St. Petersburg a ‘City of Writers’; Provincetown Should Be Too

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

St. Petersburg, Fla., was declared “City of Writers” a couple of months ago, shortly after local poet Peter Meinke was named a poet laureate. The city has been home at one point or another to some notable writers — Jack Kerouac and Pulitzer prize winning journalists Tom French, Lane DeGregory to name a few.

I won’t lie; I like the idea of saying I live in a city of writers and hope I can contribute to the education of young writers who come through The Poynter Institute and the city’s schools. I’m especially proud that St. Pete has been deemed a City of Writers because I know how much work my colleague, Roy Peter Clark, put into helping the city get this title.

I think, though, that there are plenty of cities that are just as deserving of the title. The Northeast has been home to so many amazing writers — Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, etc.

I remember visiting these authors’ houses as a little girl. My mom and I would visit Louisa’s house in Concord, Mass., after going to the nearby toy store where I’d play with bouncy balls and log onto the store’s computers for a game of “Oregon Trail.” (I didn’t have a computer growing up. My mom bought me a Smith Corona because “all great writers need a typewriter.” Computers, she said, were just a “passing phase” …!)

Mom and I would visit Hawthorne’s house around Halloween after we had mingled with the wannabe witches who flock every October to Salem, the city of the witchcraft trials. During the summer, we’d visit Thoreau’s little shack in the woods after a swim in Waldon Pond.

Mom figured it was best for me to see where great literary figures lived, maybe for inspiration, maybe to show me that all the stories I used to write about crossing bridges into imaginary lands could someday morph into novels that would actually be published.

We need moms to give us hope like that.

I always got a similar feeling of motivation whenever I visited Provincetown, a town on the tip of Cape Cod that I visited most summers when vacationing at my grandma’s house in Dennisport, Mass. The town is beautiful beaches, harbor, etc. You can walk down the main street and listen to drag queen a capella groups, then head to a nearby dock for a sliver of serenity.

The two extremes seem to reflect the tensions that writers seek, the kind of escapism that lets one be shamelessly outlandish in public and then retreat to places like Province Lands, 3,500 of national parkland near Provincetown.

Many literary greats have inhabited this area; Norman Mailer, Micheal Cunningham and poet Mary Oliver come to mind. Oliver once wrote: “I too fell in love with the town, that marvelous convergence of land and water; Mediterranean light; fishermen who made their living by hard and difficult work from frighteningly small boats; and, both residents and sometime visitors, the many artists and writers.”

The New York Times‘ Mary Duenwald included this quote in a thoughtful piece she wrote about Oliver and Provincetown in Sunday’s paper. It’s worth a read to learn more about Provincetown and why it attracted Oliver and other writers.

Provincetown may not have the official “City of Writers” label as St. Petersburg does, but I’d say it’s pretty deserving of the title. And it’s well worth a visit if you haven’t been, especially if you want to write.

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