Baltimore is a city steeped in a literary tradition and a love for books. Each year the Inner Harbor hosts a weekend-long book festival, our independent bookstores are going strong, and we’re the only city with a professional sports team whose name gives a nod to a poem (Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven).
With such a booming literary scene in the past and present, it’s no surprise that many famous writers have called Charm City their home. If you take a literary tour of the city, you can step in the footsteps of American writers, including Edgar Allan Poe, H.L. Menchen, Emily Post, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Dos Passos, Zora Neal Hurston, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, Ogden Nash, and Gertrude Stein, to name a few. Contemporary authors who have worked in the city include Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tom Clancy, David Simon, Wes Moore, Nora Roberts, Ann Tyler, and Laura Lippman. This guide can help you dive into Baltimore’s literary scene, explore some literary landmarks, and make some stories of your own.
Take a Literary Tour
Maryland Humanities’ Literary Mount Vernon Walking Tour
April through October, third Saturday of each month
Spend two hours on a Saturday following in the footsteps of some of Baltimore’s literary greats. You’ll get to explore the neighborhood haunts of great Baltimore authors and come to understand their lives intersected. Tours set off from the Enoch Pratt Free Library (400 Cathedral Street); you can also download a map or app and take the tour on your own time. Click here for more information.
Baltimore National Heritage Area’s Mount Vernon Cultural Walk
May through October, first Sunday of each month
These 90-minute guided tours explores the fine architecture and world-renowned institutions along Charles Street, one of the city’s main arteries and a National Historic Byway. Stops include the Walters Art Museum, Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the George Peabody Institute, all of which are have literary significance in Baltimore. Guided tours generally depart from the Baltimore Visitor Center (1401 Light Street in the Inner Harbor); maps for self-guided tours are also available for purchase there. Click here for more information.
Explore Literary Landmarks
Dorothy Parker Garden
4805 Mt. Hope Drive
This memorial garden at the headquarters for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the final resting place of poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist Dorothy Parker. Best known for her wit and wisecracks, she once suggested that her epitaph read: “Excuse My Dust.” In an interesting turn of events, her ashes went unclaimed for 21 years, including 15 years in her attorney’s filing cabinet. The NAACP built this memorial garden for her and interred her ashes there. Click here for more information.
Enoch Pratt Free Library
400 Cathedral Street
The main branch of Baltimore’s public library takes up nearly an entire city block. In 2010, two million people visited the library—more people than attended Ravens games. An entire room at the library is dedicated to H.L. Mencken, and there is also a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s letters, poetry, and photographs—and even a lock of his hair. One of the oldest free public library systems in the United States, there are 22 additional branches throughout the city and surrounding area. Click here for more information.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
811 Cathedral Street
The first woman in history to receive a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Edna St. Vincent Millay, frequently read during meetings of the Maryland Poetry Society at this church in Mount Vernon. Millay championed the plight of women and the oppression of traditional gender roles, and was known as “the embodiment of the liberated woman of the 1920s.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s House
1307 Park Avenue
F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of great works like “This Side of Paradise” and “The Great Gatsby,” went through a dark period in Baltimore. This house is the last place he lived with his wife Zelda, who was often in local hospitals for a series of mental breakdowns. Writer H.L. Mencken, wrote in his journal in 1934: "The case of F. Scott Fitzgerald has become distressing. He is a boozing in a wild manner and has become a nuisance." Although the house is not open to the public, you can see a blue historical designation on the outside of the rowhome. Click here for more information.
Gertrude Stein’s House
215 E. Biddle Street
Although Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo only lived at this location Baltimore for about six years, the influence of life in Mount Vernon introduced Stein to a variety of people and perspectives that influenced much of her later work. Stein studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University for three years and later claimed Baltimore as her “place of domicile” in her will despite her 39-year absence from the city. Click here for more information.
George Peabody Library
This expansive library in Mount Vernon near the Washington Monument has been described as a “cathedral of books” and is considered to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Its atrium is surrounded by five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies. The library’s 300,000 volume collection is open for perusal by the general public, and it houses an impressive amount of H.L. Mencken’s writings. It also made a cameo in the 1993 film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Click here for more information.
H.L. Mencken House
1524 Hollins Street
H.L. Mencken live in Baltimore for more than 45 years and wrote for many city publications, including The Baltimore Sun. He was given the nickname the “Sage of Baltimore.” He lived in this brick rowhouse from 1883 until his death in 1956. The house is currently not open to the public, but a special commemorative plaque near the door can tell you more about its famous occupant. Click here for more information.
