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Note: Asheville is amazing, but it’s a pandemic all of you! Please use this post to inspire your travel plans after COVID. If you visit literary Asheville before the pandemic is over, many of these experiences may not be available.

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Asheville is a diverse city with a rich literary history. Often compared to bigger cities like proudly wacky Austin, Texas and wonderful granola Portland, Oregon, Asheville has a small-town feel with big city ambitions. As you explore literary Asheville, visit local bookstores, national monuments, and historical sites. It is an Appalachian adventure that you should definitely start!

Stops for bibliophiles

A must in literary Asheville is Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe. Malaprop is the powerhouse of an independent bookstore, hosting readings, writing groups, book clubs, and other community events. You can search the shelves for books by local authors like Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, Charles Frazier, and Ron Rash. If you are looking specifically for Appalachians, try something by Frank X Walker (one of the Affrilachian poets). Or maybe you’d rather read novels by alum from the local university like New York Times best-selling authors Wiley Cash and Sarah Addison Allen.

Another great place to browse is the Battery Park Book Exchange. This dog-friendly bookstore and champagne bar is positively labyrinthine. As you meander through the bookshelves, you’ll come across comfy sofas and chic little tables. Sit down and enjoy wine, cheese, and chocolate while you read. I mean, used books + wine … who could ask for more?

Just a short hop from downtown is the peaceful Riverside Cemetery, the final resting place of Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry (William Sydney Porter). The grassy hills are a quiet place to enjoy a picnic or to take a break to calm down in this busy world.

Literary goals

Perhaps the most acclaimed Asheville writer is Thomas Wolfe, whose inn is still in downtown Asheville. You can visit the Thomas Wolfe Memorial to tour the house and learn more about the author’s writing. While in the area, you can also check out the numerous shops and restaurants in the downtown area.

The Biltmore Estate.  Photo by Anne Mai Yee Jansen.The Biltmore Estate

For something awesome, check out the Biltmore Estate – a 19th-century castle-style mansion. This stately home is the largest private home in the United States and the location of Robert Beatty’s YA Serafina series. While there, you can also take part in a wine tasting, visit the animals in the barn, or take a stroll through the beautiful and extensive gardens and hiking trails. It’s a nice way to pass the hours. If you can find the time, do a little reading next to a fountain or waterfall.

Head to the historic Grove Park Inn for another great (but slightly cheaper) building. This impressive stone building with a red roof, which you can see from anywhere in the city, has huge fireplaces and authentic craft furniture. A premier hotel in a city known for its wellness industry, it has hosted a number of well-known personalities. Grab a rocking chair on the porch or venture through the lobby for a cocktail on the Sunset Terrace.

The Grove Park Inn also serves as the setting for Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle’s Even As We Breathe. Clapsaddle is the first published writer for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). (If you’re feeling inspired, head an hour west to Cherokee, NC, where you can visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and learn more about the EBCI.) Grove Park Inn is of particular interest to literature fans and rents two rooms to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the late 1930s as he suffered (and drank) a difficult period in his career.

If you prefer to be on the go, local LaZoom comedy bus tours (both standard and haunted tours) will have you laughing even as you learn of Zelda Fitzgerald’s untimely death at the Highland Hospital. Located in the heart of downtown Asheville, LaZoom combines history and comedy to make learning about Asheville a pleasure. (Did I mention you can bring your favorite local brew?) Good read to complement this experience is Z: A Novel by Zelda Fitzgerald. Alternatively, learn about the Fitzgeralds and the time they spent in Asheville.

Asheville area from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Photo by Anne Mai Yee Jansen.A view of the Asheville area from the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Asheville area is full of natural beauty. With that in mind, be sure to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while before heading south of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historical Site. Just 30 miles south of Asheville, this little gem features hiking trails, a beautiful pond, and a flock of goats descended from Mrs. Sandburg’s famous herd. The icing on the cake for every literary tourist is of course the guided tour of the Sandburg House. It has been kept almost exactly as it was when the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet lived in Connemara (the name of the 246-acre estate).

Local and regional authors

Even when we breathe by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

It is the summer of 1942 and the Second World War is being waged across the Atlantic. A young Cherokee man named Cowney Sequoyah has left the Qualla border (the ancestral home of the Cherokee) to work at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, where Axis diplomats and their families live as prisoners of war. When the young daughter of one of the diplomats goes missing, Cowney finds himself in the middle of this perilous mystery. This page turner is the first novel published by an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Black Bone Book Cover

Black Bone: 25 Years of Affrilachian Poets Edited by Bianca Lynne Spriggs and Jeremy Paden

This collection shows the work of the Affrilacchian poets. The term “Affrilachia” was coined by the poet Frank X Walker to highlight people of African origin in Appalachia. This collection brings together works by Affrilachian poets from a quarter of a century in one place. It’s a beautiful and powerful collection that prompts readers to reconsider hackneyed stereotypes of Appalachia.

Cover the magic of the garden

Garden Magic by Sarah Addison Allen

New York Times bestselling author Sarah Addison Allen has published six books and recently announced the completion of her latest book. My personal favorites so far are Garden Spells and Lost Lake, but all of their books are delightful to read. Her writing is characterized by the inclusion of magical elements and a focus on female characters. Love – family or romantic – is usually a central theme.

The book cover of the last ballad

The last ballad by Wiley Cash

Another New York Times best-selling author, Wiley Cash, has published three novels, and When Ghosts Come Home is due out in September. Cash’s books are all page turners. His writing is characterized by his location-based focus and his thoughtful approach to characters and the external factors that play a role in their lives. If you’re looking for something to read right now, The Last Ballad is the powerful story of Ella May Wiggins, a young Appalachian woman in a textile factory. Inspired by a true story, this novel is a beautiful look at labor movements.

Good Night Asheville by Holly Myers

If you’re looking to indulge yourself for the kids, this pre-bedtime alphabet book will help the whole family remember the experiences Asheville has to offer. With entries from craft beer to the Western North Carolina Nature Center, this fun picture book has something for everyone.

Interested in more southern literature? Check out these posts:

15 books on Appalachians to read instead of Hillbilly Elegy

What is Southern Noir? 8 Great Southern Noir Books

6 of the best audio books in the American South

The best South Gothic books, classic and contemporary

5 southern pieces that you should have read by now