Art Works Blog

Literary Landmarks in Washington

Washington is a tourist’s dream: we’ve got more monuments and museums than you can shake a stick at. But in between the grand marble memorials are a number of smaller literary landmarks, which are often regrettably easy to miss. Here are a few that are worth seeking out. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Statue

Perched at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and M Street, the poet sits draped in his academic robe, staring out majestically from his tiny slice of traffic island. The statue was erected in 1909, and is said to be the country’s first statue commemorating a literary figure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Grave

Although he wrote about glamorous locations such as New York and the south of France, Big Read author F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried in suburban Rockville, Maryland, near a busy multi-lane road. His grave at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which he shares with his wife Zelda, is inscribed with the final words of The Great Gatsby, his most famous novel: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

The Georgia Douglas Johnson House

Langston Hughes lived in Washington from 1924 to 1926, which were unhappy but productive years. As he wrote in his autobiography, “I felt very bad in Washington that winter, so I wrote a great many poems. (I wrote only a few poems in Paris, because I had had such a good time there.)” In between unsatisfying jobs at a laundromat, a black newsweekly, and at a hotel as a busboy (the last job inspired the name of local DC restaurant Busboys and Poets), the poet attended the “Saturday Nighters Club,” weekly literary salons at the home of Georgia Douglas Johnson, who was herself a poet and playwright. Popular with emerging and established African-American authors, these salons helped develop the careers and connections that would soon fuel the Harlem Renaissance. It was through Johnson that Hughes made some of his early New York contacts—a significant milestone for the poet who would become one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

Dupont Circle Metro Station

Though it can be difficult to appreciate during the rush hour crush, the Dupont Circle Metro station is a pretty poetic place. In 2007, an excerpt from Walt Whitman's The Wound Dresser was etched into the granite that encloses the north entrance escalators, giving passengers a little food for thought as they go about their commute. Whitman, who served as a nurse in Washington during the Civil War, is memorialized with the following words:

Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night—some are so young;
Some suffer so much
—I recall the experience sweet and sad...

St. Elizabeths Hospital

Washington’s public psychiatric facility was once home to poet Ezra Pound, who was committed there from 1946 to 1958. Indicted for treason after delivering anti-American, pro-Fascist broadcasts over Italian radio during World War II, Pound pled insanity and was eventually declared unfit for trial, thereby avoiding time in prison. Although some believe that the poet’s rants were indicative of mental illness, there is evidence that Pound was given his diagnosis by doctors who wished to protect him from prison.

 

  

 

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