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January 5th, 2014 • Posted in St. Paul

F. Scott Fitzgerald Walk in St. Paul, Minnesota

I was in Minneapolis over Christmas. It was a bit too cold to do this literary walk comfortably, but as soon as it warms up…

…take the Dale Street Exit off Hwy 94. Go south on Dale about 6 blocks to Laurel. Turn left. Go two blocks. (If you will be walking, park your car near MacKubin.)

Print a map to guide your walking tour.

On Laurel, between MacKubin and Arundel, find:

481 Laurel


Notice the twin buildings. The builder called them San Mateo Flats. Scott was born at home in 1896 in the left building. Sadly, his two sisters, ages one and three, had died from influenza shortly before his birth. Probably because of this, his mother, Mollie McQuillan, became overly protective of Scott. The family lived here for another year, but then Scott’s father, Edward, lost his job as a wicker furniture salesman. He moved the family to New York where a daughter Annabelle was born. Imagine this neighborhood without electric lights. Some houses were not electrified until 1911. Imagine groceries, coal and ice being delivered by horse and wagon.

Continue on Laurel to Arundel. Turn right. Go four blocks to Summit. Turn right, and as you turn, the next house is on the corner.

445 Summit

(Side view from Arundel) Built in 1882, this house belonged to real estate developer Herman Greve. His daughter Alexandra Greve Kalman and her husband were lifelong friends of Scott and his wife Zelda. Alexandra was the realtor who helped them find several homes when they returned from New York in 1921. She rented them a house in Dellwood, but they were evicted after the pipes froze because they left the house unheated while they were away partying. They also had to leave an apartment at the White Bear Yacht Club because of their partying.

Go a short distance to:

475 Summit

This was the home of one of Scott’s best friends, Marie Hersey. Scott fell in love with her cousin, Ginevra King, when he was eleven, and he kept in contact with both girls through college. When Scott and Zelda were first married, Scott objected to Zelda’s fluffy Southern style wardrobe. He asked Marie to help Zelda choose clothing more appropriate to New York City.

Go one block to:

513 Summit

The Queene Anne style house pictured at left was Mrs. Porterfield’s boarding house. Scott visited several other young authors here while he was revising his novel. One of them, Donald Ogden Stewart, later wrote screen plays in Hollywood with Scott. Across the street, at 516 Summit Ave.,

lived Sinclair Lewis. He was supposedly writing a book about James J. Hill, but it was never published.

Go about one block to:

593/599 Summit

Scott’s family had moved to this Romanesque brownstone building while Scott was away at school. They lived in two apartments here, 593 and 599. His grandmother had died, leaving an inheritance to pay for Scott’s education at Princeton. Scott did poorly in college, but his participation in writing and acting in plays made him popular. He got sick one semester, either with malaria or Tuberculosis, and dropped out. When he returned to class his poor grades made him ineligible for rejoining his favorite clubs. Unhappy at school, he joined the Army just as World War I began. He partied and danced well, but he was a poor officer. He met Zelda when he was stationed near her home in Alabama. Each thought the other was rich, but neither was. When Scott got out of the army and got a job as a poorly paid copywriter in New York, their romance cooled. Unable to afford New York city, Scott returned to his parent’s home in this building, which he described in a letter as “A house below the average on a street above the average.” Here he rewrote his novel, hoping to win Zelda’s love back by getting a book published. In 1919, when he received word that the publisher accepted it, he ran up and down Summit Avenue, stopping traffic to tell drivers of his success. He and Zelda were married shortly after the publication of “This Side of Paradise”, but they had many unpaid bills. Scott bought a huge ledger to start keeping better track of his money. He used that same ledger until his death at 44, carefully recording his novels, magazine stories, expenses and brief summaries of each year.

623 Summit

Across Dale Street, we can see one of Grandma McQuillan’s houses, built after her husband died in 1877. She might have had a horse and carriage there. Summit Avenue was thought of as just a wide country lane upon which people exercised their horses each day, stopping to chat with their neighbors on the way. Some people stabled their horses on Maiden Lane by the Cathedral. Others boarded their horses at Kittson’s Stable and Racetrack at Snelling and University Ave.

Turn right onto Dale Street.

25 North Dale

As you walk two blocks to Holly, notice the Academy Office Building across the street with a new Fitzgerald statue created by Aaron Dysart. The building was formerly St. Paul Academy, the private school Scott attended.

Turn right at Holly.

586 Holly

586 Holly was a boarding school for girls — Mrs. Backus’ Boarding School. Scott was enrolled in a dancing school for boys and girls here. Scott kept a diary from age 14 on. He wrote about wanting to be better in sports, but he found his success in writing skits and acting in plays. His grades were so poor that his parents decided to send him to a Catholic Prep School in New Jersey. So, from age 15 on, Scott was only in St. Paul for holidays, after a long train ride from the East.

