In books, Baltimore beats Denver

As the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos get ready for their big playoff game Saturday, there are plenty of opinions about how the teams and cities compare. But in one competition -- based on books -- Baltimore wins hands down.

The East Coast city had the advantage of time and history, of course, and in literary matters, that can be a big edge. Denver didn't get its start until the mid-1800s, when word of a gold strike brought settlers to the banks of the South Platte River. By that time, Edgar Allan Poe had already won a literary prize in Baltimore and died, years later, on the east side of the city.

Among the other great authors who lived in Baltimore while Denver was still outgrowing its cow town image were Gertrude Stein, Upton Sinclair, H.L. Mencken, Zora Neale Hurston, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Dos Passos. The more recent names aren't too shabby either. There are Ogden Nash, Walter Lord and Russell Baker. Pulitzer Prize winners Anne Tyler and Taylor Branch. And contemporaries such as David Simon and Laura Lippman.

As for Denver's history? Novelist Jenny Shank's literary guide to the city for Poets & Writers magazine listed Annie Proulx and a few other notables last year. Though she noted the city's current robust literary culture, she lamented that "Denver has no book festival. We hang our heads in shame before you Omaha; Missoula, Montana; Tucson, Arizona; and Salt Lake—all home to rocking public literary festivals." (Not to mention the Baltimore Book Festival.)

To its credit, Denver has come a long way.

It boasts the Tattered Cover, one of the nation's great independent booskstores. And though I'm partial to the Enoch Pratt Free Library's graceful style, the downtown Denver library, designed by Michael Graves, is a pleasure to look at and visit.

Still, Baltimore wins big. And I hope the Ravens do the same Saturday.

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