Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tour This Rock - Blog These Tours

A message from Kim Roberts:

Three guided walking tours will be offered on the Saturday morning of the Split This Rock festival. I'm very pleased to be coordinating the tours, because it's a great opportunity to remind participants of DC's rich, vibrant (and often overlooked) literary history. These tours will be fun--they are a wonderful way to take a walk around three neighborhoods and see them with new eyes! The tours will be offered concurrently, and are limited to the first 25 people who sign up for each. (You can sign up when you register for the festival.) Tours run from 10:30 am to noon on March 22.

"Walt Whitman's Washington" is a tour of the sites downtown where Whitman lived in boardinghouses, worked as a clerk for the Federal government, and volunteered in Civil War hospitals. The tour is led by Martin Murray, a nationally-known scholar specializing in Whitman's ten years of residence in DC. Martin is also the founder of the Washington Friends of Walt Whitman (, this tour's sponsoring organization. Martin is adept at incorporating Whitman's own words into his tours, interweaving poems, letters, journal entries, and essays into the experience, which helps you visualize what the city was like during and after the Civil War, when downtown streets were unpaved, and there were no highrises, when almost every large building was taken over as a temporary hospital for wounded soldiers pouring into the city from battlegrounds to the south.

"GLBT Writers of Washington" will focus on the Dupont Circle neighborhood, an area where gay literary culture flourished from the 1970s to the present. Dan Vera is currently researching and writing this tour, which will include bookstores, clubs, Dupont Park, and writers homes. This tour is sponsored by White Crane, a magazine of gay wisdom and culture, of which Dan is Managing Editor ( Dan is also co-publisher of the DC-based Vrzhu Press, which publishes books of poetry, and a fine poet himself. I can't give many details of the tour as yet--it's still in progress! But Dan says he is excited to be learning so much about his literary forebears, and hopes to show in this tour the importance of community in supporting the work of writers such as Essex Hemphill, Ed Cox, Tim Dlugos, Michael Lally, Richard McCann, and Andrew Holleran.

"The 'Harlem' Renaissance in Washington" is my own tour of the greater U Street neighborhood. Despite its misleading name, the 'Harlem' Renaissance actually got its start in DC, and many of the literary stars of that movement lived here, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Jessie Fauset. We'll talk about the Saturday Nighters salon, the 12th Street Y, the Association for Negro History, Howard University...most of the buildings and houses from the 1920s still stand (and are well preserved!) so it's easy to imagine what it might be like strolling the "Black Broadway" of U Street, perhaps all dressed up for a movie at the Lincoln Theater, or heading to True Reformers Hall for a concert by Duke Ellington's band. I hope to recreate that earlier time, when American letters were on the cusp of change. This tour is sponsored by Beltway Poetry Quarterly (

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