New U.S. literary tourism: read it, watch it, live it

Mon Apr 23, 2012 11:44am IST

1 of 2. A woman draws on a bow beside a stream at DuPont State Recreational Forest in this undated handout released to Reuters on April 17, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Bill Russ/North Carolina Division of Tourism Sports and Film Development/Handout

REUTERS - Fans of "The Hunger Games" will soon have a chance to channel the survivalist spirit of the novel's heroine by zip-lining through a North Carolina forest and taking classes in camouflage, archery, making fire and shelter-building.

The woodsy, adrenalin-pumping experiences move beyond traditional tourism for fans of books and the movies they inspire, targeting enthusiasts whose passion wants another portal.

"We call this fandemonium," said Tammy Hopkins, co-founder of The Hunger Games Fan Tours in Brevard. "These are the super fans. They want to see the film locations, but they also want to experience what their favorite character experiences in the movie."

The touch of Hollywood-style adventure is the newest spin on a long tradition of literary tourism packages and events across the U.S. South, a region rich in an American literary legacy that includes William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.

In North Carolina, where the movie based on the popular young adult novel "The Hunger Games" was filmed, the state tourism division developed a travel itinerary of movie-related settings and activities from Charlotte to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The itinerary notes where actors ate in Asheville and suggests zip-lining through the canopy of Pisgah National Forest, for a closer, more thrilling glimpse of the film's setting. It has been viewed nearly 20,000 times since being posted online on March 5, said Margo Metzger, spokeswoman for the Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development.

Hopkins and business partner Leigh Trapp, who has led Harry Potter tours in the United Kingdom and "Twilight" tours in the Pacific Northwest, are selling day tours of DuPont State Recreational Forest and weekend packages at a mountain lodge that include a variety of adventure activities.

"Everybody I know has read the book," Hopkins said. "We're getting lots of calls from grandmas and grandpas whose grandkids turned them on to the book."

Fans of the Oscar-winning movie "The Help" and the novel it is based on have flocked to small-town Greenwood, Mississippi, whose neighborhoods and big houses appeared in the film.

"We have visitors from all 50 states," said Paige Hunt, executive director of the town's convention and visitors bureau.

"The author is from Jackson, and the book is set in 1963 Jackson. But Jackson doesn't look like 1963 anymore, and Greenwood does."

A LITERARY MECCA

Mississippi - home to Faulkner and Williams, as well as Richard Wright, Eudora Welty, Willie Morris and Shelby Foote - has been called a literary mecca, said Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford.

"Literary tourism's been going on in this town since before Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1950 because he created this mythical kingdom of Yoknapatawpha," Howorth said. "People were curious about it. They came from all over the world to see Faulkner's home."

Two longtime annual events, the Oxford Conference for the Book and the Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi, bring hundreds of bibliophiles and scholars to the town of about 20,000, Howorth said.

This year's Faulkner conference, which runs July 7-11, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the author's death.

The town of Monroeville, Alabama, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the release of "To Kill a Mockingbird," the film based on native daughter Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about race and redemption in the 1930s South.

Events in Monroeville on July 8-11 will include visits to the childhood neighborhood of Lee and her friend Truman Capote and games of hop-scotch and checkers. Townspeople in period dress will perform readings from the book.

A 2009 study for the National Trust for Historic Preservation found 78 percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities while traveling. That translates to about 118 million adults, who spend an average of $994 per trip and contribute more than $192 billion annually to the U.S. economy.

Literary tourism, of course, is popular beyond the South.

But Southerners claim a distinct sense of place and storytelling art rooted in the often tragic history of a region where, as Faulkner famously wrote, "the past is never dead. It's not even past."

"It's the Civil War, it's the King James Bible, it's the front porch visiting, it's the oral traditions from Africa, from Ireland, from the roots of people around here," Howorth said. "There's this category of Southern literature that is not really akin to any other region of the country."

(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Colleen Jenkins)

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