The Harvard Square Lit Map is an invitation to explore the literary history of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to experience “the presence of a plurality of times.”
The Lit Map is a collaborative atlas created by Lynn Sayers and Chris Lenney (of Lamont Library), in conjunction with the Woodberry Poetry Room. We also wish to thank the countless poets, scholars, and members of the general public, who contributed immensely to our knowledge of historic venues and creative locales: their names are listed below the map-in-progress.
The map represents only a small portion of the total artistic activity in the vicinity and is in no way indicative of the breadth and depth of what has been created here. It is simply “the mooring of starting out,” as John Ashbery would say, a way for you to begin your literary exploration….
In creating this map, we also wish to acknowledge the Massachusett, Pequot, Wampanoag, and other Indigenous peoples, who have long inhabited this land—with their profound histories, cultures, and voices.
Please assist us in expanding our understanding of the area by notifying us of any mistakes we’ve made and by suggesting names and past addresses of writers, communities, and historic literary venues that could be added to the growing list below. This Blog post features only a sample of the sites we hope to include in a larger project in the future. You can share your ideas via the Comments section at the base of this Blog, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: The WordPress map at the base of this post is very limited and frequently transforms into a clickable list of coordinates. We recommend using the more detailed list of addresses below. If someone would like to volunteer to help us design a better WordPress map, we would welcome your assistance.
James Agee (1909-1955)
George Smith Hall (95 Dunster Street), Thayer Hall (in Harvard Yard), and Eliot House, Entry G, Fifth Floor (101 Dunster Street): Agee lived at various locations during his undergraduate years. Though he frequently partied till the wee morning hours, he rose regularly to serve morning Mass at the Cowley Fathers Monastery on Memorial Drive. After graduating in 1932, he worked as a journalist, and in 1936, in the company of photographer Walker Evans, chronicled the lives of sharecroppers in the groundbreaking documentary work, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941).
William Alfred (1922-1999)
31 Athens Street: Poet, celebrated playwright, and English professor “Bill” Alfred lived here during his long teaching career at Harvard. His Athens Street home played host to such poet-friends as Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Joseph Brodsky, Jean Valentine, and Robert Lowell (who, according to critic-biographer James Atlas once showed up at Alfred’s house claiming he was the Virgin Mary). Alfred is buried on “Harvard Hill” at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Horatio Alger, Jr. (1834-1899)
Holworthy Hall (Old East Entry): The author of the Ragged Dick, the Luck and Pluck, and Tattered Tom series, Alger became famous for his rags-to-riches formula, selling over 20 million copies in his lifetime. In his first year at Harvard, he served as the “President’s Freshman” to Edward Everett and resided in Holworthy Hall. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the College in 1852 and from the Divinity School in 1860.
John Ashbery (1927-2017)
Winthrop House, G-45 and G-14: During Ashbery’s first summer at Harvard, World War II ended, and he walked from his Cambridge dorm to Boston to witness crowds celebrating in the streets. At Harvard, he befriended fellow writers Kenneth Koch, Barbara Epstein, V. R. Lang, and Edward Gorey, and was a classmate of Robert Creeley and Robert Bly. In his Senior year, he met Frank O’Hara (at the Mandrake Book Store): “Nobody but ourselves, and a handful of adepts knew or cared about our poetry, or seemed likely to in the future.”
He returned to Harvard on numerous occasions: to perform in the Poets’ Theatre (in 1951) at the Christ Church Parish House, to deliver the Norton Lectures in Sanders Theatre in 1989-90, and even celebrated his 70th birthday in the Farnsworth Room, Lamont Library (1997). Ashbery’s papers are housed at Houghton Library, and his reading library was recently donated to the Poetry Room (where, according to biographer Karin Roffman, he gave his first poetry reading).
Bay Psalm Book (1640)
1 Dunster Street (approx. location): The Bay Psalm Book, the first book written and published in British North America, was printed by Stephen Day and his son Matthew at a press located near the corner of Dunster Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
Fast-forwarding to 1956, the poet Jack Spicer was fired from his job at Boston Public Library for apparently breaking the spine of the library’s cherished copy of the Bay Psalm Book. With his departure for San Francisco, some say the so-called “Boston Renaissance” came to a close.
John Berryman (1914-1972)
10 ½ Appian Way: The newlywed John Berryman lived at this address, while lecturing at Harvard in 1942 (the same year that his first book was published by New Directions). The apartment had “no light fixtures” and was “dark as a cave.”
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)
60 Brattle Street: Elizabeth Bishop lived at this address while teaching at Harvard in the early 1970s, later moving to 437 Lewis Wharf in Boston, Mass. (where she resided from 1974-1979). According to poet and friend Lloyd Schwartz, “her second-floor apartment overlooked the Loeb Drama Center. She famously had a ping-pong table in her front hallway. She wrote most of Geography III while living there.” She expressed to Robert Lowell that the name of her building, the Brattle Arms, “sounded like a stage direction.” Literary visitors included William Alfred, Frank Bidart, Octavio Paz, Jane Shore, Kathleen Spivack, Lloyd Schwartz (among others).
Blacksmith House (a.k.a. Dexter-Pratt House, est. 1808)
54 Brattle Street: the location of the village smithy and spreading chestnut tree of Longfellow’s 1839 poem “The Village Blacksmith,” the house was later owned by Mary Walker (an enslaved woman who had fled north, and her descendants, from 1870-1912). In the 1930s, the house became a popular tea house run by a group of Cambridge women, who gave work to refugees from Nazi Germany. In 1973, Gail Mazur founded the Blacksmith House Reading Series, which continues at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (at 56 Brattle Street) to this day.