Go one block to:

509/514 Holly

When Edward lost his job out East, the family returned to the safety of Grandmother McQuillan’s money. They lived in three different houses on this block. One has been torn down. The five years Scott lived on this block were important because he later wrote about his childhood activities in the magazine stories that he sold to Scribner’s and the Saturday Evening Post. In the 1910 census, the family lived at 514 Holly. Edward was 56, Molly 48, Scott 13, and Annabel, 8, with one servant living in their household. They also lived in the apartment pictured at  509 Holly.

Go one block to:

472 Holly

This sturdy brownstone house is the home of Scott’s grandmother, Louisa McQuillan. Her husband, Philip Francis McQuillan, died in 1877 at the age of 43, twenty years before Scott was born. Mr. McQuillan began as a bookkeeper in a wholesale grocery business. He soon owned the company and also the tallest building in downtown St. Paul. Mrs. McQuillan’s brother, John H. Allen, had been a partner in the business. He eventually assumed control, and built a large home at 335 Summit Ave. 472 Holly is one of Mrs. McQuillan’s smaller houses. The largest house was downtown on 10th Street, where 500 guests could be entertained. The McQuillan’s also maintained a winter home in Washington D.C., which is where Edward Fitzgerald and Molly McQuillan were married in 1890.

Continue on Holly to Western. (Stop sign.)

Commodore Hotel

Scott and Zelda lived here when their baby girl, Scottie, was born. There are many stories about their drinking and partying at the bar here, and also at the University Club. Their realtor friend Alexandra Kalman insisted they move into another of her rental homes, 626 Goodrich, about eight blocks away. The hotel was remodeled into offices and condos after a fire damaged it in 1978, with the entrance moved to the side of the building.

Turn left. Go two blocks.

Angus Hotel

Scott’s parents eventually moved back to Edward’s home state of Maryland, but Molly lived at the Angus Hotel for a short time after his death. It’s now the Blair Arcade, with shops and condos.


W.A. Frost

Scott may have had cokes and ice-cream sodas here when this was the neighborhood drugstore instead of a restaurant. The tin ceiling inside has been preserved.

Turn left on Selby. Walkers: Walk through or around the Blair Arcade building to the parking lot. Cut through the parking lot to Arundel, to Laurel, past 481 Laurel, back to your car.

This walking tour was developed by Bill Caudle.

December 31st, 2013 • Posted in Minneapolis

Literary Tourist likes Books and Bars

On the way into the Republic bar, near Magers and Quinn

bookstore in Minneapolis I came across a sign promoting Books and Bars, which led me to this:

Books & Bars is an open public book club show featuring “fun people, good food, social lubrication (liquid courage) and lively discussion about interesting authors.” Next time you’re in the Twin Cities, check it out.  Join moderator Jeff Kamin and other spirited characters the first three Tuesdays of each month at a selection of fine drinking establishments.

December 25th, 2013 • Posted in Peterborough, ON

A Timeless Record of a Quintessentially Canadian Experience

As a result of my recent trip to Peterborough & the Kawarthas, and exposure to the works of Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie, I’ve been reflecting lately on the immigrant experience in Canada.

I was born in Toronto, but moved to England with my British parents when I was five years old. We returned by ship seven years later  on the S.S. Maasdam. Although I’d already been here, my memory is of having arrived in Canada as if for the first time.  I’ll never forget the experience of coming up on deck early one morning with my father and sighting land –  a collection of tiny, sun-lit Canadian islands.  Everything seemed bathed in gold.  

Moving to a new country is an emotion-charged experience, one that, while different in each case, shares certain common characteristics.  According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, people who immigrate typically go through the following stages:

Stage 1: Happiness and fascination.

Just before or shortly after arriving in Canada you may:

Have high hopes and expect great things
Feel this is a very exciting time
Feel everything is new and interesting
Feel confident and that they can easily cope with problems and stress
Tend to focus on what is similar between Canada and the culture and country you come from

Stage 2: Disappointment, confusing feelings, frustration and irritation.

During the first six months you may:

Feel happy about the challenges you have overcome
Feel frustrated, confused and disappointed
Feel very positive one day and very negative the next
Focus on the differences between yourself and Canadians
Miss your family and feel no connection to Canada
Have difficulty going to work or looking for work
Feel loneliness for your country and loved ones
Feel guilty about leaving family members behind

Stage 3: Gradual adjustment or recovery.

During this stage of adjustment you may:

Feel more in control of your life as you gain a better understanding of Canada
Feel more confident in your language skills
Gradually get involved in the community
Have a better understanding of how to adapt to life in Canada
Have a better sense of what you need to do to get what you want in Canada

Stage 4: Acceptance and adjustment.

