There are many great writers who call Baltimore "home." It's a shame that our local bookstores don't feel this is a big deal. When we asked at each store for Baltimore authors, we were led to the local-interest section where we found tidewater schedules and the history of form stone. Not quite what we had in mind.
Of all the stores we visited, only Borders featured a display aptly titled "Local Literati," which included everyone from Edgar Allen Poe to filmmaker John Waters. Take note, mega-bookstores, here's a rundown of some of the mightiest pens in Baltimore.
Rafael Alvarez, "Storyteller" (2001), "Orlo and Leini" (2000), "Hometown Boy: The Hoodle Patrol and Other Curiosities of Baltimore" (1999), "The Fountain of Highlandtown: Stories" (1997) The Baltimore Sun reporter has compiled journalistic explorations of the city and writes fantastical tales set in Patterson Park and East Baltimore.
Russell Baker, "Growing Up" (1991) This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is an American coming-of-age tale set between the two big wars. It features Depression-ravaged Baltimore as its backdrop.
Madison Smartt Bell, "Master of the Crossroads" (2000), "Ten Indians" (1996), "All Souls Rising" (1995), "Doctor Sleep" (1992) The author of 11 novels and professor of creative writing at Goucher College writes about the slave revolt in Haiti in his newest book. In his article "Small Blue Thing," Smartt Bell discusses Poe's "Raven" and comments on the demise of all that has been lost since Poe's time.
Taylor Branch, "Pillar of Fire" (1998), "The Eyes on the Prize" (1991), "Parting the Waters" (1989) Branch has compiled a three-volume set that is more than a biography of the Rev. Martin Luther King, it's a magnifying glass on society during the lifetime of the great man, and it shows how his legacy affected generations to come.
Lucille Clifton, "One of the Problems of Everett Anderson" (2001), "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000" (2000), "The Terrible Stories" (1995) This author is currently Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College of Maryland and has also served as Maryland's poet laureate and won a National Book Award for "Blessing the Boats."
Dan Fesperman, "Lie in the Dark" (1999) The Baltimore Sun reporter sets a homicide investigation amid the Bosnian conflict.
Mark Friedman, "Columbus Slaughters Braves" (2000) An Orioles fan originally from Silver Spring, this law student was inspired to write his story about baseball and brothers by Cal Ripken and his 2,131st game. Friedman researched the book, which is not about the Orioles but the Cubs, by catching a few games and interviewing outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.
Ivy Goodman, "A Chapter from Her Upbringing" (2001) The Sun praised this author and her book of short stories for being able to relate on a very real level to many different women.
Stephen Hunter, "Pale Horse Coming" (2001), "Hot Springs" (2000). Despite the fact that he is the former movie critic for the Baltimore Sun, Hunter is making a name for himself writing thrillers.
Wendy Jefferson, "Best Friends" (2001) This is Jefferson's first book. She lives in Baltimore and works at an area hospital.
Laura Lippman, "In a Strange City" (2001), "Sugar House" (2000), "Big Trouble" (1999), "Butcher's Hill" (1998), "Baltimore Blues" (1997), "Charm City" (1997) A Baltimore Sun reporter, Lippman started a mystery series starring the fictional heroine Tess Monaghan -- a former reporter turned P.I.-for-hire in Baltimore.
Sujata Massey, "The Bride's Kimono" (2001), "The Floating Girl" (2000), "The Flower Master" (1999), "Zen Attitude" (1998), "The Salaryman's Wife" (1997) A former reporter at the Baltimore Sun and former teacher in Japan, Massey weaves her experiences into a series of titles starring Rei Shimua, a Japanese-American antiques dealer living in Tokyo.
Alice McDermott, "A Bigamist's Daughter" (1999), "Charming Billy" (1998) Although she usually sets her stories in places like Ireland or Long Island, this Maryland-based writer is still homegrown.
Sean McGrady, "Town Without a Zip" (1997), "Sealed With A Kiss" (1995), "Dead Letters" (1992) Although he may be less known than other fiction writers who set their tales in Baltimore, McGrady has a series of whodunits starring U.S. postal inspector Eamon Wearie. He travels throughout the city solving murder mysteries using his mail-delivery skills.
H.L. Mencken, "The Diary of H.L. Mencken" (1991), "American Language" (1945-48), "Heathen Days" (1943), "Treatise on the Gods" (1930) Born at 380 W. Lexington St., the sage of Baltimore (and Baltimore Sun columnist) gained worldwide notoriety when he was chosen to cover the Scopes Monkey trial in 1925. He later satirized the South and went on to become one of the most prolific social critics of the 20th century.
Eric Mills, "Chesapeake Rumrunners of the Roaring Twenties" (2000) Did you know that Maryland's very own Eastern Shore serviced most of the entire East Coast with bootlegged goods during the 13 years of Prohibition? This nonfiction book documents just that -- Chesapeake watermen who became expertise smugglers.
Allison Pollack, "Return to Suicide" (2001) This Mt. Airy resident saw her first novella published in 2001.
Edgar Allen Poe, "Goldbug" (1843), "The Tell-Tale Heart" (1843), "Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) Although Richmond tries to claim him as its own, Poe spent the beginning and end of his life in Baltimore. His grandfather settled here, he met his wife here, and he is laid to rest at Westminster Burying Ground on the corner of Fayette and Greene streets.