Robin Blaser (1925-2009)
Widener Library, Harvard Yard: Poet Robin Blaser (author of The Holy Forest) worked at Widener Library for four years (1954-58), during a brief period sometimes referred to as the “Boston Renaissance.” He wrote of Harvard: “The place is loaded with tradition: some of it noble, some idiotic.” While at the library, he “dug up Melville manuscripts” for his friend Charles Olson. Blaser commuted to work from Boston, where he lived at 142 Chestnut Hill, Apt. 2. His life in Boston was imbued with such friends as Jack Spicer (who worked for a year at the Boston Public Library), John Wieners, and Joe Dunn. “I really disliked this place,” he later said of his time at Harvard. Spicer put it more bluntly: “Poetry hates Boston.” In 1958, he followed a wave of poets (including Spicer) out to San Francisco and ultimately settled in Canada.
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)
22 Concord Avenue: The Argentinian writer resided here, while the Norton Lecturer at Harvard in 1967–1968. The excitement that his presence produced in Cambridge and “the kind of cheering I got” was (according to Borges) unlike anything he had ever experienced “in Europe and South America” and “to have a new experience at seventy is quite a thing.” His Selected Poems includes a poem called “Cambridge,” and he later called it “a very lovable city.”
Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)
JFK and Brattle Streets: the author of The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America (1650), lived in a house that was located near the site where CVS Pharmacy is currently situated (from 1631-33). The New Harvard Yard gate (just west of Canaday) was dedicated in her honor in 1997: the first Harvard gate dedicated to a woman poet.
Lucie Brock-Broido (1956-2018)
15 Sargent Street: the poet (author of The Master Letters) and Columbia University professor also led a long-standing writing workshop at her apartment. According to Askold Melnyczuk: “In Lucie’s company, time disappeared. The spaces she inhabited she dreamed into existence. Gothic arches, gargoyles, even thrones began materializing in multiples on Sargeant Street in Cambridge.” She is buried on Vernonia Path at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
William S. Burroughs (1914-1997)
Adams House, 26 Plympton Street: the future author of Naked Lunch lived at this 26 Plympton Street address until he graduated in 1936
Cafe Pamplona (1959-2020)
12 Bow Street: when it opened, Cafe Pamplona was the first cafe in Harvard Square. Founded by Josefina Yanguas, who arrived in the US from Pamplona, Spain, in 1947, the café grew into a beloved artistic and literary hangout, frequently cited in novels, songs, and films including Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation, and The Dresden Dolls’ “Truce,” which features the line: “… keep your hands off Café Pamplona.”
Club 47 (1958, later became Passim)
47 Mount Auburn Street: The Cambridge coffeehouse became a pivotal blues and folk venue in the late 1950s and 60s, hosting performances by Pete Seeger, Eric Von Schmidt, John Hurt, Judy Collins, Taj Mahal, and the young Bob Dylan. In 1958, the 17-year-old Joan Baez gave her first performance here. The Club contributed to Cambridge and Boston becoming what Ryan H. Walsh has called “ground zero for … the folk music revival.”
Robert Creeley (1926-2005)
61 Sparks Street: Creeley lived in Adams House while studying at Harvard (circa 1943-46). He left the university to serve in the American Field Service, returning to live with his mother Genevieve (at her Sparks St. home) after the War. When he showed up at the door of Sparks Street, “he weighed 96 lbs,” recounts his wife Pen Creeley. He went on to teach at Black Mountain College in the 1950s and taught Summer School at Harvard in the early 1970s. Creeley is buried on Tulip Lane in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Countee Cullen (1903-1946)
413 Broadway Street: The renowned Harlem Renaissance poet lived here while pursuing his Masters’ degree (1925-1926). Countee Cullen arrived in the same year that his first book Color was published. After graduating, he declined several collegiate offers and chose to teach French, English, and creative writing in a Harlem junior high school (among his students was James Baldwin, for whom he was a significant mentor).
E. E. Cummings (1894-1962)
104 Irving Street: Born of parents first introduced by William James, as a baby Cummings apparently sported a white sweater emblazoned with a crimson “H.” He spent his childhood at 104 Irving Street (“to our right, on Irving Street, occurred professors James and Royce and Warren; to our left, on Scott Street, transpired professor of economics Taussig”). He lived In Thayer Hall, South Entry, as a Harvard undergraduate, and later served as an ambulance driver in WWI (his subsequent imprisonment was later chronicled in The Enormous Room). A long-time resident of Greenwich Village, Cummings was invited to deliver the Norton Lectures at Sanders Theatre in 1952-53: characteristically rebellious, he lowercased and negated the title of his talks, calling them “”six non-lectures.”
The Darkroom Collective
(1988 thru the late 1990s)
31 Inman Street, Third Floor: The Dark Room Collective was founded in 1988 by Thomas Sayers Ellis and Sharan Strange at their house at 31 Inman Street in Cambridge, where they hosted a reading series on Sunday afternoons. The reading series “soon expanded to include musical performances, art shows, and workshops and became a much-needed home for writers of color in the mostly white-dominated literary community.” Members included Major Jackson, John Keene, future Boston laureate Danielle Legros Georges, Janice A. Lowe,Carl Phillips, Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey and Kevin Young. The Collective later moved to the ICA and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.
