A Literary Guide to Washington, D.C.
Poetics—not just politics and polemics—abound in the Nation’s capital. Here’s a democratic mix (books, newspapers, fiction, poetry, non-fiction, magazines) of our favorite reads closely allied with Washington, D.C., site of our new home.
Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues
Before New York and the Harlem Renaissance, there was D.C. where, in 1924, Hughes briefly lived. He worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel and inspired Busboys and Poets’s—a local restaurant, bookstore, lounge, and theatre—name. The Weary Blues is Hughes’s first collection of poetry and was published in 1926.
Nora Ephron’s Heartburn
In reality, Nora Ephron relocated from New York City to D.C. to support her husband’s career. In Heartburn, protagonist Rachel Samsat does the same. Ephron’s hilarious (and allegedly autobiographical) novel captures the difficulties of marriage and moving to a new city with a literally delicious (hint: key lime pie) ending.
Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass
Published in 1855, the poetry collection acquired many vitriolic readers. Among them was James Harlan—Secretary of the Interior who, upon learning Whitman was its author, fired him from his job at the Department of the Interior in D.C.
“What makes a perfect spy tick?” in The Washington Post
Founded in 1877, D.C.’s oldest extant newspaper is only 101 years younger than the United States (and responsible for breaking the first Watergate scandal story). Appropriately, one article explores what draws a spy to the game and how “espionage training, it turned out, was a gas.”
Elliot Holt’s You Are One of Them
This novel explores the friendship between two girls that begins in D.C. and ends with a murder mystery to be solved in Russia.
Lillian Hellman’s Scoundrel Time
Once described as a “tough broad … the kind of girl who can take the tops off bottles with her teeth,” Hellman’s third memoir eviscerates the McCarthy era with its House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and her begrudging testimony before it.
“The History of Cricket in the United States” in Smithsonian Magazine
Smithsonian magazine chronicles topics researched, studied and exhibited by that benevolent behemoth, the Smithsonian Institute. With wonderfully diverse and engaging articles, each illuminate obscure minutiae on subjects like cricket, for example—a game “both very British, and to Americans, very confusing.”
Ann Beattie’s Distortions
Short story writer and novelist Ann Beattie’s literary genesis began in The New Yorker. Her biological one, in Washington, D.C. Distortions is her first collection of short stories.
Walking With the Wind by John Lewis with Michael D’Orso
Congressman John Lewis’s memoir remembers the civil right’s movement and his courageous engagement within it. As president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he represented the group with a speech at the August 28, 1963 March on Washington.