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Books and writers may die, but houses remain
Is it better to preserve the homes of famous writers, or send in the wreaking ball and use the profits for other literary pursuits? Anne Trubek, the author of A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses, questions whether or not writerly abodes have enough social and historical value to make them worth keeping around. Currently, there are about 73 writers’ houses open to the public in the United States, according to Trubek in the New York Times. So what do they have to offer?
These small museums do tell fascinating stories, though not always the ones they intend. In Cleveland, where I live, a community development group bought a house Langston Hughes lived in during his high school years for $100 at a sheriff’s sale in November 2009. The city has condemned the structure, so people are debating whether to raise the $100,000 it would cost to save it from demolition. The questions under discussion — Will a Hughes Museum attract tourists to a dicey part of town? Did Hughes live in the house long enough for it to be significant? — reflect the confusions at the heart of the idea of preserving writer’s houses. I’d argue we’d be better off using the money to help buy every school kid a book of Hughes’s poetry.