C. Day Lewis (1904-1972)
Lowell House, 10 Holyoke Place: The Anglo-Irish poet (and father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis) lived at Lowell House during his year as the Norton lecturer in 1964-65. “I hastily accepted it before they could have time to write again and say they really meant CS Lewis….” During his stay, he went on a pilgrimage to Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, was introduced to the music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and also met Allen Ginsberg (with whom he had lunch in Lowell House): “Cecil would have avoided Ginsberg,” a friend of his recalled, “but Allen sought him out. And Cecil was surprised and delighted by Ginsberg’s engagement with poetic technique.”
Elsa Dorfman (1937-2020)
607 Franklin Street: The pioneering portrait photographer, who documented such poets and musicians as Robert Creeley, Bob Dylan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Anne Sexton, lived here with her husband (civil rights lawyer Harold Silvergate) until her death in 2020. Robert Creeley—with whom she collaborated on the book En Famille (1999)— and Allen Ginsberg frequently visited her home. Her long-time studio was located at 955 Massachusetts Avenue.
Dorfman grew up in Roxbury and Newton, attended Tufts University, and worked for the Beat publisher Grove Press in NYC in the 1950s, returning to Massachusetts thereafter. The 2017 documentary film by Errol Morris, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, chronicles her life and work.
John Dos Passos (1896-1970)
Matthews Hall (Freshman year) and Thayer Hall (Senior year): John Dos Passos lived as a Freshman in a three-room suite in Matthews Hall, 22, custom-furnished by Wanamaker’s (courtesy of his wealthy family). While living in Thayer Hall during his Senior year, he befriended E. E. Cummings, and the two writers volunteered to serve in the ambulance corps in WWI shortly after graduating in 1916. Dos Passos novelized his Harvard years in Streets of the Night (1923) and in The 42nd Parallel (part of his experimental U.S.A. trilogy, published in 1930).
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
20 Flagg Street: W. E. B. Du Bois rented a corner room at 20 Flagg Street, while working toward his second B.A. at Harvard in 1888-90. “I was in Harvard,” he later said, “but not of it… I asked nothing of Harvard but the tutelage of teachers and the freedom of the laboratory and library.” In 1895, he became the first African-American to receive a doctorate from the university. The sociologist, author, and activist went on to co-found the NAACP and to write such pioneering books as The Souls of Black Folk (1903).
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
T. S. Eliot’s parents rented their son rooms at 52 Mount Auburn Street for his Freshman year (1906), and he moved to 22 Russell Hall as a Sophomore. As an undergraduate, he befriended Conrad Aiken (a lifelong friend) and was for a time Alan Seeger’s roommate. In 1908, Eliot chanced on a copy of Arthur Symons’s The Symbolist Movement in Literature in the library of the Freshman Union (now, the Barker Center), a book which profoundly influenced his perception of poetry.
As a doctoral student, Eliot lived in an attic apartment at 14 Ash Street and taught philosophy in Emerson Hall. Though he completed his dissertation in 1916, the War prevented his return from Oxford for his oral exams, and he never received his degree. Much of Eliot’s poetic imagery is steeped in the atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Boston, from Prufrock’s “sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells” to “Preludes,” which was originally titled “Preludes in Roxbury.” An unpublished series of poems was called, “Caprices in North Cambridge.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Ralph Waldo Emerson entered Harvard at age 14, the youngest of his class. As the “President’s Freshman,” his tuition was waived, and he lodged beneath the residence of President Kirkland in Wadsworth House, 1341 Massachusetts Avenue, serving as his errand boy. Later rooms were at 5 and 9 Hollis Hall. Emerson graduated in 1821.
Harvard Square was the site of many of his later addresses, for which he became renowned: his Phi Beta Kappa address, “The American Scholar,” was delivered at the First Parish Church. And, in 1838, he gave what is now known as the “Divinity School Address”—the room where he delivered his remarks is still an active venue for readings and lectures at the Divinity School. At the time, his address so offended the Unitarian faculty that it was some 30 years before Harvard tendered the olive branch with an honorary doctorate and a visiting lectureship. Emerson Hall, the Philosophy building, was dedicated in his honor in 1900.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
A Dartmouth drop-out, Robert Frost entered Harvard in 1897 as a special student, aiming to qualify as a high school Latin teacher. He lived at times at 16 Rutland Street, in a duplex on Ellery Street, and at 61 Oxford Street. In 1936 he returned to deliver the Norton lectures and held fellowships from 1939 to 1943.
From 1941 until his death, he maintained a Cambridge residence at 35 Brewster Street, and there are many tales of young undergrads walking the elderly poet home only to have him escort them all the way back to campus (along Brattle Street) because he hadn’t finished the characteristically long and colorful story he was telling.
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)
71 Cherry Street, Cambridgeport: The pioneering feminist, writer, and editor of The Dial, Fuller was born in 1810 at 71 Cherry Street in Cambridgeport. Educated with advantages unusual for a young woman by a disappointed father (who had hoped for a son), she had mastered Latin by the age of six. In 1844, to research her book, A Summer on the Lakes, Fuller became the first woman ever granted reading privileges in the Harvard College Library (then in Gore Hall). Thomas Wentworth Higginson later recalled that she created quite a stir in that otherwise conservative male sanctum. While returning from reporting on the revolution in Rome, she drowned in a shipwreck off Fire Island. Her friend Thoreau was dispatched by Emerson to recover the body, but it was never found. A memorial to Fuller can be found at Mount Auburn Cemetery, near the grave of her great-nephew Buckminster Fuller.
Grolier Poetry Book Shop (1927–)
6 Plympton Street: The oldest poetry bookstore in the United States was founded at this address in 1927. John Ashbery, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Donald Hall, and Frank O’Hara were regulars during their undergrad years, and the poet Conrad Aiken and short story writer James Alan McPherson lived upstairs at various times during its long and vibrant history. The bookstore still thrives to this day, with an ever-changing selection of books and a very active reading series.