Patty Rice, "Reinventing the Woman: A Novel" (2001), "Somethin' Extra" (2000) A poet as well as an author, Rice lives in Maryland with her two daughters. She is a co-founder of My Sister Writers, a writers' group for African-American women
Colby Rodowsky, "Clay" (2001), "Spindrift" (2000), "The Turnabout Shop" (1998), "Not My Dog" (1999), "Remembering Mog" (1996), "Sydney, Invincible" (1995), "Hannah In Between" (1994), "Lucy Peale" (1992), "Dog Days" (1990), "Sydney, Herself" (1989), "Fitchett's Folly" (1987), "Julie's Daughter" (1986), "Keeping Time" (1983), "H, My Name Is Henley" (1982), "The Gathering Room" (1981), "P.S. Write Soon" (1978). Rodowsky currently lives in Baltimore across the street from the house where she grew up. In between, though, she lived in New York and Washington, D.C. She also attended the College of Notre Dame, Maryland. She tried to set all of her book in the general area, including Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.
Gilbert Sandler, "Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album" (2000) This work of nonfiction tells the stories from 1850 to the present of neighborhoods and neighborhood landmarks that have been important to the history of Baltimore's Jewish community. Also by Sandler: "The Neighborhood: The Story of Baltimore's Little Italy" and "Baltimore Glimpses Revisited."
David Simon, "The Corner" (1997), "Homicide: Life on the Street" (1993) This former Baltimore Sun reporter started writing his gritty urban tales by following three homicide squads in 1998. At the corner of Fayette and Monroe streets, he began to chronicle one family's struggle in their neighborhood.
Manil Suri, "The Death of Vishnu" (2000) Born in India, Suri is now a professor of mathematics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. His novel, set in his native country, examines the lives of the residents in an apartment as seen by a resident, Vishnu, dying on the front steps.
Anne Tyler, "Back When We Were Grownups" (2001), "Patchwork Planet" (1998), "Saint Maybe" (1991), "Breathing Lessons" (1988), "The Accidental Tourist" (1985), "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" (1982) Made famous by the movie version of "The Accidental Tourist," starring William Hurt, Geena Davis and the Homeland neighborhood of Baltimore, Tyler combines quirky characters and real emotion into each of her books -- all set in neighborhoods in the city. Her most recent, "Grownups," combines comedy and reality in a story about a widow who finds time between family and work to track down her college sweetheart.
Stephen Vicchio, "Executioner's Hill" (2001). Even though this novel takes place in Holland, the author is a local. The story, set in 1799, is about a prisoner who is related to his executioner.
Scenes and the city
Although the following authors may not call Baltimore home, they have written scenes involving the city in some heavy-hitting books.
"Timbuktu" (1999) by Paul Auster uses a dog to illustrate the plight of homeless people in America. The Baltimore-based characters search for a real home and compassion.
"Coming Soon!" (2001) The plot of this novel (which features a novel-within-a-novel) is pretty hard to follow, but it involves the Chesapeake Bay and Johns Hopkins University. Author John Barth is rather prolific -- he's written 12 novels over a span of 45 years. Where else can you go after that but to Baltimore?
"The Hearse You Came In On" (2000) is not a misprint of the infamous Fells Point saloon. It's a novel by Tim Cockey, whose Elmore Leonard-esque story takes place in the streets of Baltimore.
"The Trouble with Mary," (2001) In this romance novel by Millie Criswell, Mary Russo decides to open an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. The eatery is a huge success until the local paper runs a scathing review of it by food critic Dan Gallagher. Sparks fly when Mary confronts Dan about his article.
"Gabriel's Story" (2001) is the first novel from David Anthony Durham. It offers a view of the American frontier after the Civil War from the perspective of a black teen-ager from Baltimore. He moves to Kansas with his mother after she is lured by the promise of free land.
"Anna All Year Round," (1999) Mary Downing Hahn's tale about 8-year-old heroine Anna takes place in Baltimore when gaslight illuminated the streets and the automobile was a novel idea. The young readers' choice.
"Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay" (2001) is a non-fiction volume about how the bloody war was played out on the Chesapeake.
"The Horse You Came In On" (1996) by Martha Grimes features Scotland Yard sleuth Richard Jury traveling to Baltimore to solve some murders. Victims include a Baltimore street person and a Johns Hopkins Ph.D. candidate.
In "Silence of the Lambs" (1988) and "Hannibal," (1999) Thomas Harris places the charmingly evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson.
"Aunt Flossie's Hats (And Crab Cakes Later)" (1991) and "Chita's Christmas Tree" (1993) both by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, tell the story of two African-American girls at the turn-of-the-century in Baltimore. Both books are highly acclaimed children's classics.
"The Crawlspace Conspiracy: A Novel" (1995) by Thomas Keech, a tale of slimy politicians and bureaucrats, is set in the heart of Baltimore. As a Maryland Assistant Attorney General with the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, Keech may be drawing on real-life experiences. You'll have to read it to find out.
"Miracle Max -- Missing in Maryland" (2001) by Lisa B.C. O'Connell is the story of a lovable German Shepherd that solves mysteries.
"The Mysterious Matter of I.M. Fine" (2001) by Diane Stanley shows that the Baltimore-as-mystery-setting genre extends to kids. The students at H.L. Mencken Middle School try to find author I.M. Fine after the readers of his books suffer "exploding" headaches.
"Buried in Baltimore" (2001) is further proof that female characters who live in Baltimore lead very mysterious lives. Louise Titchener's book centers around Toni Credella, a Baltimore resident trying to solve the murder of her friend, which seems to be tied to a young woman's murder 30 years before.
"Miss Susie Slagle's" (1939) by Augusta Tucker is part history lesson (on Johns Hopkins Medical School), part romance and part coming-of-age story.
"Company Man: A Novel" (1992) by Brent Wade is eerily similar to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill scandal. Wade writes about a young, successful, black Republican accused of sexual harassment. The character, a Baltimore marketing executive, struggles with his past and his future in this study on corporate America.