Baltimore may seem an unlikely book lover’s destination. But if you look closer, you’ll find the city has a long literary history that influences its culture to this day. From iconic writers, world-famous writing and English programs, to quirky book shops and festivals, Charm City has something for all types of book lovers.
Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum
You can’t talk about literary Baltimore without mentioning Edgar Allan Poe
. The gothic writer and poet spent his early years in Baltimore and later died there under mysterious circumstances. The city continues to honor Poe by preserving the house where he lived from 1833–1835 as a museum, and by maintaining his memorial and original burial place in the Westminister Hall Burial Grounds
. Not to mention, their football team
is named after his most famous poem, “The Raven.”
Annabel Lee Tavern
Cafe, Restaurant, American, Pub Grub, $$$
If you really want to immerse yourself in Poe, check out the Annabel Lee Tavern in Canton. Named after his last poem, this late-night restaurant celebrates everything Poe and Baltimore, with dark fuchsia walls painted with verses straight from “Annabel Lee,” and, of course, lots of ravens.
More recent Baltimore writers include John Waters, Alice McDermott (who teaches at Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars program), Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tom Clancy, David Simon, Wes Moore, Nora Roberts, Ann Tyler, and Laura Lippman. And don’t forget the notable writers and literary theorists who studied at the area’s English and writing programs, such as Goucher College, Towson University, University of Baltimore, University of Maryland and the previously mentioned Johns Hopkins.
While Baltimore’s best independent bookstores deserved articles of their own, we had to highlight these must-sees for any book lover’s trip to “The City that Reads.”
The Ivy Bookshop
The official bookseller for the Baltimore Book Festival, The Ivy Bookshop is a central hub for the literary community of Baltimore. Partnered with multiple libraries, universities and nonprofits, the independent bookstore hosts over a dozen literary events each month, onsite and offsite.
The Book Thing of Baltimore, Inc
Housed in an industrial warehouse in Waverly, this local treasure might be Baltimore’s best-kept secret. But it’s hard to call The Book Thing a “bookstore,” because the thousands of books stacked inside are all free! Patrons can take as many books as they want – all they ask is that the books are not resold. After a fire destroyed the nonprofit in 2016, the community rallied to repair and resupply what was lost, reopening in late 2017.
Barnes & Noble Power Plant
While Barnes & Noble Booksellers
are all over the country, the Pratt Street location is worth a visit for book lovers. Built out of a landmark former power plant
, much of the historic structure remains, with copper stacks and industrial piping running throughout. It also has a café, a large built-in fish tank (promoting the National Aquarium
) and lovely views of the Inner Harbor from the second floor.
Atomic Books has been a part of the funky Hampden neighborhood for over 20 years. With an assortment of niche books, graphic novels, magazines and more, everything is handpicked by the owners. Guests can find the Eightbar Cozy Bar & Lounge in the back of this bookstore, selling craft and local beers. (And P.S. – John Waters gets his fan mail delivered here.)
Though readings and book events take place throughout the city, these events bring the best of literary Baltimore together in one place.
Baltimore Book Festival - Inner Harbor
Each September, the Inner Harbor hosts dozens of booksellers and exhibitors at the Baltimore Book Festival
. As you walk along the water, you’ll find readings, signings and panel discussions with hundreds of local and nationally-known authors. They also have a children’s area with tons of fun activities. It’s a great way to get lost in books for the weekend.
CityLit Festival - William H. Thumel Sr. Business Center, University of Maryland
The CityLit Project
hosts this festival each April at the University of Baltimore campus. Along with over 40 vendors, the CityLit Festival
hosts free presentations from notable authors, including Pulitzer-prize recipients, and musicians. Would-be authors can also sign up for a class with professional writers and editors.
African American Children's Book Fair - inald F. Lewis Museum
This free indoor event features readings, activities, illustration workshops and bookbinding demonstrations, all focused around children’s literature for African American and diverse audiences.