Like most of you, we Washingtonians are attached (addicted?) to our digital devices. But the capital remains a haven for those who cherish words on paper, too. D.C. claims the No. 1 spot on USA Today’s list of the nation’s most literate cities and made National Geographic Traveler’s round-up of the top 10 bookworm destinations worldwide.
Esteemed authors who lived here—at least for a time—include 19th-century travel writer Eliza Scidmore, who also had a hand in bringing the Japanese cherry trees to D.C., plus Sinclair Lewis (buried in Rock Creek Cemetery), Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. Twain’s satire of political corruption, “The Gilded Age,” was inspired by his stint working as secretary to Nevada senator William Stewart. Now mystery-thriller scribes George Pelecanos and David Baldacci, as well as best-selling biographer Kitty Kelley, call the Washington area home. Read on for a day’s worth of sites related to D.C.’s literary past and present.
Breakfast at Busboys and Poets on the corner of 14th and U sts. NW begins daily at 8 am (9 am on weekends). Restaurateur-activist Andy Shallal named his “community gathering place” for poet Langston Hughes, who was once a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel (now a Marriott). Savor dishes like the Oaxaca omelette or tofu scramble, and check out the on-site bookstore. Across the street, Shallal’s Eatonville restaurant pays tribute to Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston, a Howard University alum.
Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St. NW, 202.387.7638
Eatonville, 2121 14th St. NW, 202.332.9672
For bibliophiles, there’s no better destination, of course, than the Library of Congress. Founded in 1800, the original library burned down in the War of 1812. Voracious reader Thomas Jefferson gave his personal collection of 6,487 books as a replacement, and now the library, the world’s largest, holds more than 158 million items. Free one-hour tours of the Jefferson Building give glimpses of the ornate Main Reading Room.
Also on Capitol Hill, the Folger Shakespeare Library contains the premier collection of Bard-related materials, including 82 copies of the 1623 First Folio (the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays). One of these is on permanent display in the Great Hall. Open daily, the library offers free tours of the Reading Room on Saturdays.
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave. SE, 202.707.5000
Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE, 202.544.4600
Even in chilly weather, the elegant Dupont Circle neighborhood attracts strollers. Walk by the former homes of children’s book writer Roald Dahl (2136 R St. NW) and cookbook author Julia Child (1745 N St. NW), who also lived in Georgetown at 2706 Olive St. NW. Then head to Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café, an indie stronghold since 1976. Hailed for its selections on shelves (well-curated travel section) and menus, the popular spot also “books” bands and stays open 24/7 on weekends.
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café, 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202.387.1400