Great writers can come from anywhere, but some places and times just seem to produce more than others. For lovers of literature, places like London, New York, and San Francisco immediately call to mind certain writers and iconic eras. Here are our picks for the greatest literary scenes of all time – add your own in the comments!
1910s and 1920s Bloomsbury, London, England
A nervous breakdown by the great writer Virginia Woolf gave us one of the greatest little literary scenes in history. When after a nervous episode and the death of her father, Virginia and her brother moved to a new home in the Bloomsbury section of London. There, they bonded with a group of talented writers that included Virginia’s future husband, writer Leonard Woolf.
1920s Paris, France
1920s Paris played host to the “Lost Generation” a group composed primarily of American writers. The Lost Generation included talented authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the 1920s, almost every writer of consequence lived in or frequented Paris. Paris was also the birthplace of the surrealist movement around this same time.
1920s and 1930s Nashville, Tennessee
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee became the capital of a distinctly southern literary movement in the 1920s and 1930s. Led by John Crowe Ransom, the a group known as the Southern Agrarians began a literary movement that defended and idealized the southern United States. Robert Penn Warren, author of All the King’s Men and the first poet laureate of the United States, was a member. The Agrarians are notable for being a fairly conservative unit, a rarity among literary movements.
1920s and 1930s Mexico City, Mexico
The Mexico City of the 1920s and 1930s was one of the most important places in the history of Mexican literature. The Contemporáneos, named after the literary magazine that they ran, were a group of modernist poets and writers. Among the most famous members was the great Mexican writer and editor Jaime Torres Bodet, who founded the group’s eponymous literary magazine.
1930s Harlem, New York, New York
The early works of black writers in America were frequently ignored, but the world had to take notice in the 1930s when an explosion of creativity emerged from the country’s most famous African-American neighborhood. Langston Hughes is perhaps the most well-known of the writers to come out of the movement, but plenty of famous writers called this neighborhood home. The movement also echoed far beyond New York, in places with large black communities like Paris.
1950s and 1960s San Francisco, California
The Beat movement began in New York City, but it was the writers’ adopted home of San Francisco, California that became permanently associated with the movement. San Francisco’s anti-establishment ethos was cultivated by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and the rest of the famous beats. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore was the de facto headquarters of the movement.
1960s and 1970s Iowa City, Iowa
Iowa City has been one of the world’s most important literary cities since the day that it founded the first master’s program in creative writing. Since then, the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa has attracted some of the best writers in the nation to teach and learn there. The high water mark of Iowa’s literary history is probably the 60s and 70s, when the “Iowa City Actualists” started their famous poetry movement. Notable members included Morty Sklar.