During this stage of adjustment you will likely:

Feel more comfortable in Canada
Have made some friends and be more involved in your new community
Understand better how things are done in Canada
Be studying, planning to return to school or working at better jobs
Generally feel content about having come to Canada


Pretty well all of these feelings and experiences are captured, often beautifully, in the works of Parr Traill and Moodie who, together with their husbands, immigrated to Canada in 1832.

Catharine’s books, notably The Backwoods of Canada, reflect a positive approach to the adventure of coming to this country; a resolute acceptance of fate combined with a practical, can-do attitude. In the face of mounting debt, a house full of kids and a husband incapacitated by depression,  she cheerfully and determinedly took care of business, and, on top of all of this, continued to write. Her children’s books carry much the same positive message, encouraging ‘plucky and dignified’ survival.  

Susanna on the other hand was less the optimist. Her book Roughing it in the Bush, gives us a fuller more realistic picture of life in the backwoods of Upper Canada during the 1830s. As Michael Peterman puts it in his marvelously illustrated book Sisters in Two Worlds, “At first, [she] looked at her backwoods surroundings “with jaundiced eyes.” She felt alienated by ‘the cheerless waste,” which she found “murky’ and “reeking.”

Times were particularly tough. A harsh climate, malaria fever, economic depression, political unrest, all combined to make life very difficult.  However, as Peterman tells it: “With all those around her suffering from the ague and with no servant available, Susanna managed to see to her family’s needs, despite her own weakness…Among the many things that Susanna learned in the bush was how to draw on her physical strength in ways she had never before thought possible.”

In showing how pioneer women cared for each other, shared the joys and burdens of motherhood, dealt with poverty and tamed the elements,  Roughing it in the Bush serves, among other things, as an inspiring primer for dealing with and overcoming hardship. This and its honesty, no doubt, explain why it speaks to readers today in ways, ironically, it did’t to Moodie’s contemporaries. As she puts it in a letter to her publisher Richard Bentley:

“It is difficult to write a work of fiction, placing the scene in Canada, without rousing up the whole country against me…Will they ever forgive me for writing Roughing It? They know that it was the truth, but have I not been a mark for every vulgar editor of a village journal, through the length and breadth of the land to hurl a stone at, and point out as the enemy of Canada…”

(quote from in Sisters in Two Worlds)

Far from being Canada’s enemy, Susanna Moodie is its representative.  As Margaret Atwood puts it in the afterword to The Journals of Susanna Moodie, she has “become the spirit of the land she once hated,” an extraordinary woman whose honesty, talent and determination enabled her to create a timeless record of a quintessentially Canadian experience. 

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December 23rd, 2013 • Posted in swansea

Christmas in Swansea

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” Dylan Thomas, from  ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’.

December 17th, 2013 • Posted in Kingston, ON

Why go to Kingston in February?

…to snuggle up ‘under the bright lights of some of the most recent additions to Canada’s literary firmament’ of course.  Where? At ‘An Afternoon with the Governor Generals’, February 2, 2014, from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm, at the Holiday Inn Kingston Waterfront..

Moderated by Jared Bland, the books editor for the Globe and Mail, this Kingston WritersFest event will feature these authors (and their books):

Carolyn Abraham.  The Juggler’s Children meshes memoir and journalism: the family history of her adventurous great-grandfathers and the analysis of her own DNA, and was Carolyn’s second nomination for the GG for non-fiction. She is the senior medical reporter at the Globe and Mail.

Kenneth Bonert. Debut novel, The Lion Seeker, was nominated for the 2013 GG for fiction. Set between the World Wars in South Africa, it follows the life of a young Jewish immigrant, Isaac, as he struggles toward manhood. The Lion Seeker was the only title on the 2013 Knopf Random House’s “New Face of Fiction” list.

Katherena Vermette North End Love Songs is an ode to Winnipeg’s North End – a neighbourhood she has called home for much of her life and where she lives with both love and lossThis first collection won the 2013 GG for poetry.

‘Bask in the glow of great writing and warm conversation’

December 16th, 2013 • Posted in Peterborough, ON

Nothing like the real thing…

I recently visited Lang Pioneer Village just outside of Peterborough for a glimpse of what life looked like in Ontario at around the time Susanna Moodie and her sister Catharine Parr Traill emigrated from England.

This cabin was the home of David Fife, of Red Fife wheat fame – it represents what a Canadian settler’s dwelling was like circa 1820.

The sisters arrived in the early 1830s. Conditions, particularly during the winter months – on days like today for example – were wicked; with snow blowing in through cracks in the walls and little food to eat, life wasn’t easy. Seeing this cabin really brought home how challenging it must have been just to survive back then. But they made do. 

“The flesh of the black squirrel is equal to that of the rabbit, and the red, even the little chipmunk, is palatable when nicely cooked.” (from Roughing it in the Bush).

