When you think of a city with a rich literary history, you probably think New York or Chicago, or maybe London or Paris. Oh, and Baltimore.
Baltimore? Yes! It turns out that Baltimore has nurtured several generations of writers we couldn’t live without—and continues to be a place where artists of all kinds find the communities, opportunities and low rents they need. A new book pays tribute to Baltimore’s interesting literature scene. City Sages: Baltimore is the first publication of CityLit Press, a venture of the CityLit Project. It is a collection of short works by those famous Baltimore authors you’ve always heard about—notably Edgar Allan Poe and H. L. Mencken—alongside writers who spent formative years in the city, like Frederick Douglass, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zora Neale Hurston. Contemporary Baltimore favorites Madison Smartt Bell, Anne Tyler and Laura Lippman make appearances; so do the Writing Sems’ Alice McDermott, Stephen Dixon and Jessica Anya Blau. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the book is the inclusion of so many Baltimore writers you maybe didn’t know about, like the poet and essayist Lia Purpura; Adam Robinson, a poet who also runs Publishing Genius Press; and the journalist, fiction writer and screenwriter Rafael Alvarez.
A great way to experience City Sages is to hear some of its contributors read their own works—Tuesday, May 18, 7 pm at the Barnes & Noble bookstore, 3300 St. Paul.
If you’re interested in other local writers, past and present, you might want to check out Maryland Wits & Baltimore Bards; Shoremen: An Anthology of Eastern Shore Prose and Verse; or the biannual journal The Baltimore Review.
As an anthology, City Sages continues a tradition that goes far back in history. The word “anthology” comes from the ancient Greek and means “a gathering of flowers.” (Think “anther,” the pollen-bearing portion of a flower stamen.) The library’s collection of Baltimore-based bouquets is as old as the city itself. It includes books like Early Maryland Poetry (published in Baltimore in 1900), The Baltimore Book: A Christmas and New-Year’s Present (published in Baltimore in 1838) and A Tour to the East… Also Select Pieces of Oriental Wit, Poetry and Wisdom (written by Frederick Calvert, Lord Baltimore in 1767). We also have rare book and archival materials that can help you explore Baltimore’s literary history. Search for early editions of books by and about Edgar Allan Poe, H. L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein and John Barth using the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department LibGuide. Manuscripts of works by former and current Writing Sems faculty members Elliott Coleman, Stephen Dixon and Jean McGarry are in the university archives.
If all this evidence of Baltimore’s literary wealth still hasn’t convinced you that City Sages: Baltimore is on the right track, just ask yourself this: what other American city has named its football team after a poem?