Harvard Advocate (est. 1866)
21 South Street: the oldest continuously published collegiate literary magazine in the country, the Advocate has included such editors and contributors as John Keene, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Koch, Terrence Malick, Frank O’Hara, Francine Prose, Adrienne Rich and Wallace Stevens.
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)
Adams House and 10 Kirkland Street: The Nobel laureate began teaching at Harvard as a visiting professor in 1979, was elected the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory in 1984, and ultimately assumed the role of Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet-in-Residence until 2006. During all of his part-time residences at Harvard, he lived in Adams House at 26 Plympton Street: “The arts and bohemia were represented there,” he said to a Harvard Gazette reporter, “it was a desired address.” He and his wife Marie sometimes rented an apartment at 10 Kirkland Street, as well. After his death, the room where they lived in Adams House, I-12, was transformed into the Heaney Suite in his honor.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
29 Buckingham Street: The abolitionist colonel, Atlantic Monthly contributor, women’s rights advocate, and celebrated acquaintance of Emily Dickinson (she asked him the now famous question, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?”) lived in this house, which is now on the Register of National Historic Places. He was a member of the Secret Six who helped provide supplies and financial support to John Brown (who he also attempted to help escape, once captured). During the Civil War, he served as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally-authorized Black regiment, from 1862–1864.
Mary Manning Howe (1905-1999)
5 Craigie Circle, 25 Appleton Street & 58 Highland Street: the actress (who performed at W. B. Yeats’ Abbey Theatre), novelist, and Poets’ Theatre founder lived at these locations (with her husband Mark DeWolfe Howe and children Susan Howe, Fanny Howe and Helen Howe Braider) in the 1940s-1960s. The Poets’ Theatre cast frequently rehearsed at the Highland Street house, which later became the home of anthropologist and documentary filmmaker Robert Gardner.
Poets’ Theatre participants included John Ashbery, Gregory Corso, Edward Gorey, W.S. Merwin, V.R. (“Bunny”) Lang, Archibald MacLeish, Frank O’Hara, and her lifelong friend Samuel Beckett, and also featured readings by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Corso famously dug up a tombstone from the Old Burial Ground (at Massachusetts Ave. and Garden St.) and left it on their Highland Street doorstep.
Harriet Jacobs (1813-1897)
127 Mount Auburn Street: Born into slavery in North Carolina, Harriet Jacobs went onto become the author of the ground-breaking narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), which was published just two months prior to the start of the Civil War. Incidents is now considered not only a significant “primary resource in the study of the institution of slavery but also an early work of feminist literature.” During and immediately following the war, Jacobs and her daughter provided relief aid to freedmen and established schools and orphanages throughout the South.
She moved to Cambridge in 1872, where she oversaw a boardinghouse for Harvard students on Trowbridge Street (1870-72) and lived at 127 Mount Auburn Street (from 1873-76). She is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Henry James (1843-1916)
Winthrop Square: While attending Harvard Law School, Henry James lodged near what is now Grendel’s Den, in “certain ancient rooms in the Winthrop Square.” He came to rely for his reading matter on Gore Hall (predecessor of Widener Library), where he chanced on the works of Sainte-Beuve, a discovery which he regarded as “a sacred date” in his artistic development. He affectionately revisits his old library haunts in The Bostonians, where he details Gore Hall, its lady librarians, and the then-innovative card catalog (inaugurated in 1861).
In November 1867, during Charles Dickens’ famous American reading tour, the 24-year-old James met the novelist at Shady Hill, home of Charles Eliot Norton. After his death in England in 1916, his wife smuggled his ashes back to the United States for burial in Cambridge Cemetery.
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
24 Coolidge Hill Road and 73 Dana Street: Author and activist Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan lived at 14 Coolidge Avenue (now 24 Coolidge Hill Road) at the outset of Keller’s studies at Radcliffe and moved to 73 Dana Street for the remaining years of college (she graduated in 1904). During her time at Radcliffe, she wrote and published the autobiography, The Story of My Life (1903). According to local lore, Keller did not devote all of her time to writing: Described in the Radcliffe Quarterly as “an enthusiastic wheelwoman,” she could often be seen on the Cambridge streets on her tandem. Keller and Sullivan later moved to Wrentham, Mass.
When asked by President Woodrow Wilson why she chose Radcliffe over the so-called sister schools (e.g. Smith and Wellesley), she responded, “Because they didn’t want me at Radcliffe, and, being stubborn, I chose to override their objections.”
Denise Levertov (1923-1997)
4 Glover Circle, Somerville: Denise Levertov (and her then husband Mitch Goodman) moved here in 1973 and she resided here until 1988. During this fruitful period, she traveled to Vietnam, published such books as the Poet in the World (1974), and taught at Tufts. (Yes, we cheated a wee bit by adding Somerville to the Harvard Sq. map, but we aren’t cartographers, we’re poets!)
Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951)
140 Mount Auburn Street: The Nobel-prizewinner Sinclair Lewis (Yale 1907) worked briefly as a waiter in the old Randall Hall dining commons (the present site of William James Hall) during the Summer School of 1904. He lived at 140 Mount Auburn Street for one dollar a week. “I wanted to go to Harvard and my father sent me to Yale,” he said. Lewis later advised a young student that Harvard was better than Yale for “becoming a writer.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
105 Brattle Street: During his early years as the Smith Professor of Modern Languages (a position he assumed in 1836), Longfellow rented rooms in what was known as the Craigie House, located at 105 Brattle Street. The house, which he later purchased, once served as Washington’s headquarters in 1775-76 and was the location of poet Phillis Wheatley‘s meeting with George Washington in March 1776. It is now an active venue for poetry readings and a National Historic site. Longfellow is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Robert Lowell (1917-1977)
Lowell House, 10 Holyoke Place: Born and raised on Beacon Hill, Lowell lived in none other than Lowell House, A-41, during his undergraduate years (1935-37). Lowell dropped out in Spring 1937 and transferred to Kenyon College, where he studied under John Crowe Ransom and graduated summa cum laude in Classics.
His autobiographical poems make many allusions to New England history, his own Lowell ancestry, and to Harvard: to its “humpback brick side-walks” and its “students in their hundreds [who] rise from the beehive, swarm-mates.” Lowell returned to teach in the Harvard Summer School in 1958-59 and joined the regular faculty in 1963.
From 1963-1970, in the seminar room beneath the Quincy House dining hall, Lowell held his famous “office hours.” Among the regulars for these weekly non-credit meetings were James Atlas, Frank Bidart, Robert Pinsky, Gail Mazur, Lloyd Schwartz, and such special guests as Jean Valentine and Elizabeth Bishop.
Lowell expatriated himself to England in 1970 but grew homesick and resolved upon a permanent return in 1977. “America and teaching at Harvard are my life’s water. I don’t want to divide what’s left of my life between two continents and two cultures.” Lowell died in a New York taxicab September 12, 1977, returning from Europe to take up his Fall teaching duties in Cambridge.
Norman Mailer (1923-2007)
11-12 Grays Hall, 24 Claverly, and Dunster House: Mailer entered Harvard “determined to become—as he put it—a ‘major writer.’” His tuition was paid by a rich uncle, a chocolate manufacturer, who had invented the chocolate-covered cherry. He spent his Freshman year in 11-12 Grays Hall. In subsequent years, he lived at 24 Claverly and Dunster House. Mailer “found that Harvard was divided by more than just quadrangles.” He later wrote that “the school was run by scions of old families, prep school graduates—an elite, arrogant crowd that later crowned themselves, WASPS.” A passionate boyhood interest in model airplanes led him to major in aeronautical engineering. He graduated cum laude in Engineering in 1943 and was drafted into the Army in 1945. After returning from the Philippines, he “burst on the scene in 1948 with The Naked and the Dead” (titled after a play he’d penned at Harvard). “For the next six decades,” according to the New York Times, “he was rarely far from the center stage.”
John P. Marquand (1893-1960)
5-7 Linden Street: the future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist (author of The Late George Apley) lodged at “Mrs. Moody’s Pleasure Palace,” a student boardinghouse at 5-7 Linden Street, while studying chemistry at Harvard
James Alan McPherson (1943-2016)
6 Plympton Street: James Alan McPherson lived above the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, while studying at the Harvard Law School in the late 1960s. His short story “Gold Coast” (published in Hue & Cry, 1969) focuses on a “fictional young African-American man who dreamed of someday being a famous author, but who was, at the time, working as a janitor in a building in Harvard Square. McPherson himself worked as a janitor in Harvard Square.” Of his time as an “apprentice janitor,” McPherson remembered how the hippies at Harvard would “really dig me, and people in Philosophy and Law and Business would feel uncomfortable trying to make me feel better about my station….” He went on to become the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1978.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)
8 Craigie Street, Apt. 35: Nabokov lived at 8 Craigie Street, Apt. 35, from 1942 to 1948—during which time his son Dmitri befriended their young neighbors (Susan and Fanny Howe). The view from this apartment frames the opening scene for his dystopian novel Bend Sinister (1947). Nabokov divided his time between being a Russian lecturer at Wellesley (where he taught until 1948) and a research fellow at Harvard, where, as an expert lepidopterist, he spent his time classifying butterflies (in Room 502 of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology). He later reflected that “the years at the Harvard Museum remain the most delightful and thrilling of my adult life.” (The Cyllopsis pyracmon nabokovi was named in his honor).
Frank O’Hara (1926-1966)
Mower Hall, B-21: O’Hara met Edward Gorey here in his Freshman year, and they later became roommates in Eliot House, F-13 (in 1946-47). Donald Hall recalls that Gorey and O’Hara “threw the best parties at Harvard.” O’Hara’s friendship with John Ashbery began in 1949, when they encountered one another at Gorey’s art exhibit at the Mandrake Book Store (located on Boylston Street, which later moved to 8 Story Street). Though the bulk of his later years were spent in New York City, he did return to Cambridge for the Spring 1956 semester through a fellowship with the Poets’ Theatre (at one performance, he premiered the poem “Fresh Air”). During his stay, he also met Jack Spicer and John Wieners: one of their last meetings took place at Harvard Gardens in Boston.
Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953)
1105 Massachusetts Avenue: Like Thomas Wolfe, O’Neill came to Harvard to study playwriting under Prof. George Pierce Baker in his now renowned English 47 workshop, where O’Neill was said to have stood out “like an oyster in a lunchroom stew.” (Presumably a compliment.) In 1914-15, he lodged with a psalm-singing Mennonite family on the first floor of 1105 Massachusetts Avenue; some mutual toleration of lifestyles was apparently required. He left Harvard after his first year, and moved to Greenwich Village, where he befriended numerous poets and writers (including recent Harvard alum John Reed). One of the Nobel laureate’s first plays was performed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1916.
