What do you know about popular Midwest Writers and their books? The Midwest is home to many incredibly talented writers from the old days through today. However, most of the time, people tend to crave the info on the classic authors.
Where did they grow up?
How did they find the inspiration for events and characters?
Today we would love to share a few recommendations of road trip stops you can make to learn more about your favorite Midwest authors.
Louis L’Amour – North Dakota
There may no be a better known western writer than Louis L’Amour. With nearly 90 novels centered on the wild west (he also wrote a little science fiction), the Jamestown, North Dakota, native enjoyed over 100 published works in his writing career.
Louis L’Amour spent the first 12 years of his life in Jamestown, ND, before the family moved to California. You can trace his life in North Dakota with the help of a 1.5-mile self-guided walking tour.
Plan to spend two hours on the trail. You will find the city library and a kiosk highlighting the author’s accomplishments. You will come across a L’Amour’s childhood home marker.
Don’t forget to check out the Louis L’Amour exhibit at the Frontier Village, followed by a short walk to visit Dakota, the world’s largest buffalo.
F. Scott Fitzgerald – Minnesota
F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up in Saint Paul wrote more than 160 short stories and four novels. You probably know that his most famous book is The Great Gatsby. You will discover this Fitzgerald’s story again on a 90-minute guided walking tour through his childhood neighborhood.
Alternatively, you can take a self-guided walking tour at any time of the year. Visit his birth site and the place where he lived for two years before his family moved. Note, though – each tour does not include interior visits.
Willa Cather – Nebraska
Born in Virginia, Willa Cather considered Red Cloud her hometown. She based most of her characters and key buildings of her novels on people and places she knew in Red Cloud.
The National Willa Cather Center offers a guided tour of key locations around town. Visit the author’s childhood home and the Second Cather Home (now bed and breakfast). With about a dozen novels, such as O Pioneers! and My Antonia, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, spent much of her adulthood in New York, but always enjoyed coming home to Red Cloud. A short drive south of town, the Willa Cather Prairie features more than 600 acres of never-plowed wild prairie grass, native to Nebraska.
Mark Twain – Missouri
Samuel Clemens was born in Hannibal, Missouri. The author, better known as Mark Twain, used his childhood and friends as the characters in his books The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and others.
When you travel to Hannibal, you can visit Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, only a few feet from the Mississippi River and his friends Tom and Becky’s homes.
Reenact the scene where Huck and Tom “sell” the opportunity to whitewash the fence near Twain’s home. A few blocks away in downtown Hannibal, the Mark Twain Museum features interactive exhibits based on his novels, including a raft that you can navigate.
For a physical challenge, climb more than 200 steps to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse overlooking the Mississippi River. During the spring-fall season, check out a river cruise on the Mark Twain River Boat, an old-fashioned paddleboat, just like the one that Twain once piloted.
Ernest Hemingway – Illinois
Ernest Hemingway is possibly known best for his novel The Old Man and the Sea, part-author and part-celebrity. Publishing seven fiction novels, two nonfiction books, and several short stories, Hemingway enjoyed his greatest success over a three-decade period, from the 1920s through the ‘50s.
With homes in Key West and Cuba, he lived his final days at a house in Idaho. Today, you can visit the Hemingway Birthplace in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Built in 1890, the Queen Anne-style house maintains an appearance from the era. Hemingway was born on the second floor in 1899, and lived there for the first six years of his life.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
While Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin, the author’s family lived in Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, before she and husband Almanzo would spend the final years of their lives in Missouri.
The Laura Ingalls Historic Highway runs along Highway 14 from Pepin to De Smet, South Dakota. In Pepin, visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, where you can see exhibits from her childhood, as well as visit her birth site a few miles from town at her childhood home a few miles from town, as well as the Wayside Cabin, a replica of the cabin at her birth site.
Don’t forget to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, MN. The museum includes Ingalls artifacts and memorabilia from the television series Little House on the Prairie. The Original Ingalls Dugout – the family home – is located along Plum Creek, outside of town.
The family moved from Walnut Grove to northeast Iowa, here Charles Ingalls operated the Burr Oak Hotel. Following an unsuccessful run as a hotel manager, Charles and the family returned to Walnut Grove.
In South Dakota
The final move the Ingalls family made was to De Smet, South Dakota, where Charles successfully managed the Ingalls Homestead. It’s here that Laura got the inspiration her Little House on the Prairie series.
You can visit a replica of the home that the Ingalls built, as well as other attractions, including a sod house and a one-room schoolhouse. Consider spending the night in an on-site covered wagon.
The Ingalls family – sans Laura and Almanzo – is buried at the De Smet cemetery. They have their own section, as the gravesites are popular spots to visit for people.
Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family moved to Mansfield, Missouri, where she and Almanzo lived the rest of their lives. She wrote the Little House series from her home in Mansfield. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum offers a look at the Wilders’ life in Missouri. Laura and Almanzo are buried in the Mansfield Cemetery.
L. Frank Baum – Aberdeen, SC
L. Frank Baum, the author of Wizard of Oz, only lived in the Aberdeen for three years. He owned Baum’s Bazaar – a novelty store. Baum also published a weekly newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer.
Known to so many as a childrens book, the Wizard of Oz started as a collection of stories L. Frank created to entertain his four sons. While the book story starts in Kansas, many believe that the author described small South Colorina’s town and its citizens in the tale. Besides that, the book was published while he lived in Aberdeen.
Aberdeen commemorated its famous citizen in the best way possible – they created a Storybook Land featuring The Land of Oz. It starts with a Dorothy’s house and leads to the famous Land of Oz and the yellow brick road. The road will walk you through the plot of the first and the most well known book by the author. The Storybook Land is free to visit and greets 200,000 visitors every year.
Being considered “fly over country,” it’s almost humorous when someone mentions a famous person you know lived in the Midwest. Knowing there are famous authors’ homes, museums, and special locations we can visit to learn even more about them adds to our Midwestern pride.
Enjoy your tours, and good reading!