Writers Walk spotlights Amherst’s literary legacy

  • A sign depicting the former home of children’s book authors Howard and Lilian Garis.  STAFF PHOTO/SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer
Published: 10/20/2021 1:54:51 PM

AMHERST — Pedestrians on several downtown streets can get brief history lessons about more than a dozen of the town’s acclaimed authors, and see the sites where they completed some of their works, with the recent installation of the Amherst Writers Walk.

First proposed in 2009 when Community Preservation Act funds were targeted for the project, 12 informational signs are now installed providing biographical sketches of 14 of the town’s literary giants, from poets Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost to playwright and University of Massachusetts professor Shirley Graham Du Bois and children’s book authors Howard and Lilian Garis.

On Friday at 4:30 p.m. outside 97 Spring St., home of the Five Colleges Consortium and where the sign for Howard and Lilian Garis is located, a walking tour will begin to celebrate the launch of the Writers Walk.

The Writers Walk originated as part of a public history course taught by Jon Olsen, associate professor of history at UMass. Students in Olsen’s class worked with local organizations to develop the hands-on experience and historic interpretation.

“The Amherst Writers Walk project was a perfect fit for our students to both contribute to a local project and experiment with some new technology for assisting self-guided tours using smartphones,” Olsen said.

Laura L. Lovett, a UMass professor of history, and Janet Marquardt, a retired professor of art history who serves on the town’s Historical Commission, were also involved.

Among the signs downtown are ones for Ray Stannard Baker at 118 Sunset Ave., who wrote under the pseudonym David Grayson; Frost, at 43 Sunset Ave; author Eugene Field and feminist and journalist Mary Heaton Vorse, at 19 Amity St.; and Dickinson, at 280 Main St.

Also represented is “Phantom Tollbooth” author Norton Juster, 259 Lincoln Ave.; American dictionary founder Noah Webster, 46 Main St.; and editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, 90 Spring St. The sign for Du Bois is at 30 Boltwood Ave., now The Boltwood Inn, while novelist and poet Helen Hunt Jackson, is at 249 South Pleasant St.

Three of the writers recognized lived outside downtown, including Robert Francis, who composes his poetry at “Fort Juniper” at 170 Market Hill Road in North Amherst, and Elaine Goodale and Charles Eastman, who wrote some of their works on social justice for Native Americans at “The Lodestone,” 850 Belchertown Road. Their sign is on Harkness Road due to the traffic volume on the state highway.

Marquardt said two more walks will be planned, one to honor children’s book writers and illustrators who have lived in Amherst, and another for contemporary writers.

The signs were designed by Seth Gregory and were installed by the town’s Department of Public Works.

Informational cards for the Writers Walk can be found at Town Hall, the Amherst Business Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, Jones Library and Amherst Books. More information on the Writers Walk and the writers’ biographies can be found at amherstma.gov/writerswalk.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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