Charles Olson (1910-1970)
Winthrop House, 32 Mill Street: Olson entered Harvard as a doctoral student in English in 1936, and eventually joined the Ph.D. program in American Civilization as one of its first three candidates. Throughout his studies (which focused on Herman Melville), he lived and worked at Winthrop House as a tutor. It’s said that he even taught the young JFK. Although he completed his coursework in 1939, he failed to finish his dissertation. A monograph derived from his Masters’ thesis and subsequent research, Call Me Ishmael, was published in 1947. After serving as a teacher and ultimately rector at Black Mountain College in the late 1940s and 50s, he moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts (the setting of his Maximus poems).
Milman Parry (1902-1935)
14 Shepard Street: The pioneering scholar of epic poetry and the oral tradition lived here with his wife and children, from 1929 until his accidental death at the age of 33.
Parry’s research transformed the understanding of the Iliad and Odyssey, detailing how the patterns, devices, and rhythmic contours of those epics proved that they were composed and transmitted orally and as improvised works. During the last three years of his life, Parry conducted fieldwork research in Yugoslavia, testing his theories within a living oral-performative culture. The thousands of sound recordings that Parry and his research team produced are housed at the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature.
Following Parry’s death, his assistant Albert Lord took up this research, publishing it as the influential book, The Singer of Tales (1960).
The Plough and Stars (est. 1969)
912 Massachusetts Avenue: Originally called “The Plough and the Stars,” after the play Seán O’Casey, the popular Irish bar and music venue was founded in 1969 by brothers Peter and Padraig O’Malley and formed the namesake of the literary journal Ploughshares (first published by DeWitt Henry and Peter O’Malley) in 1971. Some of the writers whose early works have appeared in Ploughshares are: Sherman Alexie, Russell Banks, Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace, and Robert Pinsky. In later years, it has gone on to publish the works of John Ashbery, Louise Glück, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, Grace Paley, and Sharon Olds.
Poets’ Theatre (est. 1950)
24 Palmer Street: The Poets’ Theatre was “one of the earliest US venues for experiments in poetry performance. Its collaborations between poetry, dance and mime, and its innovative ways of involving the audience pre-date the turn to multimedia and participative poetry in the 1960s. Poets who performed and acted there would continue to change what poetry could do for the next half-century.”
While Poets’ Theatre performances took place in numerous venues over the years—including the Fogg Museum (Dylan Thomas premiered his play Under Milkwood there) and the Christ Church Parish House (where plays by Ashbery and O’Hara premiered in 1951)—the 24 Palmer Street location was one of the longest-standing venues from 1955 until it burnt down in the 1960s. The devastating fire also destroyed the bulk of the theater’s recordings and archives.
Radcliffe College (est. 1894)
10 Garden Street: Formerly known as the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women (founded by a group of visionaries, led by Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, in 1879), writers who attended Radcliffe include Margaret Atwood, Marieta Bonner, Helen Keller, Maxine Kumin, Ursula K. Leguin, Alison Lurie, Adrienne Rich, Gertrude Stein and Jean Valentine.
John Reed (1887-1920)
Mount Auburn Street: Born into a well-to-do family, the future Communist activist and radical intellectual, John Reed lived on the so-called “Gold Coast” of Mount Auburn Street in his early undergrad years. In his Junior year, he was “rusticated” to nearby Concord for failure to return from Spring Break on time. Reed never joined the Harvard Socialist Club, although occasionally he dropped in on meetings. “It made me, and many others, realize that there was something going on in the dull outside world more thrilling than college activities, and turned our attention to the writings of men like H.G. Wells and Graham Wallas, wrenching us away from the Oscar Wildian dilettantism which had possessed undergraduate litterateurs for generations.”
After graduating in 1910, he moved to Greenwich Village and joined the staff of The Masses. Later a witness to the October Revolution in Petrograd, he chronicled it in Ten Days that Shook the World. Indicted for sedition in the U.S., Reed fled to Russia as a steamship stoker on a forged passport and was imprisoned in Finland. He died of typhus in Russia in 1920 and was buried in the Kremlin.
Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)
17 Brewster Street: After graduating from Radcliffe (in 1951) and winning the Yale Younger Poets Prize in that same year, Adrienne Rich stayed on in Cambridge, marrying Harvard professor Alfred Haskell Conrad in 1953. They lived with their three children on Brewster Street (a few doors down from Robert Frost), until moving to New York in 1966. The earliest known recording of Rich was made by the Woodberry Poetry Room in 1951.
Edwin Arlington Robinson
1716 Cambridge Street: E. A. Robinson lived at this address for the second year of his undergrad years, and worked briefly as an administrative office boy, “a sort of assistant secretary and metaphorical bottle washer to the whole concern,” in University Hall 5, before dropping out in 1893. In 1896, he self-published his first book, The Torrent and the Night Before, paying 100 dollars for 500 copies. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in the 1920s.
May Sarton (1912-1995)
5 Channing Place: The prolific poet and novelist (author of Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing) spent her childhood at 5 Channing Place and attended nearby Shady Hill School. Born in Belgium, her family moved to Cambridge during WWI, when her father George Sarton took a position at Harvard.
Delmore Schwartz (1913-1966)
9 Story Street, 94 Prescott Street, and 20 Ellery Street: As a graduate student in philosophy, Schwartz lived in a boardinghouse at 9 Story Street and later rented a room at 94 Prescott Street for $2.00/month. He departed Harvard in March 1937 “in such a haste that he neglected to finish packing or to return the library books he had out.” He declined to take his Masters, because he could (or would) not pay off his fines at Widener Library. His first (and widely hailed) collection of poems, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, was published a year later in 1938. An English comp teacher from 1940 to 1947, he lived primarily at 20 Ellery Street. Schwartz later served as the model for the fictitious poet Van Humboldt Fleischer in Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift (1975).
