Like many avid readers, I love touring libraries and bookstores. I especially enjoy seeing another writer’s library. Browsing through their bookshelves makes me feel like I’m getting to know them, and understand how they think. One of my favorite libraries belonged to Washington Irving, in his Hudson River Valley home, “ Sunnyside .” It shares a lot of characteristics with other period libraries, floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with leather bound volumes, a beautiful desk, and comfy chairs. What I really like though, is the banquet placed in the alcove, where Irving was known to take the occasional nap. That’s a writing technique I regularly practice.
In the pantheon of American literary lights, Washington Irving shines bright. He is the well-known and beloved author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and other short stories. His characters are familiar to adults and schoolchildren everywhere, from Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane to the mysterious Headless Horseman and the comic Rip Van Winkle, Irving’s creations continue to resonate with contemporary readers. The library of films made from his stories include a 1999 movie, “Sleepy Hollow,” which was the third Johnny Depp/ Tim Burton Collaboration.
More recently, the Fox network has used the 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as the template for their modern-day supernatural police drama, Sleepy Hollow.”
What some readers may not remember is that Irving was America’s first internationally famous author. In fact, he could be considered something of a patron saint of American authors. Since Irving was among the first American writers to become popular with European readers, he was able to push for writing as a legitimate profession, and argued for stronger laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement, something modern writers should acknowledge and appreciate. Irving also encouraged American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Fascinating tours of Sunnyside are available, and are particularly fun during the fall when pumpkin festivals and costumed storytellers delight visitors. For a comprehensive look at daily life in 18th century New York, visit nearby Philipsburg Manor. Guests can participate in hands-on activities of the 18th century and learn the little-known story of enslavement in the colonial north.