Festivals aren’t the only places to see national writers read in Baltimore, though. The Woodberry-Hampden-Remington area in Northwest Baltimore City is a good place to sample a mix of local, regional, and national talent. In the Northwest corner rests Woodberry, the home of Baltimore’s historic old textile mills (many of which have been converted into upscale living spaces and businesses). James Beard Award–winning chef Spike Gjerde opened the world-class Woodberry Kitchen here in 2007, helping to revitalize the neighborhood, and it’s also home to a reclaimed stone story turned neighborhood coffee shop, Artifact Coffee. One Monday a month, I host a fiction reading series at Artifact called Starts Here!, sponsored by the Ivy Bookshop. Over the past two years Starts Here! has hosted some of the best upcoming and acclaimed novelists and short fiction writers, including Laura van den Berg, Pamela Erens, Stephen Dixon, Julia Fierro, and Gina Frangello.
Just south on Falls Road, Hampden is the quintessential DIY, local-food-movement, hipster neighborhood, anchored by a long, historic shopping avenue on 36th Street full of great vintage clothing and art galleries, grocery markets-turned innovative dining establishments like the Hampden Food Market and Corner Charcuterie Bar (an old diner whose specials now offer squirrel and roast pig) to bookstores like the nationally renowned Atomic Books, where owners Benn Ray and Rachel Whang sell comics, underground books, and fanzines. They also run a fiction reading series, hosted by Benn Ray and writer and Goucher professor Kathy Flann; a poetry reading series, Writers Under the Influence, hosted by Elizabeth Hazen; and serve as a fan-mail depot for Baltimore icon John Waters. Hampden is a short walk away from Johns Hopkins University, where many writers have attended the highly regarded MFA seminars and MA writing programs, and the Baltimore Museum of Art, which has hosted Opium Magazine’s quirky Literary Death Match.
Just southeast of Hampden is Remington, one of the hottest neighborhoods in Baltimore. The aforementioned Spike Gjerde recognized its potential in 2014 when opening the farm-to-fork restaurant/butcher shop Parts & Labor. But he’s not the only one. You can catch an occasional poetry reading at the speakeasy W.C. Harlan or even peruse novels like Moby Dick and Ulysses, which line the walls in lieu of usual bar entertainment. If you’re not sure of your writing inclination, you can attend Writers and Words across the street at the co-op café/restaurant Charmington’s. Run by area writing graduates Michael Tager, Ian Anderson, Amanda Ponder, Mike Shattuck, and Michelle Junot, the series hosts one fiction writer, one essayist or memoirist, one poet, and a “wild card” one Tuesday a month, for which they also compile and produce a handmade zine of the featured readers’ work to sell at the reading.
Further south rests the neighborhood of Station North, anchored by North Avenue. Known for years as a truck route from downtown to Interstate 95, North Avenue is no longer a congested, four-lane street separating the green, residential corridors of Charles Village/Waverly and Bolton Hill from downtown Baltimore. Joe Squared Pizza, on the west end of North Avenue, is popular with writing faculty and students from the University of Baltimore (UB) and Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA). It’s also the perfect place to meet up before heading to readings at the Windup Space (home to the New Mercury Reading Series, Baltimore’s only nonfiction series, founded by Deborah Rudacille and John Barry, and named after Mencken’s magazine The American Mercury). A few doors down from the Windup Space, Liam Flynn’s Alehouse hosts Submit 10, a different type of open-mic night where writers submit stories of ten minutes or less, and other writers read them. You’ll want to check out Red Emma’s, where you can browse their massive selection of “radical books,” eat vegetarian offerings, and attend readings geared toward the politically conscious and environmentally sustainable. Finally, stroll a few blocks north on Charles Street to the Crown Bar and Restaurant to check out “Hey You, Come Back!,” a monthly reading series on Thursday nights hosted by students in the master’s program at Hopkins.
Head further south into the city and you’ll reach University of Baltimore, or UB, whose beautiful buildings line much of Mount Royal and Maryland Avenues. Within the past few years, the university’s MFA reading series has hosted Teju Cole, Amy Hempel, and Ann Patchett; the fifth-floor Hilda and Michael Bogomolny Room hosts a panoramic view of Baltimore that is unparalleled. D. Watkins, who burst on the scene last year with the critically acclaimed essay collection, The Beast Side: Living (and Dying) While Black in America (Hot Books, 2015), is a recent graduate of UB’s MFA program.
Further south still, you’ll find yourself at ground zero of literary Baltimore. If you want a little ancient history in your writing, your first stop should be the Walters Art Museum, which houses work from ancient Egypt and Greece, Medieval and Renaissance art, illuminated manuscripts, Old Master and nineteenth-century paintings, and more. The Museum has been known to host a literary event or two, as well as up-and-coming local bands. Located in the beautiful, historic downtown district near the Washington Monument, the museum is within walking distance of the Stafford Hotel (now an apartment building for students), where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed while his wife Zelda was being treated at Sheppard Pratt Hospital. Across the square, John Dos Passos wrote in the George Peabody Library at the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute during the fifties.
Down the street is the renowned Enoch Pratt Free Library, the hub of Baltimore’s library system (which has more than twenty branches) and is the size of an entire city block. In 1882, Baltimore businessman Enoch Pratt gifted the City of Baltimore the central library and five branches along with an endowment of more than one million dollars, noting that the library “shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them.”