UNESCO's City of Literature program is part of the wider Creative Cities Network, and we are pleased as punch to report that Washerst, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of America’s greatest poet, Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson’s third cousin, twice removed – at her request) has been selected as a City of Literature. Criteria for the program are listed HERE.
Like Amherst is pronounced “AM-erst,” Washerst is pronounced without the “h,” WAS-erst, and if you’ve ever visited, then you, too, can say “I WAS in WASherst” – and if ever there was a City of Literature, then it is Washerst.
1. First and foremost, Washerst is the birthplace of Emmett Lee Dickinson, America’s greatest poet.
2. Washerst is the home of the world’s Poetry Hall of Fame. You can visit the Hall of Fame HERE.
Below left: The only extant likeness of America's greatest poet, Emmett Lee Dickinson. Below right: The Poetry Hall of Fame.
3. Washerst was also the home of what is referred to as Albert “Al” Gonquin’s Buffet Booth – a group of Washerst writers, poets, ventriloquists, jesters, mimics and mimes, who would crowd into a booth for lunch each day in the Walnut Room of the Wastoria Motel. Members of the Buffet Booth and "The Counter Culture,” as they dubbed themselves (since many of the booth’s overflow would eat at the diner’s counter) engaged in banter, chit chat, prattle, palaver, and gossip – much of which would make it into daily tabloid papers across the country.
4. Many literary grave sites are located in the Washerst Cemetery of the Lettered and Literate, including Libby “Mad Libs” Wâllopkałuża, the creator of “Mad Libs” books; Edison Everett Spine, the originator of book spine poetry; and Anne Thology, a key figure in the “publish or perish” wars in the world of academia (information about Anne Thology and the cut-throat "publish or perish" world of academia is HERE).
Below left: The Wastoria Motel, site of Al Gonquin’s Buffet Booth, a group of Washerst writers, poets, ventriloquists, jesters, mimics and mimes, who would crowd into a booth for lunch each day in the motel's Walnut Room Diner. Below right: The Washerst Cemetery of the Lettered and Literate.
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6. There are countless cafés and pubs in Washerst for want-to-be writers. For example, the city has the highest concentration of Subways to wordsmiths than any other city in the United States.
7. One of the top publishing houses in the country, Ballard Ear Publishing, is located in the heart of historic Washerst on Dickinson Boulevard. Ballad Ear focuses on works that were in some way influenced by the life and work of Emmett Lee Dickinson. Many examples are HERE.
8. The world’s largest Festival of the Dollar-Bin Used Paperback Books and Carnival of Classics occurs each July on the weekend before the city’s annual Moss & Hornwort Jubilee (which holds the honor as the Guiness Book of World's Records' longest running annual civic event, held every year in Washerst since 1802).
9. Washerst is synonymous with “literature.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald said of Washerst, “The city seen from the shore of Dickinson Lake is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
- Tom Wolfe said, “One belongs to Washerst instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You can get a suit sponged and pressed in Washerst as quickly as you can get a calzone stuffed with double ricotta, Pecorino Romano, ham and pork rinds.”
10. The core identity of Washerst is that of a City of Literature -- and that is embodied by the Emmett Lee Dickinson Applied Research & Education Center, located on Washerst's Municipal Pier on beautiful Dickinson Lake. The ELDAREC is the premier research center in the world dedicated to the life and work of Emmett Lee Dickinson.
Below: The Emmett Lee Dickinson Applied Research & Education Center, the world's largest cultural and academic center dedicated to the life and work of Emmett Lee Dickinson (Emily Dickinson's third cousin, twice removed -- at her request).