Alan Seeger (1888-1916)
Memorial Church: A plaque dedicated to poet and Harvard alum Alan Seeger, who fell at the Battle of the Somme, can be found on the south porch of Memorial Church. During his time at Harvard, he drank regularly with John Reed and his crowd, roomed with T. S. Eliot, and read vigorously (“the opening to me of the shelves of the college library, a rare privilege, was like opening the gates of an earthly paradise”). After graduating in 1910, he moved to Greenwich Village and later enlisted in the military.
His great-nephew Pete Seeger also attended Harvard, dropping out in 1938 to pursue his musical career.
Charles Shively (1937-2017)
365 Broadway Terrace: The Fag Rag founder, poet, Whitman scholar, and activist Charles Shively bought this house in 1976 and lived here until his death in 2017. Shively was a major figure in the Gay Liberation movement from the Stonewall Riots onward and was instrumental in forming Gay Men’s Liberation in Boston and the Fag Rag collective, which published the first national gay political journal. He also was involved in founding and sustaining Fag Rag Books, the Good Gay Poets collective and press, Boston Gay Review, and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. Shively became infamous for burning the Bible and his Harvard degree at the 1977 Gay Pride March in protest against oppressive institutions.
Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
123 Irving Street: Gertrude Stein enrolled in the Harvard Annex (soon to be renamed Radcliffe) as a special student in 1893 and resided in a three-story student boardinghouse at 123 Irving Street. Stein later summed up her academic career as follows: “specialized in psychology, did research work on automatic action and fatigue and color sensation … published in psychology review. Knew William James very well.” Stein greatly admired James and took seven classes with him, enrolling in Psychology 20A five times. The story that she aced a final in one of his courses by scribbling a note to the effect that it was too nice a day for an exam and walking out is apocryphal. (The two remained lifelong friends and correspondents, and James later visited Stein at her famous address 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris).
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)
54 Garden Street: Throughout his three years as a special student at Harvard, Stevens lived at the Misses Parsons’ boardinghouse at 54 Garden Street. The relationships he made there were lifelong. His housemate Arthur Pope recalled him “bursting out of his room to recite a new combination of words… and to show his delight which was most infectious.” The freedom he experienced at Harvard and with his housemates inspired him to say that Cambridge “didn’t really seem a part of the United States.” He served as the president of the Harvard Advocate and editor of the Harvard Monthly, before withdrawing from the university in 1899 due to lack of funds. His first book of poems, Harmonium (1923), was published over 20 years later.
When he returned to campus in 1947, the young undergrad John Ashbery attended his reading in Sever Hall. According to biographer Karin Roffman, “Ashbery sat in the front row, a good thing—since no one could hear Stevens beyond the fifth….” Shortly before his death, he traveled back to Boston (from his long-time home in Hartford) to make one of his final recordings for the Woodberry Poetry Room. Upon walking into the room, he was perplexed by the students “with tubes in their ears” (a.k.a. headphones).
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Hollis Hall, 20: David Henry Thoreau, as he was then known, entered Harvard on Aug. 30, 1833, at age 16, and lived in Hollis Hall, 20. At that time, according to the Harvard Gazette, “the College had fewer than 20 professors or instructors, [and] cost $179 a year.” A frequent critic of the university, when “Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Harvard taught all the branches of knowledge, Thoreau replied: ‘Yes, all the branches and none of the roots.’” He found Harvard’s library the “the best gift” the College had to offer and it was there that he began copying passages that struck him, filling 20 “commonplace” notebooks with a million words. In Thoreau’s day, only alumni clergymen could take books home beyond ten miles from the college. Thoreau cleverly argued that the railroad had abolished old notions of distance, and he exercised the one-year’s privileges he secured from President Jared Sparks without hindrance for the rest of his life. Due to the number of books he had at Walden, one visitor called it “a hut of words.”
John Updike (1932-2009)
Lowell House: The future two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner chose Harvard over Cornell, because he aspired to be a cartoonist and wanted to draw for the Harvard Lampoon (of which he would ultimately become the editor). During his undergraduate years, he lived in Lowell House, graduating in 1954. He rarely wrote about his time here, saying that he distrusted “hallowed, very O.K. places” and that “Harvard has enough panegyrists without me.” After graduating, he studied at Oxford, then moved to New York to work for The New Yorker—ultimately settling in Ipswich, Mass. “I’ve rigged my life so it’s as close to being a Harvard student as can be. I still dress like a Harvard student,” he later said. The John Updike papers are housed at Houghton Library.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)
Longfellow House: Born in West Africa (c. 1753), Phillis Wheatley was sold into slavery and transported to Boston on the slave ship, The Phillis, in 1761. She was subsequently purchased by John and Susanna Wheatley, who taught her to read and write and encouraged her literary talents. Her collection, Poems on Various Subjects, printed in London in 1773, is considered the first book published by an African-American poet (with the exception of pamphlets and broadsides). Wheatley was emancipated shortly after the book’s publication. Included in the collection was a poem dedicated to the students of Harvard College. A later poem in honor of Gen. George Washington prompted an invitation to his Cambridge headquarters: “I shall be happy to see a person so favored by the Muses, and to whom Nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations.” Wheatley accepted the invitation and met with the future president at what is now the Longfellow House in mid-March 1776. Thomas Paine republished her poem, “To His Excellency, George Washington,” in the Pennsylvania Gazette the following month. After her marriage, she lived in a Boston boardinghouse and died in childbirth, in Boston, on December 5, 1784.