John H.B. Latrobe House
11 W. Mulberry Street
On an evening in October of 1883, three Baltimore gentleman in this house pored over manuscripts submitted in a literary contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. Their unanimous choice for the best prose tale was “MS. Found in a Bottle,” by an unknown, penniless author named Edgar Allan Poe. The $50 cash prize helped launch his literary career. Click here for more information.
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
10 East Mt. Vernon Place
This Victorian Gothic church was built at the site that once housed the mansion of of Elizabeth Phoebe Key, the daughter of Francis Scott Key, who penned “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Francis Scott Key died in his home, and a plaque observing his death is on the southern outside church wall. Look for a plaque that serves as a historical designation. Click here for more information.
The Owl Bar
1 East Chase Street
F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.L. Mencken were frequently seen together in this bar of the historic Belvedere Hotel in Mount Vernon. Not much has changed since the Jazz Age (a term Fitzgerald coined); the dimly lit bar features oak benches and stained-glass windows, and even an owl statue that signaled the police were near with the blink of its eyes during prohibition. Click here for more information.
The Baltimore Poe House and Museum
203 Amity Street
Edgar Allan Poe once lived at this house-turned-museum that displays portraits, personal effects, and mementos left by Baltimore's "Poe Toaster," a mysterious person who left a partial bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave on the author's birthday for decades. There is a special event each year around Halloween that celebrates Poe's birthday. Click here for more information.
Walters Art Museum
600 N Charles Street
This public art museum’s extraordinary collection chronicles the art of the book over more than 1,000 years. The collection includes more than 900 illuminated manuscripts, 1,250 of the first printed books, and an important collection of post-1500 deluxe editions. Books come from all over the world, and include first-printed editions of ancient texts by great thinkers such as Aristotle and Euclid, diaries written by Napoleon, and intricate bindings crafted by Tiffany. Click here for more information.
Browse Baltimore’s Independent Book Stores
3620 Falls Road
This independent bookstore in Hampden has a wide range of comics, zines, magazines, art books, graphic novels, and more. There are also toys and other kitschy items, plus a “Marylandia” section featuring books by local authors. Click here for more information.
Everyone’s Place African Cultural Center
1356 W North Avenue
This bookstore has been a staple in West Baltimore for more than 30 years. The black-owned business has an immense collection of literature by black authors and about the history of African diaspora. There are also music, DVDs, oils, herbal medicines, jewelry, and clothing for sale.
Mahogany Exchange/Out of Africa Boutique
111 W. Saratoga Street
This specialty shop features artwork by African, African-American, and local artists and authors. In addition to books, the store features antiques, furniture, textiles, dinnerware, baskets, dolls, jewelry, and clothing.
425 E. 31st Street
The collectively-run shop in the Abell neighborhood near Charles Village is a labyrinth of new and used books. Its nooks and crannies are filled with everything from small press graphic novels to books on Eastern philosophy and vinyl records. Click here for more information.
30 W. North Avenue
Named for anarchist an dpolitical activist Emma Goldman, Red Emma's is a worker-owned and collectively-managed bookstore and coffeeshop in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. This is the place to go for radical literature, house-roasted coffee, and vegan food. Click here for more information.
The Ivy Bookshop
6080 Falls Road
The store in Mount Washington hosts many author readings and other literary events. They collaborate with several different educational and cultural partners, including the Enoch Pratt Free Library, WYPR, the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, and more. Click here for more information.
African American Children’s Book Fair
At this annual festival at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, children can dive into the world of kids’ literature focused on African Americans. In addition to a Book Village with books for sale, visitors can enjoy author readings, illustration workshops, performances, and craft activities. Click here for more information.
Baltimore Book Festival
September 22-24, 2017
Each September, the Inner Harbor is turned into a book-lovers dream during this weekend-long festival. Hundreds of author appearances, readings and book signings take place, and exhibitors and booksellers set up shop in booths along the water. There are workshops, panel discussions, live music, and concessions, as well as plenty of hands-on activities for kids. Click here for more information.
Baltimore CityLit Festival
The CItyLit Project is dedicated to elevating enthusiasm for literary arts in the Baltimore area. Each year, the organization hosts a daylong celebration of literature in partnership with the Enoch Pratt Free Library. In addition to bringing well-known authors to Baltimore, the festival showcases Baltimore’s diverse community of self-published authors, small presses, and literary journals and organizations. Click here for more information.