his extraordinary oratory and writing skills. He stood, at the time, as living proof that slaves had the intellectual capacity to match any American regardless of race.  Many in fact found it hard to believe that such a great speaker could have been a slave.

Douglass wrote three influential autobiographies during his life-time: A Narrative on the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).  He was the first slave to publicly declare his fugitive status, became a prolific lecturer, and published a string of newspapers devoted to championing “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", as set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  

After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the struggle to make America truly a "land of the free". He supported women’s suffrage and held a succession of important public offices. He believed firmly in the equality of all - black, female, Native American, immigrant - famously saying,  "No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck."

He spent 25 active years in Rochester, New York. In 1847, he founded the anti-slavery newspaper The North Star which boasted a circulation of over 4,000 readers in the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.

The University of Rochester’s Rush Rhees Rare Book Library holds more than a hundred of his letters dating from before the Civil War to shortly before the year he died in 1895.

Rochester’s Highland Park is an arboretum located along Reservoir Avenue. The Park has a sunken garden, a Gothic-style castle (known as the "Warner Castle"), and a greenhouse called Lamberton Conservatory. In 1888, nurserymen George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry endowed Rochester with the 20 acres of land that make up the park. Among America’s first municipal arboretums, it is one of many designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Horticulturist John Dunbar, later known in local circles as ‘Johnny Lilacseed’, started the park’s famous lilac collection in 1892; some of the 20 varieties he installed were descendants of native Balkan Mountain flowers brought to North America by early colonists.  A statue of Frederick Douglass overlooks an amphitheater which is used for summertime concerts, Shakespeare in the Park performances, and free movie showings.

See Literary Tourist's Rochester listings map here.

Address: Rochester, NY, US
Author(s): Frederick Douglass, Nicholson Baker, Shirley Jackson, Garson Kanin, John Ashbery, Charles R. Jackson, Linda Sue Park, Philip Barry, Francis Pharcellus Church , Dan Cragg, Joanna Scott


Add Listing / Write a Review / Claim this Listing

Related Listings

Rochester Children’s Book Festival
Monroe Community College Brighton Campus 1000 East Henrietta Rd Rochester, NY, US

Teen Book Festival
Nazareth College, Shults Center 4245 East Avenue 14618 Rochester, NY, US
Rush Rhees Library -University of Rochester
University of Rochester 14627-0055 Rochester, NY, US
Avon Players
1185 Washington Rochester, MI, US
Bibliophile Society of Rochester
295 Burley Road , NY 14612 Rochester, NY, US
585 663-1339
Poet's Walk
University Avenue Rochester, NY, US

Writers & Books
740 University Avenue 14607-1259 Rochester, NY, US
(585) 473-2590 ext 101
Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology
Wallace Center, RIT, 90 Lomb Memorial Drive 14623-5604 Rochester, NY, US
Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play
Strong Museum, One Manhattan Square 14607 Rochester, NY, US
Richard and Ronay Menschel Library - Eastman House
900 East Avenue 14607 Rochester, NY, US
585-271-3361 ext. 313