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
48 Buckingham Street, 42 Kirkland Street, 27 Hammond Street
& 61 Trowbridge Street: Wolfe studied under Prof. George P. Baker in his celebrated playwriting class English 47 (alias Baker’s Dozen or the “47 Playshop” as Wolfe punned it), which met in the basement of Massachusetts Hall. Baker appears under the guise of Professor Hatcher in Wolfe’s semi-autobiographical Of Time and the River.
Widener was Wolfe’s favorite haunt, where “the ghosts of old, supposedly forgotten books are continually walking forth now, almost as distinct in their detail as when I read them.” He wandered the stacks “like some damned soul, never at rest—ever leaping from the pages I read to thoughts of those I want to read.” The “rump-receiving” chairs of the Farnsworth Room (then in Widener) became his preferred spot to hole up and read voraciously. Wolfe lived at various times at 48 Buckingham Street, 42 Kirkland Street, 27 Hammond Street, and 61 Trowbridge Street until his graduation in 1922.
Zoland Books (1987-2002)
384 Huron Avenue: The independent Cambridge-based press was founded by Roland and Lori Pease (named after Emile Zola) in 1987. Publishing over 125 books, Zoland’s authors included Ange Mlinko, Kevin Young, Ha Jin, Lisa Jarnot, William Corbett, Kevin Young, James Laughlin, Patricia Smith, and John Yau. “A standout memory,” according to Roland Pease, “was an impromptu reading by Kevin Young and his friend the novelist Colson Whitehead on the back porch on a hot summer evening with a large gathering of friends and family enjoying a BBQ in the parking lot below.”
WordPress Map (clickable coordinates)
- ELSA DORFMAN (Photographer of Creeley and Ginsberg)
- THAYER HALL (James Agee, John Dos Passos)
- JAMES AGEE (at George Smith Hall)
- ANNE BRADSTREET (1631-33)
- HORATIO ALGER, JR.
- ADAMS HOUSE (William S. Burroughs’ & T. S. Eliot’s undergrad house)
- W.E.B. DUBOIS
- LUCIE BROCK-BROIDO
- E. E. CUMMINGS at 104 Irving (childhood home) and GERTRUDE STEIN (123 Irving St, 1893-98)
- T. S. ELIOT (Freshman year), HARRIET JACOBS (127 Mt. Auburn Street), and JOHN REED (along the “Gold Coast,” 1910)
- T. S. ELIOT (graduate school)
- RALPH WALDO EMERSON (at Wadsworth House in 1817) and THE PLOUGH & STARS (912 Mass. Ave., est. 1969)
- ROBERT FROST
- ROBERT FROST (1941-1963) and ADRIENNE RICH (mid-1950s-1966)
- ROBERT FROST
- MARGARET FULLER
- FANNY & SUSAN HOWE (during WWII)
- FANNY & SUSAN HOWE (childhood home)
- MARY MANNING HOWE (childhood home of Fanny and Susan Howe)
- JAMES ALAN MCPHERSON (lived above the Grolier Poetry Book Shop)
- HENRY JAMES (1862-64)
- HELEN KELLER
- THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON
- LOWELL HOUSE (Robert Lowell’s undergraduate house)
- HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW (lived at 105) and BLACKSMITH HOUSE (located at 54)
- WILLIAM ALFRED
- FRANK O’HARA (& EDWARD GOREY)
- DUNSTER HOUSE (Norman Mailer’s undergrad house)
- GRAYS HALL (Norman Mailer’s freshman dorm)
- JOHN P. MARQUAND
- EUGENE O’NEILL (1914-15)
- ELIOT HOUSE (Frank O’Hara & Edward Gorey were roommates in F-13, 1946-47)
- E. A. ROBINSON (lived here in 1893)
- HARVARD ADVOCATE (est. 1866)
- COUNTEE CULLEN (1925-1926)
- DELMORE SCHWARTZ (lived here and on Prescott St. in 1935-37)
- WALLACE STEVENS (1897-1899)
- HOLLIS HALL (Thoreau lived in Hollis Hall, 20, in 1834-1837)
- MAY SARTON (childhood home)
- DARKROOM COLLECTIVE (est. 1988)
- DENISE LEVERTOV
- JOHN BERRYMAN (lived here in 1942)
- WINTHROP HOUSE (John Ashbery’s undergrad house)
- JORGE LUIS BORGES (lived here 1967-68)
- ROBIN BLASER (worked at Widener Library, 1954-58)
- MILMAN PARRY
- Seamus Heaney apartment
- Helen Keller
For a map of the late 1960s Boston counterculture scene (assembled by Ryan H. Walsh), click here. To explore Cambridge’s historic performance and film spaces and to tour the Boston Literary District, click here.
A word of thanks
Special thanks to Brandy Barents, David Blair, Daniel Bouchard, Pablo Conrad, Jim Dunn, Ben Friedlander, Rebecca Morgan Frank, Dr. Allan Gee, Jeanne Heifetz, Fanny Howe, Christopher Johnson, Ruth Lepson, Kevin McGrath, Suzanne Mercury, Leslie Morris, John Mulrooney, Ryan Napier, Michael Nardone, Lloyd Schwartz, and Ryan H. Walsh for contributing their ideas and knowledge to the list (and links) above. This project is a part of a larger initiative by the Poetry Room, called the “Boston Renaissance,” which aims to expand connections (and collaborations) between local writers and to activate our communal knowledge.