December 13th, 2013 • Posted in st. petersburg fl

Bookstores bring a sense of Place

Whenever I’m anywhere near St. Pete’s in Florida I make a point of visiting Haslam’s Bookstore. Spread as it is over some 11,000 square feet, the store is neatly arranged, broad-aisled, and filled with a huge range of titles, some new, most used. While not a ‘rare, antiquarian’ shop it does carry some unusual out-of-print volumes, plus, an added bonus, there are frequent author readings here.

This month Haslam’s celebrates its 80th anniversary. Commenting on the achievement, Peter Belmont, St. Petersburg Preservation said that the store  brings something special to the community.  “The buzzword that is used today is a ‘sense of place.’ Does your town or community have a sense of place? Is there something special about your town or is it just like everywhere else? Haslam’s brings us a sense of place. It brings together what is important in the community.”  

Here’s my Biblio File conversation with Haslam’s owner Ray Hinst from some years back. 

December 12th, 2013 • Posted in Peterborough, ON

The most charming thing about Moffat House in Peterborough, Ontario

Yes the breakfasts were great. Yes, it’s on the same street as a house (Marchbanks) that Robertson Davies used to live in, and yes, Davies used to hang out here in the basement ‘theatre’ watching  the home movies of Dr. Agnes Moffat, Peterborough’s first female doctor, and her husband Dr. Rusty Magee, the original owners of the place, but the thing that charmed me most about Moffat House in Peterborough, was the lovely flora



the room

in which I stayed.

December 12th, 2013 • Posted in Peterborough, ON

Peterborough packed with theatres and used bookstores

I’ve been focusing attention on Peterborough, Ontario over the past several weeks scouring the ‘bushes’ for local literary ‘things to do and places to visit’. First point to make is that there are way more theatre companies here than you might expect,  four at least. One of them, the Peterborough Theatre Guild has in fact been entertaining local audiences since 1965. The only troupe in the region to own its own building, the Guild traces its roots back to the work of Robertson Davies and his wife Brenda. According to biographer Michael Peterman, professor emeritus at Trent University, the two were theatrical powerhouses in the community during the 50s and 60s, writing, directing, and performing  in many stage productions. Sometimes they even did makeup!

Another company, 4th Line Theatre, presents Canadian plays, “written by and about Canadians, from small town stories to broad national sagas” at  Winslow Farm, the family farm of Founding Artistic Director Robert Winslow, in Millbrook, Ontario. Performed in an idyllic, rural, setting, the plays typically explore “regional themes, history, and heritage”.  This award-winning company is a top draw on the Canadian summer theatre circuit.

In addition to live performance theatre, the region also features an impressive selection of used bookstores. In most cities the size of Peterborough you’ll find one, maybe two shops if you’re lucky. Here there’s at least six. And

RaymaDixon Books


Paul Dyment, Scholars’ Books


Jack Perkins, Books N’ Things


(whoa, wait a minute, this isn’t an owner, it’s Thomas A. (1786-1847) Stewart, husband to famed local letter writer Frances Stewart (1794-1872), each 

Mark Jokinen Books

has a distinct character.

From cluttered and dusty to clean and pristine, high-brow to low and everything in between, there’s enough of a variety of books in the downtown core to keep a book-hound happy for days. But wait, there’s more. Once you’ve browsed ‘book row’ (on Water Street), and below, on George, you’ll want to head out to Lakefield, a short drive North of Peterborough, past Trent University (where you’ll find a great Special Collections room)


Lakefield Station Books. Though it’s closed during the winter months, it’s always open by appointment. Trillium Books is another By Appointment dealer. Its owner William Van Nest not only sells books, he convenes a ‘motley’ crew of bibliophiles every Friday afternoon at 3pm at Dreams of Beans, 138 Hunter West.

I can’t think of a better way to end up a busy week of book hunting than to stop by this cafe, sample a cup of good locally-roasted joe, share a few war stories  and show off your swag to an appreciative audience of book lovers. 

Check out the Literary Tourist map of Peterborough, here.

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December 8th, 2013 • Posted in London, England

Sam Wanamaker’s Dream Comes True


Next month the newly constructed SamWanamaker Playhouse will open its doors to the public with a production of The Duchess of Malfi. Located on the Thames, next door to the 17-year-old Globe theatre, the Jacobean-style structure represents the full realization of American actor Sam Wanamaker‘s dream to recreate authentic Shakespearean environments, both in and out door, in London where modern audiences can go to experience the Bard’s genius in ways it was experienced four hundred years ago.  

Based on designs by a protégé of Tudor architect Inigo Jones, the new theatre, unlike The Globe, is closed-roofed and candlelit. Two tiers of galleries and a pit area provide seating for an audience of 340.