When the community of Fairhope was founded over a century ago, the avant-garde township drew artists of all types. Wooed by the beauty of the Bay and stimulated by the buzzing intellectualism of a progressive society, they settled in cabins on the beach and bungalows in town.
Though some of the tenets of Fairhope passed into time like waves upon its dark shores, the artistic enchantment of the town did not. Fairhope’s culture is still steeped in the literary arts. In the pages of books and in the cramped hands of authors, you’ll find the sandy stamp of Fairhope.
According to some statistics, Fairhope has more published writers per capita than anywhere else in the country. They gather in clubs and writing groups like the Fairhope Writer’s Group, which was established in 2007 and published an anthology featuring work from its members in 2011. For years, literary-minded Americans would swerve south for the Southern Writers Reading, an annual literary festival. And writers young and old vie for the Fairhope Center for the Writing Arts’ writer-in-residence program, where aspiring writers can spend one to three months scribbling away in the quaint cottage adjacent to the local library and just four blocks from the beach.
Fairhope doesn’t just attract the young and restless; established writers seek solace on her quaint lands, too. Southern bard Rick Bragg dug his toes into Fairhope’s sands in the early 2000’s, settling part-time in a cottage near the gulf.
Though he hails from the Alabama foothills, Bragg found quiet comfort in Fairhope. In a Smithsonian article in 2009, Bragg wrote about the uniqueness of the community, how it strayed from the hokey beachfronts across the country and appealed to his softer side. “It would be a lie to say I feel at home here,” he wrote. “It is too quaint, too precious for that, but it is a place to breathe.”
A host of other writers, Southern and otherwise, spot the coastline of Fairhope. They have summer homes and beachy shacks where they retire to write, or perhaps to escape it. Forrest Gump’s Winston Groom and epic novelist W.E.B. Griffin both call Fairhope some sort of home.
Fannie Flagg of Fried Green Tomatoes fame also has heart-ties to Fairhope. The author is pure-Alabama, as proud as punch of her origins, and it shows in her writing. It also shows in her choice of homes, in Birmingham and Fairhope (though she spends most of her time these days in California). Flagg’s sentiment for Fairhope spreads outward from the ganglion of the Page & Palette Bookstore.
This Fairhope mainstay is three generations deep in local ownership, as intrinsically tied to the town as the very bay upon which it was built. Visitors can stroll the aisles of crisp pages and sip steamy coffee in the cafe, Latte Da, or a stiff cocktail in The Book Cellar. But for Flagg, the connection is even deeper; she was childhood friends with current owner Karin Wilson, and it was on these wood floors that she held her very first book signing. In My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop, Flagg writes of the particularities of Page & Palette.
Writers don’t just live here—they draw inspiration for their work from the sweet streets and sandy soil of Fairhope. Michael Knight, native of Mobile just across the bay, sets his stories tenderly in the grounds of Fairhope and her bigger sister city in his new collection, Eveningland. The selection of stories, which makes its debut this March, spans the bay but all are united by the quiet Southernness of Fairhope. Knight calls Tennessee home now, but his work points back to the literary oasis that is Fairhope.
A hushed home to writers young and old, new and seasoned, Fairhope is sanctuary and stimulus for the creative souls of us Southerners.