Literary Travels and Lobster Rolls — A Weekend on Martha’s Vineyard

Martha's VineyardBy Caitlin O’Hara

Is it ever thus, at the end of things? Does any woman ever count the grains of her harvest and say: Good enough? Or does one always think of what more one might have laid in, had the labor been harder, the ambition more vast, the choices more sage?

–from Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Martha’s Vineyard is a literary traveler’s summer paradise.  Although the average American might immediately think of shark bites— Jaws (1976) was filmed on the island– the Vineyard has been a haven for artists, writers, and intellectuals for years. Judy Bloom, Geraldine Brooks, and David McCullough are island residents, as was the late Shel Silverstein, William Styron, Mike Wallace, Lillian Hellman, and the great Depression-era artist, Thomas Hart Benton.

Each town on the one-hundred-square-mile island has its own sense of pace and style, each with great offerings to travelers of the literary bent.  If you’re planning a trip to the Vineyard this summer, or haven’t cemented your vacation plans just yet, consider booking a flight on CapeAir or chugging over on the Steamship Authority — get a cup of ferry chowder on the way over, it really is good!

While on the Vineyard, be sure to explore all the island has to offer — including these suggestions especially tailored to the literary traveler.

Bunch of Grapes, 44 Main St, Tisbury —  This charming shop in Vineyard Haven recently moved across the street from its longtime location, undergoing a major space expansion in the process.  Dawn Braasch has owned the beautiful bookstore since 2008, and she is always ready with smart recommendations.  Bunch of Grapes holds readings and author events throughout the summer, and a visit to the store can easily be paired with a just-as-necessary stop at Murdick’s Fudge, Mad Martha’s for ice cream, or Blissed Out, for some of the most delicious all-organic smoothies you will find on island.  The town is earthier and slower than neighboring Oak Bluffs, and also hosts one of the two ferry terminals—perfect for day-trippers.  Being a dry town, the few restaurants here are BYOB, but don’t let that discourage you.  Le Grenier on Main Street is a great option for dinner out, or pick up fresh fish and steamers at The Net Result on Beach Road for a home-cooked feast.

Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival, Edgartown and Chilmark  The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival is being held on Saturday and Sunday, August 3rd and 4th.  There are two locations this year, with Saturday’s event in Edgartown at the Harbor View Hotel and Sunday’s event being held in Chilmark at the Community Center.  Two locations mean that there will be plenty of opportunity for visitors at each end of the island to enjoy the authors, most of whom will speak at both venues.  This year authors include Richard Russo, Niall Ferguson, Eric Asimov, and many more notable names from all genres.

Chilmark Writing Workshop, One West Meadow, Chilmark — The Chilmark Writing Workshop is worth the trip for published authors and aspiring writers alike. Created by Nancy Slonim Aronie, it runs every week starting July 1.  Sessions are Mon-Fri, 9am – 12pm, so you can get some solid work done and still be free in time for a lobster roll in Menemsha (check out The Menemsha Galley or Larsen’s Fish Market) and a trip to Lucy Vincent beach.  If you are lucky, hear from some serious literary heavy hitters—last year Wally Lamb visited.  Chilmark is located on the more remote west end of the island, referred to as ‘up-island.’  It is lush with expansive farmland and not much else, thanks to a committed and strict landowning community. A rental house on this side of the island is an ideal sanctuary for a reader or writer’s vacation, but a car is necessary. If you are craving a night out but don’t want to venture ‘down-island,’ State Road or the Beach Plum Inn are both fabulous, beautifully located farm-to-table restaurants situated nearby. For history and nature buffs, this end of the island boasts some of the most beautiful scenery, rich with Native American history. Visit Aquinnah, and see the beautiful clay cliffs on land still occupied by the Wampanoag.

Edgartown Books44 Main St, Edgartown — Reopened by new owners in 2012, Edgartown Books is the finishing touch on a perfectly picturesque town.  Edgartown is charming and rife with history, and the bookshop itself is housed in an old whaling captain’s home. Take a seat in the garden at Espresso Love with a book and a latte in the morning while you wait for your loved ones to rouse themselves, or grab a ‘Gobbler’ sandwich at Humphrey’s before hitting the beach with your new reads.

Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, Edgartown — For more serious writers, the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency is something to consider.  Residencies are held April 1st – May 15th and September 1st – October 15th, and writers can choose to stay for 2 to 6 weeks.  All writers, emerging and experienced, are welcome to apply and, if accepted, have the privilege of staying in an historic Edgartown inn for the duration.  The residency includes weekly readings and potluck gatherings to keep ideas flowing and make for a social, but productive environment.

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