Literary Boroughs #10: Asheville, North Carolina

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the tenth post on Asheville, North Carolina by Catherine Campbell. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Asheville, the “Paris of the South,” is home to thousands of artists, including painters, dancers, sculptors and writers. The mountain town has been called both a “freak capital” and “the torn notch of the Bible Belt,” while also voted as one of the “Top 10 Most Beautiful Places in America” and one of the top seven places to live.

The city feels like a retreat from anywhere. Writers come here to take time with their craft, study and establish their art. Some people just want to kick back with a book after hiking all day. With its city conveniences nestled in a pastoral setting, it offers a great spot for both.

City: Asheville, North Carolina

What the city is known for: the Biltmore Estate, lots of mountains, lots of beer, the French Broad River, some crystal vortex under the city’s center, good restaurants, street performers, the Blue Ridge Parkway, green initiatives, the River Arts District.

Resident writers: Thomas Wolfe, author of  Look Homeward, Angel, is Asheville’s literary hero. The writer’s childhood home, the Old Kentucky Home boarding house, still stands downtown and the Wolfe Memorial Visitor Center is located behind it at 52 North Market Street.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald vacationed here. Zelda frequently visited the area over twelve years until her tragic death in the Highland Hospital fire in 1948.

The city and outlying area have been home and inspiration to numerous authors, including: the Fitzgeralds, Charles Frazier, Wilma Dykeman, Carl Sandburg, Ron Rash, Sarah Addison Allen, Fred Chappell, Elizabeth Kostova, Robert Creely, Russell Edson, Stephanie Perkins, Cynn Chadwick, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Keith Flynn, Wiley Cash, Gail Godwin, Wayne Caldwell, Mark de Castrique, and Robert Morgan. O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) is buried at Riverside Cemetery.

Literary References:

Asheville is mentioned in The Great Gatsby, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, Ron Rash’s The World Made Straight, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, Jennifer Estep’s Mythos Academy series, Robert Morgan’s This Rock and Catherine Marshall’s Christy. Feel free to add to this list in the blog comments!

Where to learn: 

Warren-Wilson College‘s  prestigious low-residency MFA program is located just outside of Asheville in the idyllic farmland community of Swannanoa.

UNC-Asheville has both the option of an undergraduate concentration in creative writing in their Literature and Language program, as well as their Great Smokies Writing Program, offering advanced writing workshops in fiction, nonfiction and poetry for course credit. Be sure to check out A-B Tech Community College for continuing education courses in creative writing. These are affordable short-term classes to give your writing a boost.

Where to find reading material:

There are enough bookstores in the metro area alone to organize a weekend book crawl (and enough pubs for stops in between). Malaprop‘s is literally and figuratively the book cornerstone of the city. Most tourists will gravitate here, but locals love its sister store Downtown Books & News (used books and cool zines), cozy two-story Montford Books, rare & antiquarian bookseller  The Captain’s Bookshelf, Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, the co-op Firestorm Cafe, and Spellbound Children’s Book Shop. There are several great indie bookstores in the city limits, too! Be sure to make a list before your visit.

Where to get published:

Popular online journal Identity Theory recently declared Asheville its new home. UNC-A produces two literary magazines: the “art without pants” Metabolism and the annual Headwaters. Verse-slingers aim for internationally-recognized Asheville Poetry Review. For book queries, try Grateful Steps Publishing.

Where to write:  Rumor has it writers don’t like sunshine. Or fresh air. Or happiness. But this town can turn anyone into a feel-good nature-lover. Bring a blanket and relax in the Botanical Gardens or at Beaver Lake. There are plenty of off-trail fields and groves where you can kick back with a notebook and pen, or go for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Need an IV drip of caffeine instead? Try Izzy’s Coffee Den, Waking Life Espresso, BattleCat Coffee Bar (real name, I swear), or indulge in a chocolate truffle and French press pot at French Broad Chocolate Lounge

Events/Festivals: Get your poetry kicks Monday nights at Altamont Theatre, write your Great Work of Genius with AsheNoWriMo (a bi-weekly write-in) and don’t miss the Juniper Bends reading series. Malaprop’s hosts many author readings. Make sure to mark three annual festivals in your iCal: WordFest, a spoken-word and poetry multi-day event, Blue Ridge Book Fest held in nearby Hendersonville and the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville.

Next post: August 6 | Washington, D.C. …

BIO:  Catherine Campbell was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains. She has a BA in Literature & Language from UNC-Asheville and currently attends Queens University MFA program. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in PANK, Drunken Boat, Prick of the Spindle, Matchbook and other journals.


Downtown Books & News: Known by locals as “DBN.” Photo courtesy of Downtown Books & News.

Asheville at night. Photo credit anonymous.

Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home. Photo courtesy of Wolfe Memorial and North Carolina Historic Sites.


Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section!

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