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9 Great Authors and the Places That Shaped Them

If you’ve ever dreamed of taking Sal Paradise’s epic cross-country journey from “On the Road,” or wondered what it would be like to wander the desolate English moors like Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights,” you know how powerfully a story can evoke a sense of place. Many renowned writers, such as Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie, traveled widely during their lifetimes and incorporated the places they visited into the books they wrote. Other authors used vivid memories of the regions where they grew up as inspiration for their writing.

Here, we explore the work of nine well-known authors, whose books take readers on a journey through butterfly fields in Oregon, hotel hallways in Istanbul and villages in Botswana. Read on to see the places that shaped your favorite authors and learn how to follow in their footsteps.

Emily Bronte: Yorkshire, England

What Shaped Her: Emily Bronte’s sole novel, “Wuthering Heights,” was published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Her tale of Heathcliff and Catherine’s tormented love is set against the dramatic, brooding backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Bronte knew the moors well, having spent most of her life in Haworth and the Shibden valley (both in West Yorkshire).

Relive the Story: There are many theories behind which specific structures inspired the eponymous farmhouse in “Wuthering Heights,” but you can gather a general idea from visiting the ruins of Top Withens near Haworth. The inspiration for Thrushcross Grange is believed to be Shibden Hall, near Halifax. It has been redesigned over the years, but still stands today as a museum and public park.

Haruki Murakami: Tokyo, Japan

What Shaped Him: Raised in the port city of Kobe, Murakami grew up keenly aware of American pop culture, in the context of Japan’s layered cityscapes. His works of fiction are at once love letters to the concrete streets, buildings and underground of Tokyo, and an alternate universe of endless reach.

Relive the Story: Following Murakami’s characters around Tokyo, from a Denny’s fast food joint to the Aoyama Itchome train station, is a good way to get an insider’s view of the city. Grab a drink at the Nakamuraya Cafe, located in Shinjuku. It’s a central meeting place in his latest novel, “1Q84.”

Jack Kerouac: The American Road

What Shaped Him: Kerouac, a kid from Lowell, Massachusetts, came to New York City for college and stayed after dropping out. It was here that Kerouac met the men (William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and others) who would pioneer the iconoclasm of the Beat Generation alongside him. In the late 1940’s, he and fellow author Neal Cassady took a number of road trips across the U.S. into Mexico. It was from these experiences that Kerouac formed his cult classic novel, “On the Road.”

Relive the Story: You can find many online maps outlining literature’s most famous road trip; use them as a template to create your own story of exploration. From the small town of Paterson, New Jersey, where the historic trip begins, to the mountain passes and cowboy saloons of Wyoming, discover your own little taste of Sal Paradise’s journey.

Vladimir Nabokov: Europe & Western U.S.

Pablo Neruda: Chile

What Shaped Him: A close advisor to President Salvador Allende (father of author Isabel Allende), Neruda led a life steeped in the politics and poetry of his Chilean nation. His famous “Cien sonetos de amor,” or “100 Love Sonnets,” evoke numerous landscapes from across his home country — like the snow-capped volcanoes of the Frontera region where Neruda grew up and the sea views he enjoyed from his home on Isla Negra. In 1971, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature “for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams.”

Relive the Story: In 1947, Neruda was forced underground in his own country due to his protests against the government’s policies. Visit the port city of Valparaiso, where Neruda hid in the basements of various friends and admirers for nearly two years. His former home on Isla Negra is open and available to the public, and houses items such as the tuxedo he wore to accept his Nobel Prize.

Ernest Hemingway: Madrid, Spain

What Shaped Him: Hemingway had a well-known love affair with the city of Madrid. Born in Oak Park, Illinois — a place he described as having “wide lawns and narrow minds” — Hemingway first traveled to Madrid in 1932 to research bullfighting, which plays a significant role in his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Madrid was also where he wrote his nonfiction work “Death in the Afternoon.”

Relive the Story: Travelers can wander in Hemingway’s footsteps through a maze of cafes, bars and bullrings in Madrid. Start with a visit to Plaza de Los Toros de Las Ventas, considered to be the home of bullfighting in Spain. Afterward, you might need a drink from Botin, a restaurant that dates back to 1725 and another frequent Hemingway haunt.

Margaret Atwood: Northern Quebec

What Shaped Her: Time spent in the backwoods of Northern Quebec with her father (a forest entomologist) helped to foster Atwood’s admiration for the wilderness. While her most notable works (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Oryx and Crake”) are set in a dystopian time and place, her fixation on nature is apparent in earlier works such as “Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature,” which is still taught as a key work in Canadian identity. Atwood’s collection of poems, “The Circle Game,” pits themes such as games, literature and love against the instability of nature.

Relive the Story: To experience the same nature that permeates much of Atwood’s writing, spend some time in Nord-du-Quebec and envelop yourself in the bird calls and towering pines that she currently works to conserve. Visit BonjourQuebec for itinerary ideas.

Alexander McCall Smith: Botswana

What Shaped Him: Born in what is now Zimbabwe, McCall Smith became a law professor in Scotland and returned to Africa to set up a new law school at the University of Botswana. Lovestruck with the country of Botswana, McCall Smith used it as the setting for his wildly popular series of mystery novels, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”

Relive the Story: The fictitious agency is located in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. The villages of Mochudi and Molepolole are also featured in the novels. The Orphan Farm in the books exists, though not under that name. A TV show based on the series was produced by HBO and filmed on location in Botswana — the first major television or film production to do so — but it only lasted one season. While on holiday here, venture on a safari through the Okavango Delta; it’s a region that McCall Smith himself enjoys visiting.

Agatha Christie: Istanbul, Turkey

What Shaped Her: Born in 1890 in southwest England, Christie moved to France for schooling and vacationed often in Cairo. In 1922, Christie took a world tour with her husband, which included a stop in Waikiki where they were among the first Brits to surf standing up. In 1931, Christie was stranded on an Orient Express train for 24 hours due to flooding. A few fellow passengers served as inspiration for characters in one of her most famous novels, “Murder on the Orient Express,” published three years later.

Relive the Story: Christie wrote “Murder on the Orient Express” during a stay at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. You can stay in the same room where she slept — ask for room 411, the Agatha Christie suite. For a taste of what inspired Christie, you can ride the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, an ultra-luxe train that travels routes across Europe.

–written by Brittany Chrusciel

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