Friday, July 18, 2008

A Trip to James Whitcomb Riley's House

The picture is of my oldest and youngest daughters on the porch of James Whitcomb Riley's museum in Greenfield, Indiana. One of the things I would like to do as we begin to do more traveling is to visit the home places of American authors. I want to see where they sat as they composed their works. I want to envision what their life was like. Just as I have been reading author biographies for years to try and glean information about the craft, these sights and tours also give some information. And it's just fun. My guess is that there are historic places close to you that you could visit, or have visited. Why don't you share some of your favorite spots with me? You might check out the National Historic Landmark site to find some in your area, or even the areas you are visiting.

So, what did I learn from my visit to James Whitcomb Riley's Birthplace? One of the main things that sticks out is that some of the things that happened in his poems were taken from his life. I know that's a shock for anyone who writes, but it's still neat to see the connections. The tour guide would have us look at a certain area, or stand in a certain part of the room, and she would recite some lines from one of Riley's poems that went with it. Ideas for writing are all around us, if we just keep our eyes and minds open.

There is a festival in Greenfield every October in honor of Riley, and it's called (drum roll) Riley Festival. Even though he's not very well known today, he was the most popular poet of his day. At the turn of the last century, he was a best-selling author and speaker. Today he has been labeled as a children's author and local color author and probably isn't as well known outside of Indiana. No matter how we categorize him, because we have to fit our authors into their niches, he will live forever through his writings, and isn't that what all authors are truly striving for - a legacy?
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