In search of... Anne Tyler in Baltimore

This Pulitzer prize-winning author lives quietly among the people and places that inspire her, says Gerson Nason. The city could be a living novel

Anne Tyler ... didn't she write The Accidental Tourist?

That's right, plus 14 other novels published since 1964, including Breathing Lessons, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989. Her most recent book is Back When We Were Grownups, published last year.

And?

She's also the inventor of the Anne Tyler moment: those simple observations of day-to-day life that we can all relate to, but which she defines more lucidly than most. "It was her roommate who answered the door. Wouldn't you know Sophia would have a roommate? Roommates are so wholesome. I picture them in quilted white bathrobes, their faces scrubbed and their teeth freshly brushed, although whenever I'd seen Betty she was wearing one of those pink trouser outfits that're trying not to look like a uniform." (A Patchwork Planet)

What has this all got to do with Baltimore?

Well, Baltimore, Maryland, is where Anne Tyler lives and where 11 of her novels are set. It's a city of 2.5 million souls (650,000 within city limits) 40 miles north-east of Washington DC.

But why go there?

For the same reason that Jane Austen fans go to Bath and Brontë sisters aficionados go to Haworth in Yorkshire. Baltimore is Anne Tyler Country.

How do you mean?

Those quirky eccentrics and bickering oddball families in her books are not a complete invention. Tyler, who lives unobtrusively among the people she writes about, has a gift for capturing the palpable atmosphere of Baltimore's neighbourhoods and Baltimoreans.

You mean if I go to Baltimore, I'll find Anne Tyler characters in the flesh?

In the opinion of some, Baltimore is a living Anne Tyler novel: full of peculiar citizens and strange, inbred traditions. The city is an amalgam of north and south, owing partly to Maryland's historic role as a slave-owning state that stayed in the Union. Anne Tyler herself is a hybrid of north and south. Born in Minneapolis in 1941, she grew up in North Carolina. As a writer, her sense of place, character and language are southern, but she observes from the point of view of an outsider.

So tell me, what is there to see in Anne Tyler country?

Well, there's Roland Park. That's where Anne Tyler's genteel characters live. Macon Leary of The Accidental Tourist, Delia Grinstead from Ladder of Years, the Peck Family in Searching for Caleb, among others, hail from there. One of the first planned suburban communities in the US when it was conceived in 1891, landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr, son of the man who designed New York's Central Park, Roland Park – with its curving, tree-lined lanes, network of public footpaths and large shingle houses with wrap-around porches – is a masterpiece of turn-of-the-century urban planning. It also epitomises upper-middle-class Waspdom in all its glory. The original deeds for houses forbade their sale to Jews, blacks and immigrants. These housing patterns were enforced until the 1970s.

As Adrian Bly-Brice says in Ladder of Years, "Everybody in Roland Park has a last name for a first name."

If I want to see Anne Tyler characters up close, where do I go?

Try Eddie's of Roland Park at 5113 Roland Avenue, a gourmet food market that also functions as a nexus for social interaction of local residents. The opening scene of Ladder of Years takes place there, the one in which Delia Grinstead begins her flirtation with Adrian Bly-Brice in the fresh-produce aisle.

Across the road from Eddie's, the Roland Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library fills with local children each day when school lets out. "Gilman boys in their shirts and ties, and teenage girls in Bryn Mawr aqua or Roland Park Country School blue." (Ladder of Years)

Or, if you prefer people-watching while eating, try Petit Louis, a French restaurant serving reasonably priced lunches and dinners, at 4800 Roland Avenue in the nation's first strip mall, built in quaint Tudor style in 1896 (00 1 410 366 9393; www.petitlouis.com).

Where are the down-at-heel characters?

Charles Village, an eclectic neighbourhood adjacent to Johns Hopkins University, with ornate but crumbling 19th-century Baltimore rowhouses. Try exploring St Paul, North Charles and Calvert Streets which are graced by the city's best-preserved grouping of Victorian architecture. Anne Tyler characters such as Muriel Pritchett from The Accidental Tourist, the Tull family in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Rebecca Davitch in Back When We Were Grownups reside in Charles Village.

Nearby Johns Hopkins University is the alma mater of several Anne Tyler characters and the world capital of lacrosse. Visit the Lacrosse Hall of Fame (00 1 410 235 6882), just opposite, at 113 West University Parkway, admission $3 (£1.90).

Further downtown on St Paul Street is the 1911 Beaux Arts Penn Station, where various Anne Tyler characters catch Amtrak trains to points north and south. The waiting room with its restored stained-glass skylight is where Barnaby Gaitlin first laid eyes on Sophia Maynard in the opening scene of A Patchwork Planet, while both were settin out to Philadelphia. An Anne Tyler novel usually involves unexpected social interaction of one kind of Baltimorean with another. The proximity of Roland Park, Charles Village and Govans/Waverly allows for unlikely attachments.

Is there any attachment to the arts?

So far, no Anne Tyler character has been spotted inside the Baltimore Museum of Art (00 1 410 396 7100; www.artbma.org) but if you're in the neighbourhood, the Cone Collection is a must-see. Etta and Dr Claribel Cone – spinster cousins of Gertrude Stein – amassed an exquisite collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the 1920s, buying directly from Picasso and Matisse in their studios. There are 113 Picassos alone and more than 40 Matisses in addition to works by Cézanne, Gauguin and Renoir.

Any chance of a bite to eat?

You mustn't leave Baltimore without sampling the superb local seafood from Chesapeake Bay. Obrycki's Restaurant at 1727 East Pratt Street (00 1 410 732 6399; www.obryckis.com) is the place to go for crabs: crab soup, crab cakes and steamed crabs in season. It reopens for the coming season on 11 March. At Lexington Market (00 1 410 685 6169), the oldest continuously run market in the country at 400 West Lexington Street, be sure to try fresh-shucked oysters on a half shell.

How do I get there?

A three-night trip to Baltimore in February costs from £299 per person, based on two sharing, with Quest Travel (0870 442 3513), if you book by 28 January. The price includes return flights from Heathrow with British Airways and room only at the Baltimore Comfort Inn West. Car hire costs £39 per day with Hertz. For further information contact the Baltimore Convention and Area Visitors Bureau (01444 255190; www.baltimore.com).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering